This post originally appeared at scofflawbook.com.
“If you think the War in Vietnam ended in 1975, you need to read this book. Innocent people continue to be harmed.”
Bobby Muller, Founder, Vietnam Veterans of America
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International Political Treaties category
American military forces left Vietnam in 1973, but the War’s legacy has never ended for Vietnamese civilians. Following the admonition of Army General Curtis Lemay to bomb Vietnam “back into the stone age,” the U.S. dropped three times more bombs on Vietnam and its neighbors than it dropped in all of Europe during World War II. In the decades since the U.S. departure nearly 40,000 Vietnamese, many of them children, have been killed by left-behind U.S. ordnance such as unexploded cluster bombs. More than 67,000 others have lost arms, legs and eyes while innocently encountering the explosive devices that litter the countryside. To be added to this continuing toll of suffering are the victims of Agent Orange and other herbicides sprayed by American forces over enormous swaths of Vietnam, whose deadly dioxin derivative causes grotesque birth defects. In short, for large numbers of Vietnamese families, the battle they refer to as the American War has never ended. Lost limbs and lost lives continue to this day.
This largely unknown trauma has now been placed into perspective by Ariel S. Garfinkel, a Columbia University graduate in the field of international human rights. Garfinkel not only documents the continuing human toll of suffering, but examines it through the lens of international law. The author analyzes U.S. responsibility for post-war cleanup and reparations within the context of four international conventions and treaties. Her careful and detailed analysis also addresses the concept of customary international law, which holds that nations bear certain legal responsibilities relating to the conduct of war even when international treaties may not apply.
Garfinkel’s book — based on months of field research in Vietnam, and augmented by scholarly legal analyses and U.S. military records — provides convincing evidence that the U.S. largely overlooked its cleanup obligations in Vietnam. She concludes that the American government has ignored or undermined international law and identifies several options facing the United States to address the matter. The author notes, however, that lack of compliance with international law is not simply an American practice, and proposes ways to strengthen the compliance and enforcement of human rights treaties in years to come.
“A brisk introduction to humanitarian issues remaining in Vietnam… a compelling case for the U.S. to clean up dioxin and landmines.” David Hawk, Former Cambodia Director, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights