09 September 12
Posted at 8:07
I intended to take a break from my South East Asia blogs to cover Lodestar Festival next, however I need to get this one off my chest. I spoke earler of how embarrassed I was to learn the extent of Pol Pot's atrocities when I visited S-21 in Cambodia. My embarrassment being I was alive throughout the Pol Pot period but oblivious to what actually happened. Well on arriving in Vietnam I had a further rude awakening. I visited the war museum in Saigon and realised the extent of the American atrocities in what they call the Vietnam war. I was particularly interested in the exhibition of photography from war photographers (137 in total many American) who documented the atrocities.
So for the first time in my life I realised the extent of what happened when Agent Orange was sprayed over much of Vietnam. I understood for the first time the horrific acts carried out by, of all people , American servicemen (the peacekeepers of the world???), and also for the first time the lack of any meaninful rationale for the war. (OK I'm sure I should have taken an interest at the time but fact is I didn't, I was just getting on with my own life and John and Yoko said it was bad so I believed them. I really should have looked into why, as should most of us I guess. And should we not now do the same about Syria/Somalia etc.?) Well I'm not going to bang on about it beacuse this is my photoblog and not a political platform. Although today maybe I have a message or at least some food for thought.
At the other end of my tour up the coast of Vietnam was Hanoi and it was there, some ten days after our visit to the war museum that Marilyn and I were sitting on the edge of a lake in the centre of Hanoi having a couple of beers in the setting sun when we met Hang. Hang is the subject of my only photo today....
Hang, a beautiful thirteen year old posing, shyly, in the setting sunlight (at my request). Hang and her older brother joined us while we sat and had a beer. You may ask why? Well Hang sells chewing gum from a tray in front of her on her wheelchair. Her brother pushes her along the streets of Hanoi which are not easily navigated in a wheelchair. What my photo doesn't show, and you wouldn't guess, is Hang was born severely deformed. Her fingers protrude from where her elbows should be and her toes are at the end of bloated stumpy thighs. Five in every hundred children born in Vietnam today (2012) are born with birth defects caused by the Agent Orange that the Americans sprayed by the millions of gallons onto to Vietnam in the late sixties in an effort to deforest the coutry and flush out their enemy. The toxins in agent orange were obviously also sprayed onto the population, Hangs grandparents. The effect of those toxins, an experiment by the US military, live on in the population still today. US servicemen who used or came into contact with Agent Orange also had birth defects in their families after the war - they have been well compensated but the US governement and agent orange manufacturers still deny blame and any reason to compensate or help the Vietnamese. (End of lecture, Google it if you wish to know more).
For my part, I don't like chewing gum so did not buy any but suggested to Hang we could shoot a few photos and I would pay her a fee. (not easy when my Vietnamese is zero and Hang and her brother have enough English to survive but not to answer my questions). Anyway we had half an hour of fun and laughs and I took photos that Hang will be proud of - she will never see herself as I have depicted her here, all thanks to the acts of some misguided people from thousands of miles away over half a century ago!
We said goodbye to Hang and her brother and I felt shame for the acts of the Americans all those years ago. A few minutes later Hang's brother appeared again and gave us most of the contents of the chewing gum tray ( I guess it equated to whatever monies I had given them). It seems after all what has happened he felt it necessary to 'pay what was due'. How about it USA???????