On Thursday, the US and Vietnam start cleaning up dioxin from Agent Orange. This reconciliation, 37 years after the war, may set a precedent in the ethics of dealing with the aftereffects of war.
The cleanup, which begins Thursday at the former US military base of Da Nang, is a step forward in the ethics of modern warfare. It sets a precedent for how former foes can reconcile by taking responsibility for a war’s aftereffects on health and the environment.
In Vietnam, the US plans to spend $49 million to clean up several “hot spots” where the chemical dioxin in Agent Orange remains a health hazard by seeping into soils and watersheds. Between 1962 and 1971, the American military dumped about 20 million gallons of herbicides on jungles and mangroves to expose communist fighters. The area exposed is estimated to be the size of Massachusetts. In the initial cleanup, millions of tons of soil will be removed to get rid of the toxin. Private donors are being sought to help pay for what may eventually be a $450 million price tag for helping Vietnam end the problem.
The US effort is the result of steady reconciliation with Vietnam since 1996 when the two countries began formal ties. They are now fast removing many irritants, such as their long dispute over the harmful legacy of Agent Orange.