The Children of Vietnam
WLLIAM F. PEPPER, executive di-
rector of the New Rochelle Com-
mission on Human Rights, instructor in Political Science at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and director of that colleges’s Children’s Institute For Advanced Study and Research,spent between five and six weeks this spring (1966) in Vietman as a freelance correspondent accredited by the Military Assistance Command in that country, and by the government of Vietnam.
During that period, in addition to travel-
ing, he lived in Sancta Maria Orphanage in
Gia Dinh Province and in the main "shelter
area" in Qui Nhon, for a shorter period of time.
His main interests were the effects of
the war on women and children, the role of
the American voluntary agencies there and
the work of the military in civil action.
His visits took him to a number of orphan-
ages—among them: An Lac, Go-Vap, Don
Bosco, Hoi Due Anh, Bac Ai—hospitals:
Cho-Ray, Holy Family, Phu My, Saigon-
Cholon (central hospital) and shelters in
Saigon, Cholon, Qui Nhon and outer Binh
Mr. Pepper interviewed, frequently, the
following Cabinet ministers of South Viet-
nam: Dr. Nguyen Ba Kha, Minister of
Health; Dr. Tran Ngoc Ninh, Minister of
Education; Mr. Tran Ngoc Lieng, Minister
of Social Welfare; Dr. Nguyen Thuc Que,
High Commissioner for Refugees.
In addition, he conferred with the leaders of the
Voluntary Agency Community and the
USAID Coordinator for Refugee Affairs,
Mr. Edward Marks, as well as the USAID
child welfare specialist, Mr. Gardner Mon-
with Mademoiselle E. La Mer of UNI-
CEF and Mr. Pierre Baesjous of UNESCO.
As Mr. Pepper makes clear, by far the
majority of present refugees in South Viet-
nam have been rendered homeless by Amer-
ican military action, and by far the majority
of hospital patients, especially children, are
there due to injuries suffered from American
military activities. The plight of these chil-
dren and the huge burden they impose upon
physical facilities has been almost totally ig-
nored by the American people.
remarks before the Senate of the United
States, August 22,1966 by the Hon.Wayne Morse
The Children of Vietnam
FOR COUNTLESS THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN in Viet-
nam, breathing is quickened by terror and pain,
and tiny bodies learn more about death every
day. These solemn, rarely smiling little ones
have never known what it is to live without despair.
They indeed know death, for it walks with them by day
and accompanies their sleep at night. It is as omnipresent
as the napalm that falls from the skies with the frequency
and impartiality of the monsoon rain.
The horror of what we are doing to the children of Viet-
nam—"we," because napalm and white phosphorus are
the weapons of America—is staggering, whether we ex-
amine the overall figures or look at a particular case like
that of Doan Minh Luan.
Luan, age eight, was one of two children brought to
Britain last summer through private philanthropy, for
extensive treatment at the Mclndoe Burns Center. He
came off the plane with a muslin bag over what had been
his face. His parents had been burned alive. His chin had
"melted" into his throat, so that he could not close his
mouth. He had no eyelids. After the injury, he had had no
treatment at all—none whatever—for four months.
It will take years for Luan to be given a new face ("We
are taking special care," a hospital official told a Canadian
reporter, "to make him look Vietnamese"). He needs at
least 12 operations, which surgeons will perform for
nothing; the wife of a grocery-chain millionaire is paying
the hospital bill. Luan has already been given eyelids, and
he can close his mouth now. He and the nine-year-old girl
who came to Britain with him, shy and sensitive Tran Thi
Thong, are among the very few lucky ones.
There is no one to provide such care for most of the
other horribly maimed children of Vietnam; and despite
growing efforts by American and South Vietnamese au-
thorities to conceal the fact, it's clear that there are hun-
dreds of thousands of terribly injured children, with no
hope for decent treatment on even a day-to-day basis,
much less for the long months and years of restorative
surgery needed to repair ten searing seconds of napalm.
When we hear about these burned children at all, they're
simply called "civilians," and there's no real way to tell
how many of them are killed and injured every day. By
putting together some of the figures that are available,
however, we can get some idea of the shocking story.
Nearly two years ago, for instance—before the major
escalation that began in early 1965—Hugh Campbell,
former Canadian member of the International Control
Commission in Vietnam, said that from 1961 through
160,000 Vietnamese civilians died in the war. This
figure was borne out by officials in Saigon. According to
conservative estimates, another 55,000 died during 1964
and 100,000 in each of the two escalated years since, or at
least 415,000 civilians have been killed since
In 1964, according to a UNESCO population study,
47.5 per cent of the people of Vietnam were under 16. To-
day, the figure is certainly over 50 per cent. Other United
Nations statistics for Southeast Asia generally bear out
this figure. Since the males over 16 are away fighting—on
one side or the other—it's clear that in the rural villages
which bear the brunt of the napalm raids, at least 70 per
cent and probably more of the residents are children.
In other words, at least a quarter of a million of the
children of Vietnam have been killed in the war.
F THERE ARE THAT MANY DEAD, usiug the military
rule-of-thumb, there must be three times that many
wounded—or at least a million child casualties since
A look at just one hospital provides grim
figures supporting these statistics: A medical student, who
served for some time during the summer at Da Nang
Surgical Hospital, reported that approximately a quarter
of the 800 patients a month were burn cases (there are
two burn wards at the hospital, but burned patients rarely
receive surgical treatment, because more immediate surgi-
cal emergencies crowd them out). The student, David
McLanahan of Temple University, also reported that
between 60 and 70 per cent of the patients at Da Nang
were under 12 years old.
What we are doing to the children of Vietnam may be-
come clearer if the same percentages are applied to the
American population. They mean that one out of every
two American families with four children would be struck
with having at least one child killed or maimed. There is a
good chance, too, that the father would be dead as well.
At the very least, he is probably far from home.
When Wisconsin Congressman Clement Zablocki re-
turned from Vietnam early in 1966, he reported that
"some recent search and destroy operations have resulted
in six civilian casualties to one Viet Cong." Though Secre-
tary of Defense McNamara challenged the figure, Zab-
locki, relying on American sources in Saigon, stuck by
them, and sticks by them today. What he didn't say is that
in any six "civilian casualties," four are children.
McNamara, too, is sometimes more candid in private.
A colleague of mine attended a private "defense seminar"
at Harvard in mid-November, and heard the defense
secretary admit, during a question period, that "we sim-
ply don't have any idea" about either the number or the
nature of civilian casualties in Vietnam.
Perhaps because we see them only one at a time, Amer-
icans seem not to have felt the impact of our own news
stories about these "civilian casualties." A UPI story in
August, 1965, for instance, described an assault at An
"I got me a VC, man. I got at least two of them
bastards." The exultant cry followed a ten-second burst
of automatic weapon fire yesterday, and the dull crump
of a grenade exploding underground. The Marines
ordered a Vietnamese corporal to go down into the
grenade-blasted hole to pull out their victims. The vic-
tims were three children between 11 and 14—two boys
and a girl. Their bodies were riddled with bullets. . . .
"Oh, my God," a young Marine exclaimed. "They're
all kids . . ." Shortly before the Marines moved in, a
helicopter had flown over the area warning the villagers
to stay in their homes.
In a Delta province. New York Times correspondent
Charles Mohr encountered a woman whose both arms had
been burned off by napalm. Her eyelids were so badly
burned that she could not close them, and when it was
time to sleep, her family had to put a blanket over her
head. Two of her children had been killed in the air strike
that burned her. Five other children had also died.
"They're all kids," wrote Veteran Associated Press re-
porter Peter Arnett, describing in September a battle at
Lin Hoc. There, in a deep earth bunker below the fury
of a fierce battle, a child was born. Within 24 hours the
sleeping infant awakened—and choked on smoke seeping
down into the bunker. According to Arnett, the GI's had
begun "systematically" to burn the houses to the ground,
and were "amazed" as hundreds of women, children and
old men "poured from the ground." For the baby, how-
ever, it was already too late.
Another Times correspondent, Neil Sheehan, described
in June the hospital at Cantho, in the Delta region where
fighting is relatively light. The civilians, he said,
come through the gates into the hospital compound in
twos and threes. The serious cases are slung in
hammocks or blankets. . . . About 300 of the 500
casualties each month require major surgery. The
gravely wounded, who might be saved by rapid evacua-
tion, apparently never reach the hospital but die along
A few months before. Dr. Malcom Phelps, field direc-
tor of the American Medical Association Physician Volun-
teers for Vietnam, put the monthly figure for civilians
treated at Cantho at about 800. That means at least 400
children, every month, in just that one hospital.
New Jersey doctor Wayne Hall, who worked at the
Adventist Hospital in Saigon (he went at his own expense,
as a substitute missionary surgeon), reported that over-
crowding, even in this three-story Saigon institution, is a
"chronic condition." No one was ever turned down:
"When there were no more beds and cots, they were put
on benches; when there were no more benches, they were
put on the floor. Some were lying on a stone slab in the
scrub room—delivery cases." Babies born on a stone slab.
"Of course," Dr. Hall added, "this is the extreme—but
it's a common extreme."
A T THE OTHER END OF THE COUNTRY, in Northern I
/% Corps, David McLanahan reported that dur-
/-—% ing last summer, the 350-bed Da Nang Surgi-
.m^cal Hospital never had fewer than 700 patients.
McLanahan, one of five medical students in Vietnam on
an intern program sponsored by USAID, said that Viet-
namese patients frequently would not talk freely to him,
but that they told Vietnamese doctors and medical stu-
dents enough about how they got hurt so that it was
possible to estimate that at least 80 per cent of the injuries
were inflicted by American or South Vietnamese action.
My first patient [McLanahan said] was a lovely 28-
year-old peasant woman who was lying on her back
nursing a young child. The evening before, she had been
sitting in her thatched hut when a piece of shrapnel tore
through her back transecting the spinal cord. She was
completely paralyzed below the nipple line. We could
do nothing more for her than give antibiotics and find
her a place to lie. A few mornings later she was dead.
and was carried back to her hamlet by relatives. This
was a particularly poignant case, but typical of the
tragedy seen daily in our emergency rodm and, most
likely, in all of the emergency rooms in Vietnam.
Most of McLanahan's patients, he said, were "peasants
brought in from the countryside by military trucks. It was
rare that we got these patients less than 16 hours after
injury. All transportation ceases after dark. A small per-
centage of war casualties are lucky enough to make it to
Cantho, Saigon, Da Nang, Quang Ngai—it is by put-
ting together reports such as these that the reality of
extrapolated figures becomes not only clear but plainly
conservative. A quarter of a million children are dead;
hundreds of thousands are seriously wounded. There must
be tens of thousands of Doan Minh Luans.
Manufacturer Searle Spangler, American representative
for the Swiss humanitarian agency Terre des Hommes,
describes what his agency has found to be the pattern
when children are injured in remote
"If he's badly
ill or injured, of course, he simply won't survive. There is
no medical care available. Adults are likely to run into the
forest, and he sometimes may be left to die. If they do try
to get him to a hospital, the trip is agony—overland on
bad roads, flies, dirt, disease, and the constant threat of
interdiction by armed forces." McLanahan says that
virtually every injury that reaches the hospital at Da Nang
is already complicated by serious infection—and describes
doctors forced to stop during emergency surgical opera-
tions to kill flies with their hands.
Torn flesh, splintered bones, screaming agony are bad
enough. But perhaps most heart-rending of all are the tiny
faces and bodies scorched and seared by fire.
Napalm, and its more horrible companion, white
phosphorus, liquidize young flesh and carve it into gro-
tesque forms. The little figures are afterward often
scarcely human in appearance, and one cannot be con-
fronted with the monstrous effects of the burning without
being totally shaken. Perhaps it was due to a previous lack
of direct contact with war, but I never left the tiny victims
without losing composure. The initial urge to reach out
and soothe the hurt was restrained by the fear that the
ash-like skin would crumble in my fingers.
N QUI NHON TWO LITTLE
CHILDREN—introduced to me
quietly by the interpreter as being probably "chil-
dren of the Viet Cong"—told of how their hamlet
was scorched by the "fire bombs." Their words
were soft and sadly hesitant in coming, but their badly
burned and scarred bodies screamed the message. I was
told later that they evinced no interest in returning to
their home and to whatever might be left of their family.
I visited a number of the existing medical institutions in
South Vietnam, and there is no question that the prob-
lems of overcrowding, inadequate supplies and insufficient
personnel are probably insurmountable. The Da Nang
Surgical Hospital is probably as well off as any Viet-
namese hospital outside Saigon—but it is for surgery
only; there is also a Medical Hospital not so well equipped.
Even in the Surgical Hospital, there are a number of
tests that can't be done with the inadequate laboratory
and X-ray equipment. Frequent power failure is a major
problem (suction pumps are vital in surgery rooms; one
child died in Da Nang, for instance, because during an op-
eration he vomited and—with no suction pump to with-
draw the stomach contents from his mouth—breathed
them into his lungs). Though 100 burn patients every
month reach Da Nang Surgical Hospital, McLanahan
reported that while he was there, the hospital had only
one half-pint jar of antibiotic cream—brought in pri-
vately by a surgeon—which was saved for "children who
had a chance of recovery." In Sancta Maria Orphanage, I
frequently became involved in trying, with a small amount
of soap and a jar of Noxzema, to alleviate the festering
infections that grew around every minor bite and cut.
In the nearby Medical Hospital, there are frequent
shortages of antibiotics, digitalis and other equipment.
While the Surgical Hospital makes use of outdated blood
from military hospitals, most Vietnamese hospitals are
chronically short of blood. According to another medical
student, Jeffrey Mast, a hospital at Quang Ngai (60 miles
south of Da Nang) occasionally "solved" a shortage of
intravenous fluids by sticking a tube into a coconut—a
common practice in outlying areas and, reportedly, among
the Viet Cong.
The Swiss organization Terre des Hommes, which is
attempting to provide adequate medical care for Viet-
namese children (they were responsible for transporting
Doan Minh Luan and Tran Thi Thong to England, and a
few other children to other European countries), issued a
report last spring Which said in part that in Vietnam,
hospitals . . . show the frightening spectacle of an im-
mense distress. To the extent that one finds children
burned from head to foot who are treated only with
vaseline, because of lack of a) ointment for burns, b)
cotton, c) gauze, d) personnel. In places with the
atmosphere of slaughter houses for people, where flies
circulate freely on children who have been skinned
alive, there are no facilities for hygiene, no fans, and no
air conditioning . . .
In South Vietnam, approximately 100 hospitals provide
approximately 25,000 beds to serve the ever growing
needs of the civilian population. Bed occupancy by two
or three patients is not uncommon (two to a bed is the
rule at Da Nang). I can testify personally to the accuracy
of Manchester Guardian writer Martha Gellhorn's de-
scription of the typical conditions at Qui Nhon.
In some wards the wounded also lie in stretchers on
the floor and outside the operating room, and in the
recovery room the floor is covered with them. Every-
thing smells of dirt, the mattresses and piUows are old
and stained; there are no sheets, of course, no hospital
pajamas or gowns, no towels, no soap, nothing to eat
on or drink from.
EARLE SPANGLER, OF TERRE DES HOMMES, SayS that
there are only about 250 Vietnamese doctors avail-
able to treat all the civilians in South Vietnam.
My own information is that there are even fewer;
Howard Rusk of the New York Times gave a figure of 200
in September, and I have been told that there are now
about 160. Obviously the diff'erence hardly matters when
at least five times that many children die every week. Dr.
Ba Kha, former Minister of Health, told me that there are
about nine nurses, practical and otherwise, and about five
midwives for every 100,000 persons. He also told me that
his ministry, charged with administering the entire public
health program for South Vietnam, is allocated an unbe-
lievable two per cent of the national budget.
There are, of course, American and "free world" med-
ical teams at work, and USAID is increasingly supplying
the surgical hospitals (a new X-ray machine has been
installed at Da Nang, which AID hopes to turn into a
model training hospital), but while their contribution is
vital and welcome, it is like a drop in the ocean of civilian
pain and misery. To speak of any of this as medical care
for the thousands of children seared by napalm and phos-
phorus is ridiculous; there is simply no time, nor are there
facilities, for the months and possibly years of careful
restorative surgery that such injuries require. Burn pa-
tients receive quick first aid treatment and are turned out
to make room for other emergency cases.
Although of course no one can talk about it openly,
there are known to be cases in which pain is so great, and
condition so hopeless, that the treatment consists of a
merciful overdose. In an alarmingly large number of other
amputations—which can be performed relatively
quickly—take the place of more complex or protracted
treatment so that more patients can be reached in the fan-
tastic rush that is taking place in every hospital. Any
visitor to a hospital, an orphanage, a refugee camp, can
plainly see the evidence of this reliance on amputation as
a surgical shortcut. Dr. Hall has reported that hospitals
allow terminal cases to be taken away by their families to
die elsewhere, so that room can be made for more patients.
Then there are politics. A leading doctor and adminis-
trator in the I Corps area has found it difficult to get
supplies for his hospital because he is suspected in Saigon
of having been sympathetic to the Buddhist movement. In
a 1500-bed hospital shockingly is allowed to operate
under capacity because some of the faculty and students
at the associated medical school expressed similar sym-
pathies; apparently in punishment, the school and hos-
pital receive absolutely no medical supplies from Saigon;
only aid from the West German government keeps it oper-
ating at all. The dean of the medical school and some of
his students were arrested last summer; a shipment of
microscopes donated by West Germany was heavily
taxed by Saigon. The harassment goes on.
At the present time, two groups are trying to do some-
thing about the horror of burned and maimed Vietnamese
children. They are the Swiss-based international group,
Terre des Hommes, a nonpolitical humanitarian organiza-
tion founded in 1960 to aid child victims of war; and a
newly-formed American association with nationwide
representation called the Committee of Responsibility.
Their approaches are somewhat different, but they are
cooperating with each other wherever it seems helpful.
N THE AUTUMN OF
1965, Terre des Hommes arranged
for about 400 hospital beds in Europe—like the two
in England paid for by Lady Sainsbury—and for
surgeons to donate their services. They contacted
North Vietnam, the NLF representative in Algiers and
the government of South Vietnam. The first two turned
down the offer, but the South Vietnamese government
seemed willing to cooperate. Air fare from Saigon to
Europe is about $1500, so Terre des Hommes asked for
help from the United States government.
American soldiers in Vietnam who accidentally sufl"er
serious burn injuries from napalm are rushed aboard spe-
cial hospital planes—equipped to give immediate first aid
treatment—and flown directly to Brook Army Hospital
in Texas, one of the world's leading centers for burn treat-
ment and for the extensive plastic surgery that must follow.
Burnt Vietnamese children must fare for themselves.
It was the use of such special hospital aircraft that
Terre des Hommes was hoping for, though any air trans-
portation would have been welcome. Although American
authorities in Saigon at first seemed enthusiastic, the de-
cision was referred to the White House. In January 1966,
Chester L. Cooper—now in the State Department "work-
ing," he says, "on peace"—wrote on White House
stationery to issue a resounding NO.
. . . the most effective way of extending assistance
[Cooper wrote] is on the scene in South Vietnam where
children and others can be treated near their families
and in familiar surroundings. . . . U.S. aircraft are defi-
nitely not available for this purpose.
Terre des Hommes wrote back to Cooper to argue the
absurdity of the American position—there are, of course,
no "familiar surroundings" in napalm-torn Vietnam,
thousands of the children are displaced orphans, and in
any case there are no medical facilities for the long and
difficult rehabilitation of burned children. In November
of this year, asked directly about the request. Cooper said:
A doctor in Switzerland, of apparently good intentions
but somewhat fuzzy judgment, wanted planes to take
these innocent Vietnamese kids to Switzerland for treat-
ment. [Edmond Kaiser, founder of Terre des Hommes,
is not a doctor.] . . . The problem, basically, is that
Terre des Hommes—and the chap involved, I want to
emphasize, is a well meaning man—when we looked
into it—and I worry just as much about the injured kids
as the next fellow, maybe more so—what they want to
they want to be taking these frightened little kids
halfway across the world and dump them there in a
strange, alien society . . .
However much better a Swiss home or hospital might
it cannot compensate for having their own families
around them in familiar surroundings in their own
country. Experienced social workers and hospital work-
ers have described what happens when you take a child
suddenly out of his environment: culture shock and
trauma. . ..
Either Cooper is grotesquely misinformed about med-
ical facilities and family coherence in South Vietnam, or
he would genuinely rather keep these horribly maimed
children in the bosom of frequently nonexistent families,
in the "familiar surroundings" of dirty fly-ridden hospitals
or jammed refugee camps or burned-out villages, rather
than subject them to the culture shock and trauma of
clean hospital beds, relief from pain, and a chance for the
kind of surgery that will give a Tran Thi Thong back her
eyelids and enable a Doan Minh Luan to close his mouth.
In any case, while the argument was going on, Terre des
Hommes turned to commercial airlines and asked them
to donate whatever empty space they might have on flights
from Saigon to Europe; they refused, possibly feeling that
the experience might be psychologically difficult for their
other passengers. Finally, in May, Terre des Hommes
brought 32 children (including Luan and Thong) out of
Vietnam at its own expense; they were both sick and
wounded, and eight were burn victims. The tiny victims
were brought out by arrangement with Dr. Ba Kha, the
Saigon Minister of Health; when I visited Saigon, the
doctor was extremely cooperative and seemed eager to
implement any program that could benefit even a few of
the people who, he acknowledged, are suffering terribly.
N SEPTEMBER, Terre des Hommes arranged for an-
other 26 children to be flown to Europe, and one of
their representatives in South Vietnam chose the
children. But when the planeload arrived in Geneva,
the people waiting received a terrible shock. It contained
no war-wounded children at all. All 26 were polio, cardiac
and cerebral spastic victims, chronically ill children. Dr.
Paul Lowinger of Wayne State University's medical school
was on hand when Terre des Hommes officials learned
what had happened, and described them to me as "dis-
appointed and frustrated" over the violation of the terms
of the agreement.
So far, no one has been able to determine what hap-
pened to the burned and other war-wounded children who
were chosen by Terre des Hommes but somehow didn't
arrive on the plane in Geneva. They have, seemingly, dis-
appeared—or died. I have letters in my possession indi-
cating that physicians who have been to Vietnam since
my return fear that wounded and burned children are
being hidden or kept out of sight of visiting doctors.
In the meantime. Dr. Ba Kha had been replaced, ap-
parently for his actions in attempting to get the burned
children out of the country, and his successor has dem-
onstrated much less concern for the Terre des Hommes
project. Most officials of the Swiss organization are con-
vinced, though they cannot of course say so publicly, that
the firing of Ba Kha and the substitution of the children
was directly related to the fact that in England and else-
where in Europe, the arrival of the first group of children
had caused a tremendous stir about the cruel eff"ect of the
bombing. The arrival of Luan and Thong in Great Britain
stimulated a large, spontaneous flow of gifts and contri-
butions—and not a small amount of indignation about
Incidentally, Canadian reporter Jane Armstrong, who
visited the Sussex hospital where the two children are
being treated, wrote that "the hospital staff have been
astonished by their happy dispositions," and notes that
"no one can say what wiU happen to Luan," who has no
known relatives. The culture shock and unfamiliar sur-
roundings don't seem to be bothering the children.
In any case, Searle Spangler, Terre des Hommes rep-
resentative in New York, seems firmly to believe in "spy-
like hanky panky" by the South Vietnamese government,
including the secreting of badly injured children in order
to play down the problem. He also said that "some of our
Vietnamese workers have been mistreated, and we have
reason to fear for them." On the adequacy of medical
care in Vietnam, Spangler notes that Terre des Hommes
operates the only children's hospital in the country—600
patients for 220 beds, with many of the children lying on
newspapers—and that in other hospitals, some news-
papers and wrapping paper are commonly used as dress-
ings for burns, being the only material available.
HE AMERICAN GROUP, the Committee of Respon-
sibility, has only recently been formed. Its con-
cern is specifically with children burned by
American napalm and white phosphorus.
Its national coordinator and moving spirit, Helen Fru-
min, a housewife from Scarsdale, New York, became
interested in the problem last spring when she encountered
some Terre des Hommes material. Later, in Lausanne, she
met Kaiser and learned more about the problem. She be-
came convinced that Americans have a special responsi-
bility toward the burned children of Vietnam.
"Napalm is an American product," Mrs. Frumin says.
"The tragedy that is befalling children in Vietnam is all
the more our responsibility where children burned by na-
palm are concerned; only the United States is using this
weapon, and it is fitting that we should provide the care
for the mutilated children."
The Committee backs up its position by citing such
sources as a story in Chemical and Engineering News, last
March, about a government contract for 100 million
pounds of Napalm B, an "improved" product. The older
forms of napalm, the article goes on to say, left "much to
be desired, particularly in adhesion."
of course, refers to the ability of the hateful sub-
stance to cling to the flesh of the hamlet dwellers on whom
it is usually dropped, insuring a near perfect job of human
destruction after prolonged agony. It is because American
tax dollars are behind every phase of the process, from
manufacture to delivery and use, that the citizens of the
Committee of Responsibility (who include prominent
doctors throughout the country) feel that American dol-
lars might best be spent in relieving the sulTering they buy.
The Committee hopes at first to bring 100 napalmed
children to America for extensive treatment. Hospital beds
are being arranged, 300 physicians are ready to donate
homes have been found. But the cost for treat-
ing each child is still between $15,000 and $20,000, not in-
cluding transportation from Vietnam to the United States.
The fantasy of the position that "adequate" care can be
provided within South Vietnam and that "culture shock"
might result from displacing a child, was pointed up in a
report prepared for the Committee by Dr. Robert Gold-
wyn, a noted Boston plastic surgeon. He said in part:
The children of Vietnam are the hardest struck by
malnutrition, by infectious disease, and by the impact
of terror and social chaos. They begin with the dis-
advantages implicit in a colonial society after nearly
25 years of continuing war, economic backwardness,
inadequate food and medical facilities. Particularly
helpless under such conditions is the burned child . ..
A burn is especially critical in a child because the
area of destruction relative to total body surface is
proportionately greater than that of an adult. And in
the present real world of Vietnam, his nutritional status
and resistance to infection is lower than that of an adult.
The acute phase of burn demands immediate and
complex attention involving physicians, nurses, dress-
intravenous foods, plasma, often blood, anti-
biotics, and after the first week, wound debridement
and skin grafting. Unless evacuation is simple and im-
mediate and \^ell-supervised, these early burns are best
treated at or near the scene of injury.
. . . However, the child who has survived the initial
stages of a burn would be a highly suitable candidate
for treatment elsewhere. Since most of the burns are the
result of napalm or white phosphorus, they are deep,
and subsequent deformities and contractures are usual.
These deformities, which interfere with function and
off'er extreme psychological obstacles for social read-
justment, can be relieved by well-known and standard-
ized plastic surgical procedures. These operations can
ideally be done in a country such as the United States
where facilities are adequate and where the environ-
ment is conducive to total rehabilitation.
The child would not have to lie in a bed with two or
three others; he would not be exposed to parasitic in-
festation or sepsis or diarrhea or epidemics which are
now prevalent in most of the Vietnamese civilian hos-
He would be out of a war-torn country and could
heal his psychological wounds as well.
. . . While one is instinctively reluctant to think of
taking a child away from familiar surroundings, family
and friends, for medical treatment and rehabilitation,
these phrases are empty in the present context; we are
talking of children whose homes are destroyed, who
may be orphaned, whose "familiar surroundings" are
the hell of disease, famine and flame attendant on mod-
ern warfare.... Further, the choice is not between care
at home and better care in the United States, but in
realistic terms, between token care or often, no care at
and adequate care.
To Dr. Goldwyn's analysis can be added that of Dr.
Richard Stark, past president of the American Society of
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, who agreed in a
speech on October 3 that plastic surgical facilities in
Vietnam are "presently inadequate."
of course, an official United States posi-
tion on the use of napalm in Vietnam. The De-
partment of the Air Force set it forth on Septem-
in a letter to Senator Robert Kennedy:
Napalm is used against selected targets, such
and reinforced supply areas. Casualties in attacks
against targets of this type are predominantly persons
involved in Communist military operations.
I am compelled to wonder what military functions were
being performed by the thousands of infants and small
children, many of whom I saw sharing hospital beds in
Vietnam, and a few of whom appear in photographs ac-
companying this article.
In the brutal inventory of maimed and killed South
Vietnamese children one must also include those who are
the helpless victims of American defoliants and gases. The
defoliants used to deprive the Viet Cong of brush and
trees that might afford cover are often the common weed-
killers 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Yet the pilots spraying from the
air cannot see if women and children are hiding in the
affected foliage. These chemicals "can be toxic if used in
excessive amounts," says John Edsall, M.D., Professor of
Biology at Harvard.
The U.S. has admitted it is using "non-toxic" gas in
Vietnam. The weapon is a "humane" one, says the govern-
ment, because it creates only temporary nausea and diar-
rhea in adult victims. Yet a New York Times editorial on
March 24, 1965 noted that these gases "can be fatal to the
very young, the very old, and those ill with heart and lung
ailments. . . . No other country has employed such a
weapon in recent warfare." A letter to the Times several
days later from Dr. David Hilding of the Yale Medical
School backed up this point: "The weakest, young and
old, will be the ones unable to withstand the shock of this
supposedly humane weapon. They will writhe in horrible
cramps until their babies' strength is unequal to the stress
and they turn blue and black and die ..." Once again, the
children of Vietnam are the losers.
About eight per cent of Vietnam's population live in
refugee shelters or camps; about three quarters of the
shelter population, or over 750,000 persons, are children
under 16. In shelters like that of Qui Nhon, which I vis-
ited, there is unimaginable squalor and close confinement.
There were 23,000 in that camp when I was there, and I
have been told that the figure has since tripled.
Father So, unquestioned leader of these thousands of
refugees in Qui Nhon and in the rest of Binh Dinh prov-
works for 20 hours a day to provide what relief he
can, particularly for the orphaned children. These usually
live in a hovel-like appendage to the main camp, fre-
quently without beds. Food and clothing are scarce.
As So's guest, -I attended with him a meeting with Dr.
the South Vietnamese High Commissioner of
and with the USAID Regional and Provincial
Representatives and the Coordinator of Refugees. So
reminded the AID officials of their promise to supply
badly needed food; the province representative replied
that 500 pounds of bulgar had been given to the district
chief with instructions that it was to be delivered to So
for distribution in the camp.
So said nothing in reply. Later, he laughed softly and
said to me that neither he nor the children would ever see
that bulgar. The district chief had more lucrative con-
SHELTER CHILD rcccives little if any education.
Crossed strands of barbed wire form the perim-
eter of his living world. There are no sanitary
facilities—those in camps near a river are lucky.
Even shelters with cement floors have no privies for as
many as 160 families. Plague and cholera increasingly
threaten the health of the children (and of course the
adults, though to a lesser degree), and I noticed an amaz-
ing amount of body infection on the youngsters, ranging
from minor to extremely serious in nature. Their level of
resistance is quite low, and the filth, combined with the
absence of hygienic knowledge, is so universal that mos-
quito and ant bites quickly become infected. There is not
usually medical help for the children of these camps.
Tuberculosis and typhoid are evident, with periodic local
epidemics; about one per cent of all Vietnamese children
will have TB before reaching the age of 20.
Many of the shelter children show traces of the war. I
particularly remember a tiny girl whose arm had been
amputated just below the elbow, and who followed me
from one end to the other. The children also display a
reaching out, not in a happy but in a sort of mournful
way. The shy ones frequently huddle together against the
side of a hut and one can always feel their eyes upon him
as he moves about. No one ever intended for them to live
like this—but there they are. One small child provided for
me their symbol. He sat on the ground, afway from the
others. He was in that position when I entered and still
there several hours later when I left. When I approached,
he nervously fingered the sand and looked away, only
finally to confront me as I knelt in front of him. Soon I
left and he remained as before—alone.
Another 10,000 children—probably more by now—live
in the 77 orphanages in South Vietnam. I lived for a time
in Sancta Maria orphanage (in an area officially described
as influenced by Viet Cong, and off" limits to American
military personnel). I arrived there during a rest hour, to
find the children in a second floor dormitory, two to a
bed, others stretched out on the floor. Their clothing con-
sisted of only the barest necessities, though Sancta Maria
was better off" than other institutions I visited.
Here, too, food was scarce and there was a shortage or
a complete absence of basic supplies such as soap, gauze,
towels and linen. I devoted some evenings to teaching
elementary English vocabulary, and I was impressed by
the amount of motivation displayed by some of these
children despite the horrors that frequently characterized
their past—and present. Their solemnity was very real,
however, as was their seeming general inability to play
In most orphanages, as in the refugee shelters, there is
no schooling at all, but despite this and the shortages of
food and other supplies there is a growing tendency in
Vietnam for parents to turn children over to the camps or
to abandon them. Mme. LaMer, UNICEF representative
to the Ministry of Social Welfare, expressed alarm over
this tendency while I was in Vietnam; it seems to be one
more example of the rapid deterioration of family struc-
ture because of the war. Officials told me that infant aban-
donment has become so common that many hospitals are
now also struggling to provide facilities for orphan care.
INALLY, THERE IS the forgotten legion of Viet-
namese children in the cities and provincial
towns—clinging together desperately in small
trying to survive. Usually they have at
best threadbare clothing, and sometimes they are naked;
they go unwashed for months—perhaps forever; almost
none have shoes. They live and sleep on the filthy streets,
in doorways and alcoves. Despite the gradual process of
animalization, in their striving to maintain a semblance
of dignity, they are beautiful.
On a few occasions I took an interpreter into the streets
with me and spent hours sifting histories (often, feeling
that my presence might inhibit the response, I stayed away
and let the Vietnamese carry out the interview).
Some had come to the cities with their mothers, who
turned to prostitution and forced the children into the
streets. Others, abandoned in hospitals or orphanages or
placed there while ill, had merely run away. Still others
had struggled in on their own from beleaguered hamlets
and villages. Once on the streets, their activities range
from cab flagging, newspaper peddling and shoe shining
to begging, selling their sisters and soliciting for their
mothers. I saw five- and six-year-old boys trying to sell
their sisters to GI's; in one case the girl could not have
been more than 11 years old.
ITH MISERY COMES DESPAIR, and One of its
most shocking forms was called to my atten-
tion by Lawson Mooney, the competent
and dedicated director of the Catholic Re-
lief Services program in Vietnam. Mooney said he had
noticed, between the autumn of 1965 and the spring of
a fantastic increase in the rate of adolescent suicide.
I began to check the newspapers every day—and in-
deed, there was usually one, frequently more than one
suicide reported among the city's children. In several cases,
group suicides were reported: a band of young people, un-
able to face the bleakness and misery of their existence,
will congregate by agreement with a supply of the rat poi-
son readily available in Vietnam, divide it, take it, and die.
"Many of these suicides," Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Luan,
Saigon Director of Police, told Eric Pace of the New York
Times, "are young people whose psychology has been de-
formed, somehow, by the war." Van Luan went on to say
that in the Saigon-Cholon area alone, 544 people at-
tempted suicide during the first seven months of 1966—
many of them, of
successfully. In that one section
of the country—with about 18 per cent of the total popu-
lation—that is an average of
a month. Last year, Luan
noted, the monthly average had been about 53, so the
increase was about 50 per cent. "You must remember,"
Luan went on, "that these are young people who have
never known peace. They were more or less born under
These are the "familiar surroundings" away from which
American policy will not transport the horribly burned
children of Vietnam, the "frightened little kids" of whom
White House aide Chester Cooper says that humani-
tarians want to take "halfway around the world and dump
them there in a strange, alien society." One must agree
with his further comment that "it is a very ghastly thing."
Clearly, the destruction of a beautiful setting is exceeded
only by the atrocity that we daily perpetuate upon those
who carry within them the seeds of their culture's survival.
In doing this to them we have denied our own humanity,
and descended more deeply than ever before as a nation,
into the depths of barbarism.
It is a ghastly situation. And triply compounded is the
ghastliness of napalm and phosphorus. Surely, if ever a
group of children in the history of man, anywhere in the
world, had a moral claim for their childhood, here they
Every sickening, frightening scar is a silent cry to
Americans to begin to restore that childhood for those
whom we are compelled to call our own because of what
has been done in our name.
William F. Pepper is Executive Director of the Commis-
sion on Human Rights in New Rochelle, New York, a
member of the faculty at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry,
New York and Director of that college's Children's Institute
for Advanced Study and Research. On leave of absence last
spring, he spent six weeks in South Vietnam as an
for me their
He was about
years old and he sat on the
from the others.
was in that
and still there
is an American voluntary organiza-
tion composed of physicians, sur-
and interested laymen, which has as
its mission the saving of war burned Viet-
namese children. The members of the com-
mittee feel a deep responsibility, as Ameri-
for the suffering in Vietnam and see
it as an elementary act of justice to work for
the welfare of the children who are the in-
nocent victims of American power. The
committee has invited all Americans to par-
ticipate in this work.
The Committee of Responsibility plans
to make facilities available for the treatment
and rehabilitation of war burned Vietnam-
ese children in the United States. In this ef-
fort the committee hopes to enlist the aid of
physicians, particularly plastic and general
surgeons, secure hospital beds and obtain
community support for temporary foster
In order to make possible the transporta-
tion of war burned Vietnamese children to
treatment centers in the United States, the
Committee of Responsibility will attempt to
enlist the aid of voluntary and governmental
agencies in Vietnam and the United States,
obtain U.S. consent for the entry of the
Vietnamese children into this country, and
secure space in U.S. government aircraft.
appealing directly to the
American people for funds and support. Re-
quests for information and contributions
should be sent to:
THE COMMITTEE OF RESPONSIBILITY
Box 424, Scarsdale, New York 10583
Helen G. Frumin, National
Color photographs on pages 45, 48 and 49 by David McLanahan.
Black & white photography courtesy of Terre des Hommes.