AMERICA’S MOST PERSISTENT ILLNESS: RACISM

By Guest Author Emmanuel Mbaezue

Statistics have that in the United States, the number of unarmed  black men and boys gunned down extra-judicially by white police officers since the killing of Michael Brown appears to be rising. Unfortunately for the future of the country, these human rights abuses do not just take America back to the shameful days of the Jim Crow Law, they also plunge the nation’s image into a downward spiral of distrust on the global scene.

Even some developing countries in the African, Asian and South American continents seem to enjoy better police-civilian relations than much of the US. The murderous disposition of some white police officers towards people of color in America is not only reminiscent of the dark days of apartheid South Africa, it also appears to be the new face of the Ku Klux Klan.

No great country ever escapes its past, although it can try to rectify its wrongs. The US continues to be plagued by racists moving blindly ahead in their murderous persecution of people of color. One of the most valuable truths that all Americans could learn is that the greatness of America cannot be measured in its military might, economic wealth, or scientific innovation.

True greatness can come only from respect and opportunities for the diverse peoples and cultures living here today—a respect that can enrich everyone far more than greed and prejudice. Borrowing the words of Yanni, the Jazz Man: “I am first a human being, then an Italian American, an Israeli American, a Chinese American, Iranian American, an African American…” 

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Refusing To Bow To The Forces Resisting Peace And Justice

By guest author Michael Furtado—a post in our intermittent series on moral disengement

I am an online member of the virtual St Mary’s in Exile community based in South Brisbane, Queensland, though for many years I was an actual member of that community, when it operated out of a Catholic church in the same suburb. The pastor of that community is a Catholic priest, Peter Kennedy, who is now assisted by Terry Fitzpatrick, who is also a priest, ensuring some sort of leadership succession to sustain the community and help grow it in its mission to serve the poor and marginalized in this part of Australia. Our instincts are naturally inclusive and we are open, both theologically and practically, to all comers who wish to be part of our mission.

About five years ago, the Archbishop forced us to vacate the church premises as a means of trying to impose certain limitations, both theological and practical, on our political activities: for the homeless, for our Indigenous sisters and brothers, for refugees, and for the marginalized including our gay, lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters. One of our most ardent and influential parishioners is Ciaran O’Reilly, who has been arrested and incarcerated many times, both in Australia and the US, for his actions against violent militarism and for an active and sustainable peace.

How did I get involved in all this? I was for some years the Education Officer, Peace, Justice and Development, at Brisbane Catholic Education, which services over two hundred schools in the Brisbane Archdiocese. The ecclesiastical authorities warned me against working for peace and justice in the community (praxis), so it wasn’t long before I came a cropper in the tension between preaching and action, which is a gap that has to be filled if the world, both locally and globally, is to become a place worth saving and celebrating.

I hope everyone will join in this international effort, not letting themselves be stymied by archaic power structures of any name.

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The Endless Tragedy of Vietnam, Part 4

Part 4 in a series by Myra MacPherson, adapted from an article published in Consortium News February 16, 2015:

 Valley of A Luoi. Kan Lay, 55 years old, and her son, Ke Van Bec, 14 years old, physically and mentally handicapped, posing to show to the world the effects of chemical weapons such as agent orange.

Valley of A Luoi. Kan Lay, 55 years old, and her son, Ke Van Bec, 14 years old, physically and mentally handicapped, posing to show to the world the effects of chemical weapons such as agent orange.
Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

We travel further south, to Nha Trang. This fashionable resort mecca — with high-rise hotels, turquoise bay and sandy beaches — is in wild contrast to another world that tourists do not see. We visit a spotless home filled with family mementos; photos everywhere, stuffed toys near a Buddhist shrine. Lying flat on a brightly colored mat are two sisters with horribly twisted limbs, spines too weak for them to sit up, ravished by Agent Orange birth defects, carried to them genetically through a Vietnamese soldier father.

Their mother, with a smiling face and pleading eyes, moves them to a wall and props them up. Their bodies are so small that they look far younger than their ages. One is 30 and her sister is 20. An awkward silence envelops the room as visitors stand, helpless.

Don Blackburn, another Vietnam Veteran who works non-stop to aid Agent Orange victims, plunks himself down between the two, as casually easy as a comforting friend. The sisters smile gratefully at him. Their father has left the family and the mother is frantic with worry about who will care for her daughters when she becomes too old or ill.

It would be hard to underestimate the damage Agent Orange dioxin caused. Between 2.1 million to 4.8 million Vietnamese citizens were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other poisonous chemicals, according to the American Public Health Association. Agent Orange poisoned the soil where Vietnamese grow crops, the rivers and streams where they fish, and created cancer, illnesses and birth defects, now into this younger generation.

From 1961 to 1972, U.S. aircraft sprayed poisonous herbicides, until this lush country looked as grey and denuded as the moon. In all, more than 19 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of land.

Americans who view the Vietnam War as an ancient event stare in shock when visitors returning from this country tell them that the dioxin affects children born today.

American veterans who suffer from Agent Orange diseases have had to fight governmental denial and scorn, some recognition of related illness and compensation, although often inadequate, has finally happened. However, the United States still refuses to attribute diseases, illness and defects among the Vietnamese to Agent Orange.“It is hypocritical for the U.S. to place this unnecessary burden of proof on the Vietnamese while it does not do so for its own veterans,” says Palazzo, who works here with Agent Orange victims. He cites
international and Vietnamese studies linking dioxin to health and birth defects here.

The United States bristles at Vietnam claims that half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many as 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Agent Orange. There is no measure to prove they are Agent Orange victims but some studies estimate that the rate of birth defects here in Vietnam has quadrupled since the war, and that most of them occur where Agent Orange was sprayed or stored.

Myra MacPherson is the author of the Vietnam classic, Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation. She has continued to lecture and write about Vietnam and veterans.

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The Endless Tragedy of Vietnam, Part 3

Part 3 in a series by Myra MacPherson, adapted from an article published in Consortium News February 16, 2015

A U.S. Air Force Fairchild UC-123B Provider C-123 Ranch Hand aircraft sprays defoliant over the target area of "Operation Pink Rose" in January 1967. During the Pink Rose test program target areas near Tay Ninh and An Loc, South Vietnam were sprayed with defoliation agents twice and with a drying agent once. Ten flights of three Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses each dropped 42 M-35 incendiary incendiary cluster bombs (per aircraft) into the target area setting fires that should burn the heavy growth as well as enemy fortifications hidden there. Image is in the public domain.

A U.S. Air Force Fairchild UC-123B Provider C-123 Ranch Hand aircraft sprays defoliant over the target area of “Operation Pink Rose” in January 1967. During the Pink Rose test program target areas near Tay Ninh and An Loc, South Vietnam were sprayed with defoliation agents twice and with a drying agent once. Ten flights of three Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses each dropped 42 M-35 incendiary incendiary cluster bombs (per aircraft) into the target area setting fires that should burn the heavy growth as well as enemy fortifications hidden there.
Image is in the public domain.

Back out of darkness, squinting in the sun, we walked to meet a nearby villager. His family thought him out of harm’s way; he was only four when the war ended in 1975. The man scooted over the ground like a crab, using his strong arms, pads protecting his knees. His legs ended in stumps just below. One hand was missing. He was not wearing his artificial legs, the ones he had to sell a cow to pay for. They were too cumbersome for the work he was doing, dragging pieces of used lumber to build a chicken coop. He was 20 in 1991, out looking for scrap metal, when an unexploded bomb, dropped 25 years before, blew up.

“He knew the risks, but he also knew he could sell the metal for cash income. It was purely economics,” said Chuck Searcy.

Cluster bombs dug six feet circle indentations that can still be seen as dips in the green land. They contained hundreds of small but very lethal bomblets that were supposed to explode on impact, but thousands, about 10 percent, did not do so, Searcy says, citing an old Pentagon estimate. All these years later, they bring the war home again, exploding in fields and villages, killing and maiming curious children, farmers tilling their fields, poor peasants searching for scrap metal to sell. Official estimates put the number of casualties from unexploded bombs in Vietnam at around 100,000, including 34,000 killed. The true numbers are probably higher, says Searcy.

 Myra MacPherson is the author of the Vietnam classic, Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation. She has continued to lecture and write about Vietnam and veterans.

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