Design by Emily Irwin/AS Publicity Center

Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

Nearly 40 years ago, over 5 million men, women and children were exposed to Agent Orange, the most widely used chemical agent in the U.S. military’s campaign of herbicidal warfare during the Vietnam War.

For many of the people that came into contact with Agent Orange, problems from their exposure are still a daily reality.

At 7 p.m. on May 11 in AIC Academic West room 204, the AS Social Issues Resource Center, along with the Vietnamese Student Association, will present a free event titled “The Legacy of Agent Orange and the Vietnam War.”

The keynote speaker is Pham The Minh, a Vietnamese activist who is calling for justice for the victims of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange during the war.

Minh’s parents lived in the Quang Ti province of Vietnam while the conflict raged around them. The province was subject to some of the most intense spraying of Agent Orange throughout the entire war.

Like thousands of other Vietnamese children whose parents were exposed to the chemical agent, Minh was born with severe deformities in both of his legs and a variety of other health problems.

The event is part of a U.S. speaking tour, which Minh began in April, that is aimed at raising awareness about the legacy of Agent Orange and the effects its use still has on people living in Vietnam today.

Also speaking with Minh is Nguyen The Hein, a representative from the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange. Hein will talk about the efforts currently taking place in Vietnam and around the world to assist victims, especially women and young children, who are facing dire health issues.

Joining Minh and Hein is Merle Ratner, a Vietnam War veteran and coordinator of the U.S.-based Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, an international coalition working for justice for the victims of Agent Orange.

AS Social Issues Resource Center Assistant Coordinator Alekz Wray said the goal of the event is to raise awareness about the ongoing struggle of activists who are pushing the U.S. government to pay restitution to victims of Agent Orange exposure and to clean up the areas of Vietnam that have been damaged environmentally from the use of the chemical.

Wray said the controversy surrounding the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War is still an issue that has yet to be fully addressed and the victims of its use are still feeling the effects of the chemical more than 40 years after the war ended.

“It is something that is still really important,” he said.

Wray said his grandfather served in the Vietnam War and was one of the U.S. servicemen sprayed with Agent Orange. Wray’s grandfather returned from the war suffering from severe heart problems and just a few years later passed away.
Wray said his grandfather believed his exposure to Agent Orange was the cause of his health problems.

“A lot of American veterans who were in Vietnam also experienced Agent Orange in a very personal way,” he said. “They have a lot of stories to tell.”

Vi Dang, president of the Vietnamese Student Association, said in an e-mail that the VSA decided to cosponsor the event because the club had never brought a speaker to campus before and they felt this was an excellent opportunity to reach out to the Bellingham community and especially Vietnamese residents that are aware of the controversy surrounding Agent Orange.

Dang also said the club wanted to bring speakers that would talk about the continuing effects of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam because they noticed a lack of awareness about the issue on campus.

“Even though it’s in the past, we would like to show everyone what it is and there are people [that] are still affected by it,” Dang wrote. “It’s not something that is being talked about very often.”

Wray said he also wants students to come to the event to gain a deeper understanding of the Vietnam War and the controversies and issues surrounding the conflict.

“I just want people to take away a greater understanding of the history of the Vietnam War,” Wray said. “People are still suffering from its effects.”