Lord God, during this Lenten season, teach us to come before you in humility, lamenting the signs that your kingdom has not yet come in its fullness. Help us to acknowledge our finitude and failings, and guide us into a journey of remembering rightly, repenting honestly, and responding faithfully. We long for the coming of your mosaic kingdom in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and invite your Holy Spirit to lead us now.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY: MARCH 22, 1965
U.S. acknowledges that it used chemical warfare in the Vietnam War
Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, caused serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.
A 2003 report found that 30 years after the war, there were an estimated 650,000 people in Vietnam suffering from an array of baffling chronic conditions. Another 500,000 had already died from the effects of the chemical warfare. Despite this, the U.S. has never offered redress, or compensation of any kind. Some of the victims were veterans who were doused in these chemicals during the war; others were farmers who lived off land that was sprayed. The second generation are the sons and daughters of war veterans, or children born to parents who lived on contaminated land. Now there is a third generation, the grandchildren of the war and its victims. Even today, in 2017, Vietnam lives with the health implications of the the toxin we chose to deploy, which created a medical and environmental catastrophe that is overwhelming the country.
The U.S. has used government scientists to vehemently deny these claims by the Vietnamese people. They claim that while Agent Orange was dropped on Vietnam, these chemicals were harmless to humans and short-lived in the environment. US strategists argue that Agent Orange was a prototype smart weapon, a benign tactical herbicide that saved many hundreds of thousands of American lives by denying the North Vietnamese army the jungle cover that allowed it ruthlessly to strike and feint. More recent, as well as independent, scientific research, however, confirms what the Vietnamese have been claiming for years.
Teams of international scientists working in Vietnam have discovered that Agent Orange contains one of the most virulent poisons known to man, a strain of dioxin called TCCD which, 28 years after the fighting ended, remains in the soil, continuing to destroy the lives of those exposed to it. Evidence has also emerged that the US government not only knew that Agent Orange was contaminated, but was fully aware of the killing power of its contaminant dioxin, and yet still continued to use the herbicide in Vietnam for 10 years and in concentrations that exceeded its own guidelines by 25 times. In addition to spraying the North Vietnamese, the US doused its own troops stationed in the jungle, rather than lose tactical advantage by having them withdraw. By the time the war finally ended in 1975, more than 10% of Vietnam had been intensively sprayed with 72 million litres of chemicals, of which 66% was Agent Orange, laced with its super-strain of toxic TCCD.
It should also be noted that before deploying Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, the U.S. deployed it for years in Puerto Rico, on the small, residential, island of Vieques. In 2007, more than 7,000 residents of the island filed a federal suit (Sanchez v. United States), claiming that in the nearly 60 years after World War II, the Navy used a portion of the island as a firing range and weapons-testing ground and negligently exposed Vieques’ population of 10,000 to dangerous levels of toxins. The community, according to several independent medical studies, has a cancer rate 30 times higher than that of Puerto Rico’s main island to the west.
SCRIPTURAL REFLECTION: ROMANS 3:9-18
9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
RESPONSE OF LAMENT AND CONFESSION: Please spend some time in personal response, crying out to God with prayers, poems, songs, or art that expresses your lament and confession. If you feel led, please share these responses with others, using #lentenlament #day22
You may close with the following:
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
CLOSING PRAYER: A PRAYER FOR PEACE (Kate Compston)
“In remembrance of those
throughout time, all over the world
who have died in war,
we pray urgently today
that children, women, and men
may become makers of peace.
We pray for children growing up in violent surroundings or thinking talking or playing in warlike ways
God, give to your people a new challenge
new ways in which to test their strength
in sharing power and risking nonviolence.
O God, we pray for:
a new awareness of the battlefield within us,
new ways of channeling aggressive instincts;
new thought patterns, language, and ideas;
a new appreciation of the world as one community;
new methods of dialogue and negotiation;
new attempts to befriend those different from ourselves;
new readiness to forgive and reconcile;
new visions, new love, new hope,
and a new faith, that the peace that passes understanding
can reach out from within us to embrace the world.”
–From The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers (ed. by Dorothy M. Stewart)