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Jul 10, 2013 - Journalist Jon Mitchell Sheds Light on Agent Orange problem in Okinawa
Welsh journalist Jon Mitchell has played an instrumental role in unearthing information about Agent Orange on Okinawa
Journalist Jon Mitchell gave a talk at Peace Boat's office in Tokyo on July 10, 2013 about the use of Agent Orange,a dioxin-laden herbicide, on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. After realizing that there was a dearth of information about the topic, Mitchell began investigating it in depth by interviewing local residents, former American soldiers, and poring over numerous military documents.

During the Cold War, the battlefields of Vietnam served as a laboratory for the United States military for the testing of new weapons such as Agent Orange, a chemical that contained the extremely toxic ingredient dioxin. Its name refers to the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped, and it was part of a series of other chemical weapons that were manufactured that includes Agent Blue, Agent Purple and Agent White.

Large quantities of this chemical arsenal were used to destroy Vietnam's forests as well as the agricultural base of villagers. Many Vietnamese died as a result of exposure to Agent Orange and related chemicals, and survivors developed a range of illnesses, especially cancer. Frequently, the children and grandchildren of those exposed during the war were born with genetic deformities. Today, nearly 40 years after the end of the war, Agent Orange continues to have enormous negative effects on the lives of countless people.


Audience members crowd into the Peace Boat office in Tokyo to listen to Jon Mitchell's presentation
The reach of this chemical's legacy is not limited to Vietnam, however. From the 1950s, while Okinawa was under U.S. government administration after Japan's defeat in World War II, the U.S. used Okinawa as a forward base for its war in Vietnam, and a whole spectrum of items?from toilet paper, to bubble gum, to barrels of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange were storehoused in Okinawa before being sent to Vietnam. Consequently, both inhabitants and U.S. military soldiers based in Okinawa were exposed to the chemical. However, because their exposure occurred on Okinawa and not in Vietnam, the veterans' claims for compensation have been repeatedly rejected . What's worse, the U.S. Department of Defense has repeatedly denied that Agent Orange was even ever on the island.

For American service members who were sickened by their exposure to Agent Orange on Okinawa and struggle with ill health, time for them to directly testify about their experiences is running out. Keenly aware of this, Jon Mitchell undertook the project of helping to create a documentary about what he had discovered during his ongoing investigation of this topic, which he emphasizes is first and foremost to be a human rights issue.

Mitchell's intensive research and collection of testimonies by Okinawan civilians and American veterans confirm that Agent Orange was not only on Okinawa, it was also used by U.S. soldiers in fifteen American military bases such as Futenma and Kadena. The U.S. government had been rejecting those testimonies as evidence of the presence of Agent Orange in Okinawa until the discovery in 2012 of a document supporting Mitchell's research. Earlier this year, buried barrels containing Agent Orange were discovered in Kadena and Futenma. Evidence continues to pile up.

Newspapers in Okinawa were quick to report on the story, but mainland newspapers in Japan have largely ignored it. Dioxin tests are currently underway on the island, and their results may very well help to vindicate the testimonies of American veterans and Okinawan civilians. They can never, however, restore the health of those sickened, nor answer the question of how to clean up this toxic legacy in the future. For more information about Jon Mitchell and his work, visit (http://www.jonmitchellinjapan.com/).

Article by Peace Boat intern Naoil Bendrimia
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