From Japan to Vietnam, Radiation and Agent Orange Survivors Deserve Justice From the US

by Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | Op-Ed

We have just marked anniversaries of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the US government against the people of Japan and Vietnam. Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the US military unleashed an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb, on Nagasaki, which killed 70,000. And 54 years ago, on August 10, 1961, the US military began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. It contained the deadly chemical dioxin, which has poisoned an estimated 3 million people throughout that country.

Devastating Effects of Radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On the day of the first atomic bombing, 19-year-old Shinji Mikamo was on the roof of his house in Hiroshima helping his father prepare it for demolition when he saw a huge fireball coming at him. Then he heard a deafening explosion and felt a searing pain throughout his body. He said he felt as if boiling water had been poured over him. Shinji was three-quarters of a mile from the epicenter of the bomb. His chest and right arm were totally burned. Pieces of his flesh fell from his body like ragged clothing. The pain was unbearable. Shinji survived but most of his family perished.

Shinji’s daughter, Dr. Akiko Mikamo, told her father’s story at the Veterans for Peace convention in San Diego on August 7. She wrote the book, Rising From the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness From Hiroshima. Akiko’s mother Miyoko, who was indoors about a half-mile from the epicenter, was also severely injured in the bombing, but she too survived.

Akiko said 99 percent of those who were outdoors at the time of the blast died immediately or within 48 hours. A week after the bombing, thousands of people had experienced a unique combination of symptoms, Susan Southard wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

Their hair fell out in large clumps, their wounds secreted extreme amounts of pus, and their gums swelled and bled. Purple spots appeared on their bodies, signs of hemorrhaging beneath the skin. Infections ravaged their internal organs. Within a few days of the onset of symptoms, many people lost consciousness, mumbled deliriously and died in extreme pain; others languished for weeks before either dying or slowly recovering.

Southard notes that the US government censored Japanese news reports, photographs, testimonies and scientific research about the condition of the survivors.

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Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, which created the atom bombs, testified before Congress that death resulting from exposure to large amounts of radiation takes place “without undue suffering.” He added it is “a very pleasant way to die.”

Thirty years after the end of World War II, numerous cases of leukemia, stomach cancer and colon cancer were documented.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were criminal because at the time Japan was already defeated and had taken steps to surrender. With these atomic bombings, the United States launched the Cold War, marking the beginning of its nuclear threat.

The Continuing Legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam

Sixteen years after the United States’ nuclear attacks on Japan, the US military began spraying Vietnam with Agent Orange-dioxin. In addition to the more than 3 million Vietnamese people killed during the Vietnam War, an equivalent number of people suffer serious diseases and children continue to be born with defects from Agent Orange. US veterans of the Vietnam War and their children suffer as well.

Agent Orange caused direct damage to those exposed to dioxin, including cancers, skin disorders, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity and nervous disorders. It resulted in indirect damage to the children of those exposed to dioxin, including severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases and shortened life spans.

Dan Shea joined the US Marine Corps in 1968 at the age of 19. He served in Vietnam a little more than two months. But he was in Quang Tri, one of the areas where much of the Agent Orange was sprayed. When Shea saw barrels “all over” with orange stripes on them, he had no idea the dioxin they contained would change his life forever. When they ran out of water, he and his fellow Marines would drink out of the river.

In 1977, Shea’s son Casey was born with congenital heart disease and a cleft palate. Before his third birthday, Casey underwent heart surgery for the hole in his heart. Ten hours after surgery, Casey went into a coma and died seven weeks later.

Just as the US censored information about the effects of radiation after the atomic bombings, the US government and the chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange – including Dow and Monsanto – also suppressed the 1965 Bionetics study that demonstrated dioxin caused many birth defects in experimental animals. The spraying of Agent Orange finally stopped when that study was made public.

Shea, who also addressed the Veterans for Peace convention, works with me on the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. We seek to obtain relief for the Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American and US victims of Agent Orange through the recently introduced H.R. 2114. US vets have received some compensation, but not nearly enough. Vietnamese people and Vietnamese-Americans have received nothing for their suffering.

This bill would assist with the cleanup of dioxin still present in Vietnam. It would also provide assistance to the public health system in Vietnam directed at the 3 million Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange. It would extend assistance to the affected children of male US veterans who suffer the same set of birth defects covered for the children of female veterans. It would also lead to research on the extent of Agent Orange-related diseases in the Vietnamese-American community, and provide them with assistance. Finally, it would lead to laboratory and epidemiological research on the effects of Agent Orange.

Agent Orange in Japan

The US government has also denied that Agent Orange is present on Okinawa, the Pentagon’s main support base during the Vietnam War. In February 2013, the Pentagon issued a report denying that there is Agent Orange on Okinawa, but it did not order environmental tests or interview veterans who claimed exposure to Agent Orange there. “The usage of Agent Orange and military defoliants in Okinawa is one of the best kept secrets of the Cold War,” according to Jon Mitchell, a journalist based in Tokyo.

“The US government has been lying about Agent Orange on Okinawa for more than 50 years,” Mitchell said. An investigation by Okinawa City and the Okinawa Defense Bureau found dioxin and other components of Agent Orange in several barrels found on Okinawa. Many bore markings of Dow Chemical, one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The Japan Times cited reports of military veterans who said that burying surplus chemicals, including Agent Orange, “was standard operating procedure for the US military on Okinawa.”

Two hundred and fifty US service members are claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange on Okinawa during the Vietnam War, but very few have received compensation from their government. In spite of the Pentagon report, the US Department of Veterans Affairs granted relief in October 2013 to a retired Marine Corps driver who has prostate cancer. The judge ruled that his cancer was triggered by his transport and use of Agent Orange.

Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Compensate Victims of Agent Orange

Besides being criminal, the United States’ use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and poisoning of Vietnam and Okinawa with Agent Orange, are a shameful legacy. The denial and cover-up of each of these crimes adds insult to injury.

As we work toward a nuclear deal with Iran, the US government should abide by its commitment to nuclear disarmament in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is also time to fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange and fund a total cleanup of the areas in Vietnam that remain contaminated by the toxic chemical. Urge your congressional representative to cosponsor H.R. 2114, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2015.

Finally, we must hold our leaders accountable for their crimes in Japan and Vietnam, and ensure that such atrocities never happen again.


Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. A co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, she is on the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her latest book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.


Photo Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima, August 9, 1945 by Hiromichi Matsuda.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

2015 VFP National Convention Report by Jack Doxey

By SDVFP Member Jack Doxey on August 11, 2015
Veterans for Peace National Convention
San Diego, California
August 5th to August 9th, 2015

Many of our members came from all over the country to attend our national convention in the beautiful city of San Diego. If you arrived at night you couldn’t help but notice the magnificent skyline and glistening lights that makes San Diego such a extraordinary city. However the city got considerably brighter by the presence of approximatley 400 members that carried into our town a message of “Peace and Reconciliation in the Pacific”.

We were honored to have Anthony Pico officially open our convention on Thursday morning with a cleansing ceremony. Anthony served his people for 26 years as chief of the Kumeyaay Indians. The balance of the convention was filled with keynote speakers who provided us with valuable information and inspiration to carry our message beyond the walls of the convention. Congresswoman Susan Davis, Ray McGovern, Phyllis Bennis, Marjorie Cohn and Dylan Ratigan are just a sampling of the talent that unselfishly contributed to the success of each day.

The Saturday night banquet was a gala event and our keynote speaker Seymour Hersh praised the Veterans for Peace for their unrelenting work of promoting peace and encouraged us to never to give up the good fight.

We would be remiss not to mention our recently restored ketch, the “Golden Rule” which sailed into San Diego harbor and in the process completed its new maiden voyage. The Golden Rule is all about “One boat, one mission and one incredible story.” Her original mission to abolish war and stop the testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands still holds true today.

We closed our convention by going offsite to the campus of USD, Joan Kroc Center. The title of the event was: Peace and Reconciliation. After hosting a panel discussion, we all retreated to the beautiful garden area and conducted a bowl burning ceremony which symbolized the leaving behind of past hurts and moving towards a positive future reflecting peace and harmony amongst all people and countries.

A special thanks goes out to our chairperson, Gary Butterfield, from the San Diego host chapter who tirelessly worked to make the convention a success. And yes, from all accounts it was a big success.

Jack Doxey
San Diego Chapter member

VFP Convention 2015: A Reflection

VFP Convention 2015: A Reflection
By Michael Bassett

I am grateful to Veterans For Peace (VFP) for the life-changing experience they gave me at the VFP 30th Annual Convention recently held in San Diego, CA., and for honoring me with an invitation to speak before the Korea Peace Campaign about projects I’ve done on the Korean Peninsula – or as I call it “the worlds most advanced propaganda war.”

On my arrival, a Vietnam veteran was reciting his smell-of-war poem “Piss, Shit, and Blood.” A few more Vietnam veterans followed; a female vet spoke of rape by superiors, and a former officer spoke on the suicide of his brother that couldn’t “get over” the war to the satisfaction of his father.

A former British SAS soldier who fought in Afghanistan sat in the front row next to an Iraqi Freedom double-amputee, and a WWII D-day survivor. The SAS soldier disobeyed gag orders against sharing things he’d seen and done. Threatened with punishment, he went on to denounce his Oath of Allegiance, returned his medals to the British Empire, and shared his stories with the world regardless.

The veterans’ poems painfully resurrected memories of: people burying people alive, and children with missing limbs; destroyed villages and mass migration; crimes against humanity and global instability – corporate and political greed that fueled it all. War is cruel and inhumane. The lies that stab America’s jingoistic instruments of democracy into the global psyche are largely and manipulatively ignored, but these veterans came to expose them.

As they uprooted the truths of war from their souls, a healing process began in mine; followed by an overflow of tears.

Like others there, at some point I too found myself overseas, charging the “liberating instrument” of war forward into foreign societies, until one day I did it so many times that I learned to see the world through the eyes of my enemy. It took years for me to cope with the cognitive dissonance that ensued, and many more to make sense of it. Admittedly, at some point I diverged from brainwashing enough to have sympathy for my enemies.

At first it felt unpatriotic to care about the enemy’s point of view, but the longer I suppressed it, the more frequent the hauntings came. I realized at the convention that the most patriotic thing a veteran can do is – on our return home – to share what we’ve seen, and then oppose, undermine, and reject the war machine on every front. We must dis-incentivize war and greed in order to create a permanent and lasting, peaceful coexistence.

Indeed, VFP members maintain a united front on that objective, and view ‘the necessity of our mission’ with a survival mentality. VFP members shared with me their peace-waging efforts, which were nothing short of heroic and awe-inspiring.

At dinner I met a double-amputee who – contrary to my first assumption – lost his legs (and a frontal lobe), not in Vietnam, but in an act of bravery and resistance against the war machine — when he laid on tracks to block a train en route to South America and filled with weapons to support the Contra Wars. He called ‘war’ a “war crime,” yet the government he very honorably served had labeled him a domestic terrorist for opposing the acts he’d learned were evil by witnessing them first-hand in service to his country.

But as I came to find out, none of these veterans fit the “domestic terrorist” mold. They highlighted the importance of sharing stories, peaceful protest, and non-violent civil disobedience as their strategy to ending our addiction to war. And VFP members (as I learned) make global contributions beyond peace activism. A group based out of Vietnam conducts chemical and munitions cleanups, and another group builds homes (free-of-charge) in disaster area’s, and in the remains of conflict zones.

The following days of speeches, seminars, forums, and panel discussions were delivered by vets who were highly-educated and respected members of their communities. They were doctors, lawyers, professors, CEO’s, politicians – and all shades of retired government officials ranging from CIA officers to diplomats.

In their midst I felt a level of inspiration missing since my days in uniform. And I gained what felt like a long-lost family. My heart was truly touched by their war stories and peace activism. VFP members are living proof that small groups can have noticeable, positive impacts on the world.

The 2015 Convention theme was “Peace and Reconciliation in the Pacific.” Appropriately, the convention fell on the anniversaries of the nuking of Hiroshima (06.08.1945) and Nagasaki (09.08.1945), and the division of the Korean Peninsula (10.08.1945). As we know, the Korean War is the final remnant of WWII, yet there hasn’t been peace and reconciliation in Asia despite the “end of the Cold War.”

Everything we discussed of the unending Pacific wars can be symbolically represented with one picture – an image of two USN officers and a beautiful woman eating a “Mushroom Cloud” cake just a few months later.

It is almost as if the United States has revised history and brainwashed Americans to such thorough extent that in our national psyche, the suffering of Asia is lost for basking in our successes fighting the “Great War” in Europe (a topic of discussion for another time).

It is time for America to remember traumas of the Forgotten War in Korea; and dedicate ourselves on this 70th anniversary of the peninsula’s division to ending this perpetual crime against humanity that is the Korean War.

I now realize that my healing process – my own “re-humanization” – began the moment I first questioned war as an instrument of national policy. Thanks to VFP I know that to complete my therapy (and do my patriotic duty), I must commit myself to completely rejecting war as an option and lead by acting for peace.