Vietnam has a unique place in the American psyche. A few days ago I took some friends who were visiting for Memorial Day weekend on the standard D.C. tour of the National Mall. The tour unsurprisingly included a walk through the Vietnam War Memorial-one of the monuments they explicitly wanted to see. Given that it was a holiday weekend, there were throngs of people there, including a large contingent of US Veterans. As we walked toward the Memorial there were a few Vietnam Vets shaking people’s hands-one of which was an amputee. I wanted to ask him how he had been injured and tell him about my upcoming trip to Vietnam where I’ll be working with Survivor Corp’s local partner, Landmine Survivor Network-but feeling the pressure of those behind me in line and my own fears of offending him I just shook his hand and filed past. As we continued our walk through the crowded Memorial, I began to think about how Americans view Vietnam and the legacy of war. It seems to me that here in the US, at least for the majority, the war is a part of our history. Perhaps it is considered a sad chapter of our history, but it is a chapter that ended some time ago. Though I do not claim to understand how the Vietnamese view the war, it is clear from the work of Landmine Survivor Network that, as a whole, they continue to feel its effects today.
In 1975 there was an estimated 800,000 tons of Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) scattered across Vietnam. Although the Vietnamese Government has taken strides to remove the UXO (with the support of organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation) only 9-12% of the affected areas had been cleared as of 2006. The remaining ordinance results in numerous casualties every year-one estimate concludes that over 100,000 people have been killed or injured by wartime ordinance since 1975. These harrowing statistics show how the reverberations of war continue long after its “officially” over.
To look for a bright side to all this seems contrived, but I will admit that I am impressed by the large community of survivors-cum-advocates in Vietnam. Moreover, I am thrilled to be working with a group of these advocates: Landmine Survivor Network (LSN-V) over the next few months. As I was going through the application process with Advocacy Project here in DC, I was immediately attracted to LSN-V’s grassroots approach and their mission, which combines elements of post-conflict reconstruction, human rights advocacy and community-driven capacity building. Similarly, LSN-V’s advocacy work, such as its efforts toward ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty, shows that their scope is both local and global.
I am not entirely sure how I will fit into LSN-V’s daily workings. As an AP Fellow I will be profiling the organization, through this blog and other multimedia channels. I will also be helping LSN-V to prepare for the National Workshop on Victim Assistance and International Cooperation, aiding in the promotion of their three priority campaigns-The Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Mine Ban Treaty, as well as assisting with the restructuring of their overarching advocacy network: the Landmine Working Group. Whatever they throw at me, I really can’t wait to begin. I just hope I will be able to contribute to their efforts during the short time I will be in Vietnam.
This time next week I will be in Vietnam. I have a long journey ahead of me-DC to New York, New York to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh and finally Ho Chi Minh to Dong Hoi. There are a lot of planes, trains and other assorted modes of transportation in my near future, but I am most excited for the journey that begins once I arrive in Dong Hoi.
Posted By Gretchen Murphy
Posted May 27th, 2009