Thursday, January 14, 2010

Agent Orange, the Military and the Environment

When people look for culprits to blame for environmental degradation, they typically pick on industry or the general public. There is, however, a strong case to be made that the military is responsible for much of the worst degradation -- one need only think of Hiroshima, the oil field fires in Kuwait or look at the list of Superfund sites in the US (which is topped by Hanford and other military related sites). People tend to give the military a pass because the actions are seen as necessary or in the public good (e.g., bringing WWII to an end) and because their operations are often shielded in secrecy and, hence, not widely known.

Photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths covered the Vietnam war and his book Vietnam, Inc. is widely recognized the the best treatment of that war -- a war that saw more journalist access than any other in history. Griffiths' remains haunted by his Vietnam experience and in 2003 published Agent Orange: "Collateral Damage" in Viet Nam a book that stunningly documents the human and ecological tragedy.

Closer to home, a previous student of mine Chris Arsenault, recently published Blowback: A Canadian History of Agent Orange and the War at Home focusing particularly on the testing of Agent Orange and Agent Purple at Base Gagetown outside Fredericton. Significantly, exposed Canadian vets have gotten significantly less compensation from the government than have Americans. CBC's coverage of the controversy is available here.

In the US, a new report The Agent Orange Boomerang: A dark legacy of the Vietnam War is creating a whole new set of problems has just been released. The report covers four main topics: 1) A Legacy Revisited describes how Agent Orange is still damaging lives in Vietnam, 2) Agent of Influence makes the case for US compensation for victims in Vietnam, 3) Environmental Consequences of War takes a general look at the problem and, in specific, explores why the military rarely cleans up the messes they leave behind, and 4) A Hard Way to Die explores why hundreds of thousands of American Vietnam vets with Agent Orange–related
diseases have been made to suffer without VA health care.

A video from the press conference at the release of the report is also available.

1 comment:

  1. This video includes lot of information regarding the problems and their sacrifice faced by the people towards the country.