by Makenna Dreher
“Even though the bullets have stopped flying in the Vietnam War, the war is not over,” Dr. Christoph Giebel explained on Tuesday, February 27th at the “Discussion on the Legacy of the Vietnam War and Opportunities to Take Action.”
The discussion on Tuesday centered on the legacy of the Vietnam War that continues to impact individuals long after the war’s end. Dr. Giebel shared his knowledge of how the Vietnam War impacted Quang Tri Province, where he has led seven University of Washington study abroad programs since 2007. After Dr. Giebel’s talk, the executive director of PeaceTrees Vietnam, Claire Yunker, spoke about PeaceTrees and emphasized the work of the PeaceTrees Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams. PeaceTrees works in central Vietnam (specifically Quang Tri province) to remove dangerous explosives – including bombs, shells, and mines – from the land, returning it to productive use for future generations. PeaceTrees has four Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams that continue to find 60-100 units of unexploded ordnance each week, 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War. Claire explained that in addition to clearing land, PeaceTrees also does educational and economic development work in Quang Tri.
During his talk, Dr. Giebel provided a historical background of the Vietnam War’s impact in Quang Tri. Located near the demilitarized zone, Quang Tri Province witnessed extensive fighting and large numbers of casualties during the war. Dr. Giebel noted that Quang Tri Province is about the same size as King County. Within this small province, approximately 1.6 times more munitions were dropped than in all theaters of battle during World War II. With this staggering statistic, it is easy to see that the work being done in Quang Tri to address unexploded weapons is critical to citizens there.
Additionally, Dr. Giebel shared that the cycle of poverty and danger reinforces itself in Quang Tri. As an example, Dr. Giebel spoke about scrap metal collectors in Quang Tri. Severe poverty motivates some individuals to search for metal scraps including unexploded bombs which they can sell for cash. This work is extremely dangerous and can lead to injuries or death, thus reinforcing the cycle of poverty leading to danger. On the flip side, danger can also lead to poverty in Vietnam. Since the war ended, 400,000 people have been killed by dangerous ordnance left behind, tearing families apart and making it more difficult to earn an income.
Unexploded weapons, especially cluster munitions, are dangerous for children. These tiny bomblets are about the same shape as a baseball and are designed to maim when they explode. Hundreds of bomblets were dropped at one time and cover large areas. Children who see these cluster munitions can easily mistake them for a toy. Part of PeaceTrees’ work is mine risk education, teaching children about the dangers of landmines and other unexploded ordnance.
Toward the event’s end, Dr. Giebel and Claire answered questions and talked with attendees about ways to get involved. Several past Vietnam study abroad students attended the event and shared their experiences visiting PeaceTrees projects in Quang Tri. Multiple students said that the study abroad program was informational as well as emotional. Their understanding of the impact of war changed as they saw the dangers faced by residents of Quang Tri Province firsthand.
With people in Vietnam facing these dangers every day, the question was raised of how people in the United States perceive the Vietnam War and what action steps can be taken to address these issues. PeaceTrees is hosting an event in recognition of the International Day for Mine Action on April 4th at the Wing Luke Museum. PeaceTrees will be celebrating their teams’ successful clearance of over 100,000 unexploded weapons, providing a chance to learn about the work that remains, and building a community of action. The event will have food and drinks, educational activities, and a chance to hear from experts in the field of mine action. RSVP at www.peacetreesvietnam.org.
PeaceTrees also suggested additional ways to get involved including volunteering, hosting an event, and sharing information with friends (visit www.peacetreesvietnam.org for more information). Additionally, Dr. Giebel’s next study abroad program to visit PeaceTrees projects is coming up in the summer of 2019 and he welcomes all who are interested in learning more about the history and effects of the Vietnam War to join him.