This is a story of two letters and two Britains. The first letter was written by Sebastian Coe, the former athlete who chairs the London Olympics Organising Committee. He is now called Lord Coe. In the New Statesman of 21 June, I reported an urgent appeal to Coe by the Vietnam Women’s Union that he and his IOC colleagues reconsider their decision to accept sponsorship from Dow Chemical, one of the companies that manufactured dioxin, a poison used against the population of Vietnam. Code-named Agent Orange, this weapon of mass destruction was “dumped” on Vietnam, according to a US Senate report in 1970, in what was called Operation Hades. The letter to Coe estimates that today 4.8 million victims of Agent Orange are children, all of them shockingly deformed.
In his reply, Coe describes Agent Orange as “a highly emotional issue” whose development and use “was made by the US government [which] has rightly led the process of addressing the many issues that have resulted”. He refers to a “constructive dialogue” between the US and Vietnamese governments “to resolve issues”. They are “best placed to manage the reconciliation of these two countries.” When I read this, I was reminded of the weasel letters that are a specialty of the Foreign Office in London in denying the evidence of crimes of state and corporate power, such as the lucrative export of terrible weapons. The former Iraq Desk Officer, Mark Higson, called this sophistry “a culture of lying”.