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Interview with To Nam: We Do Not Forget the Past but We Cooperate for Better Future

June 28, 2022 | 15:02

To Nam, a Vietnamese veteran and President of Da Nang Association of Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin shares his thoughts about the contribution of US veterans to Agent Orange victims and the Vietnamese people's attitude towards their former foes who now come back to reconcile.
Interview with To Nam: We Do Not Forget the Past but We Cooperate for Better Future

The US veterans have been participating to support part of overcoming the consequences of Agent Orange. Since the DAVA was separated from the Red Cross and stood as an independent initiative, the US veterans, especially Chapter 160 of Veterans for Peace, bring US veterans to Vietnam, especially Da Nang every year before the pandemic.

They support victims of Agent Orange, they worked on a joint program with the People's Committee of the city over a time period. They signed an agreement of funding the support for the Victims of Orange. Between 2018 and 2022, the fund was US$11,000. From 2020 to 2030, the program goes on with the same funding of US$11,000.

Interview with To Nam: We Do Not Forget the Past but We Cooperate for Better Future
To Nam represents DAVA to give gifts to children affected by Agent Orange, Jan 19, 2021 (Photo: Orange Viet Nam)

As for individuals, some veterans have come to Vietnam and volunteered for the Association of Agent Orange Victims. More than 25 US veterans have registered as volunteers to support victims of Agent Orange in the city.

Matthew Keenan has been a volunteer for four years. He is often responsible for visiting the exchange center and supporting the children in learning. At the same time, he has an influence on other veterans. He knows how to contribute to and support the activities of Agent Orange victim centers. It is a sentimental value of his feelings for the victims of Agent Orange, it also creates an influence for friends in the countries that he has visited or has worked for.

There's another man, David Clark, who is currently present in Da Nang. He's also a member of Chapter 160. He contributed as an individual and as personal support to the center. Another - Charles Searcy - the representative of US Veterans for Peace in Vietnam. He also had a lot of affection for the victims. He himself launched a program with Da Nang to support the activities of the DAVA

The veterans personally donated the operating funds for the victims, which is also a relatively good source for building houses for Victims of Orange, giving wheelchairs and bicycles for children, visiting families of disadvantaged victims and donating equipment and learning tools. From 2017, about VND 1 billion (US$43 thousand) was contributed by US veterans as individuals.

In addition to funding, they make other contributions as well. For example, they made tables and chairs for the children to study. During recent Covid outbreaks, they called on friends to donate equipment to prevent the pandemic, or build playgrounds for children.

Interview with To Nam: We Do Not Forget the Past but We Cooperate for Better Future

How do you and the people of Da Nang, particularly Agent Orange victims, react when they meet and receive support from US veterans?

Many people also ask this question, why US veterans were once the enemy of Vietnam, some even directly committed crimes, but now I treat them well when they come to Vietnam. In general, it is the direction and policies of Vietnam's Party and State. We have said to leave the past behind and look forward to the future. It is said in the Party Resolution that Vietnam is a friend, a reliable partner, and an active and responsible member of the international community. So why do I follow that direction?

What the US government did to Vietnam during that war was wrong. However, many of their soldiers were forced to enter the war. They went to war and realized that it was unjust. That's why they come back to Vietnam to witness the revival of the country and people. They wanted to redeem themselves from the mistakes of the past. They come to us with good intentions. There's no need to be wary of them.

Interview with To Nam: We Do Not Forget the Past but We Cooperate for Better Future
To Nam (L) and Matthew Keenan at an event held by DAVA on Jan 10, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Keenan)

Mathew Keenan arrived in Da Nang in 2017 with a group of US veterans. They stood on the mountain Phuc Tuong, which was a strategic military base, and witnessed the consequences of the war. Matthew told me he had to go back to Da Nang to help those who were wounded because of the war, to take responsibility for what the war did to the Da Nang people. He said he suffered from cancer and wanted to live in peace for the last years of his life. He meant what he said, he was very enthusiastic. Then we worked together to create conditions for him to operate in accordance with his wishes and I saw that there was no point in maintaining such a grudge.

Of course, we have not forgotten the crimes against the Vietnamese people. But it should not be the reason to keep the grudge. There is no use.

Vietnamese people have a good nature and a tradition of forgiveness. Locals in Vietnam think of US veterans as ordinary visitors to their homeland. When we have guests, we welcome them with joy and politeness. The people of Da Nang are the same. They don't take precautions toward the veterans' intentions. The veterans are now accompanied by an organization representing the Agent Orange victims who are defending the rights and interests of the victims. They help the victims, so the people have no problem with them.

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