Eternal Impunity of Capitalism’s Crimes
Agent Orange, a fifty-fifty mix of the n-butyl esters 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T)
by Paul Haeder / October 7th, 2020
The very idea of War Being a Racket penetrates so deeply into capitalism’s flair for murder by a thousand cuts, a thousand miles in a Corvair, a thousand sips from diet Coke, a thousand sucks from Nestle baby formula, a thousand hours on the video screen, a thousand seconds inside the nuclear core, a thousand nanoparticles chewed, a thousand days living under high tension power lines, a thousand slices of mercury-cured tuna, a thousand puffs of the e-cigarette, a thousand days in law school, a thousand clicks hiked in clear cut, a thousand bombs bursting in air, a thousand doses of any one of millions of drugs or chemicals, a thousand seconds of a presidential debate, a thousand launches from NASA, a thousand bullets into Black bodies, a thousand spent uranium laced shells, a thousand drips of PCBs in our water supply, and, on and on, the drumbeat plays, a thousand cuts.
I just finished watching the documentary, The People versus Agent Orange. Carol Van Strum (here and here) is the American contingent and Nga To Tran the Vietnamese contingent. Like so many other documentaries, this one cuts to the chase – the liberation of humankind and ecologies from the death ray of capitalism is the ONLY way forward.
The origins of Agent Orange lie in an obscure laboratory at the University of Chicago where, during World War II, the chairman of the school’s biology department, E. J. Kraus, discovered that direct doses of 2,4-D can kill certain broadleaf vegetation by causing the plants to experience sudden, uncontrolled growth not unlike that of cancer cells in the human body. Kraus, thinking his findings might be of use to the Army, informed the War Department, which initiated testing of its own but found no use for the stew of hormones prior to the end of the war. But experiments with 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T continued through the 1950s. — Orion Magazine
Ad nauseum the bantering back and forth with deplorable MAGA and shallow democrats on mainline TV/Cable, is much ado about nothing when we put into perspective every single action the corporation makes to not only rip-off each and every customer, but to delimit free speech, to eviscerate participatory democracy, to use their hit squads of lawyers to obfuscate and obliterate the righteous people up against these Titans of Tyranny – chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, fossil fuel, mining, data, prison, space, industrial, food, medical, media, education, criminal justice, banking, insurance, investing thieves and manslaughter experts.
The entire farm has been sold down the river a million times, so when we look at Agent Orange, the USA government, the US Air Force, the Dow corporation, the endless legal deaths by a thousand motions against some sort of reparation for the millions of Vietnamese, Americans and dozens of others in Vietnam during the tyranny of corporations and the French and the USA in fighting in another person’s land. Vietnam!
Carol Van Strum’s story is linked to my neck of the woods – the Central Oregon coast range. She is just a few dozen miles up the road, in Five Rivers. For more than 45 years, she has been both victim of and battler against the chemical spraying operators here where timber companies clear cut vast thousands of square miles of forest, and then deploy the markers of Agent Orange and other brews to include Glyphosate and atrazine, among others.
The film is understatement, but thorough and clear – some of us knew early on that the herbicide Agent Orange was more than a Ho Chi Minh Trail defoliant. It was part of a plan by the despotic South Vietnamese president Diệm ’s worldview – supported and supplied by the USA – that the Viet Cong should not have jungle cover and that the rice crops in the North should not only be destroyed but contaminated from the soil up.
Tran is an amazing voice for Vietnam and the millions of victims of Agent Orange – many dead, by the millions, and many by several million surviving in varying levels of debilitation, and for her and millions of other women, giving birth to deformed, sick and dying babies.
Back in Oregon, the mothers and then the doctors came together to compare notes, and alas, the number of miscarriages/spontaneous abortions experienced by local women always coincided a month after helicopters working for the timber companies unloaded thousands upon thousands of gallons of the toxic brew, a mix of hormone disruptors and growth inhibitors that scour animals, plants and humans to the point of genetic mutations and untold physical ailments as adults.
We see the coughing “chemical guy” in Oregon, who is cell phone filming himself loading up the helicopters with the brew. He hacks up blood at night. He is another victim of better-living-through-chemistry (not). His story is vital to the telling of the Agent Orange story back home, in Oregon.
Tran’s case seeks accountability for “the deadliest use of chemicals in the history of warfare.” The case is still held up in court.
Tran was told by her heroic mother, captured by the South Vietnamese, in 1953, “If I don’t come back, you will replace me.” Tran ended up writing news for the National Liberation Front. She met her husband in the forest, who was part of the Foreign Relations Commission. “We spent our youth engaged in war.”
In June 1968 their daughter was born, and three days later the infant’s skin began falling off. She had difficulty breathing, and she had major heart issues. “I always blamed myself thinking I was the reason for her illness and the cause of her death. Even though I have my other two children, it is the face of my first that remains anchored in my soul,” Tran states.
Tran says she carried that guilt for 40 years. “Until I found out what killed my daughter, the poison Agent Orange.”
Her second daughter was born with alpha thalassemia, a major defect of her pancreas. Same with Tran’s third daughter, and a granddaughter. Thanks, Agent Orange and the Boys at Dow!
Back and forth the documentary travels from Carol’s and Oregon’s battle against the chemical companies and the university forestry guy who was in the back pocket of Dow, and with Tran, who has several lawyers working to “put an end to the eternal impunity,” as French barrister William Bourdon calls it.
That was Operation Ranch hand, from 1962 to 71, approved by JFK and his henchmen in the DoD and military. The idea was to take away the forest cover but also to be part of a food-denial program, which under any auspices of international conventions, is an act of genocide, and a war crime.
Dr. James Clary was with the Air Force in Vietnam, which ran the program. He was order to dump the computer and erase all memory. Instead, he printed out a stack of documents two feet high – missions, sorties, coordinates, dates, gallons dropped throughout all of Southeast Asia and Laos.
“We had the information coming from Dow that there were real problems for people associated with this chemical. It was all locked up for 35 years.”
Playing down all the negative effects of this chemical was part of the Dow plan. Dioxin was the byproduct in the brew. Dow told the US government they were having difficulty producing the volume of the chemical the US wanted. The government told them to not worry about safety standards and quality control, and that a fast production process which produced more of the dioxin would not matter, since the crops and forest were being sprayed, and if people got in contact with it, the idea coming from both industrialists at Dow and those in government and the military was, “Hey, so what, this is a war . . . these are the effing Vietnamese.”
However, a former military man like Clary never saw it that way. He reiterated that 20 million gallons of it was dumped on Southeast Asia. The Ranch Hand program stopped in 1971, but then the chemicals were enlisted by the US on forest land – clear cuts that were sprayed to denude the razed land of any opportunities weeds and shrubs. The money has to be made, and the stockpiled product has to go! Sell it to the state forestry department and timber outfits.
Dr. Clary tears up on the film, showing a deep regard for the Vietnamese. He cried at the sight of the deformed children. The filmmakers state: “e is not a typical war monger, and never said that. He became a whistle-blower to expose such attitudes. They are the opposite of how he feels.
“They went back and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we need the quantities. Besides it’s going to be sprayed on the jungle over there. Not gonna be any people there and if they happen to get into it, so what? We’re at war.’”
Carol Van Strum reiterates that the half-life of a dioxin molecule is 2 billion years. Dioxin, the forever chemical and the gift of cancer and birth defects and mutagenic ailments that keep on giving. Tran is now fighting for the fourth generation of people affected by the millions of gallons of this poison sprayed on her homeland. She has breast cancer.
Dr, Clary breaks down emotionally, saying he never thought his government would betray all the veterans who directly were affected and whose offspring were/are still affected. The judge in the Agent Orange case is a pure case of misanthropy that infects all chambers of the judicial and legal class.
Andre Burny, author of Agent Orange: Apocalypse Vietnam, makes it clear that this is a “crime against humanity, an attack on the human genome.”
It’s telling that one of several scientists featured in a clip, Dow’s Dr. Cleve Goring, says, “The attack on the chemical is entirely emotional. 2,4 5-T is about as toxic as Aspirin. We have not done a good job with our PR campaign.”
As benign as Aspirin! You haven’t heard this before, right? Farmed chemical-laced salmon, safe as mother’s milk. Oh, antibiotic-laced meat and poultry are safe for all consumers. You know, it would take a bathtub of the stuff a day for twenty years to cause cancer. Or, lab rats are not humans . . . no comparison. 5-G is like an apple a day. Violent video games are A-Okay. Genetically Engineered crops are better than those old fashioned heritage crap. What’s a little used motor oil dumped into the pond.
Oh dear reader, you have as many of these “it’s safer than the alarmists yammer about” stories, I am sure. Imagine, the bottom line of Dow is to cover up, drag court cases on and on until the plaintiffs are six feet under. What a little rebranding won’t fix. Or some heavyweight like Brad Pitt or Betty White endorsing the product bringing people all together now.
The documentary, The People versus Agent Orange,” delves into many of the treatment centers for victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. There are dozens. I have been to two of them, years ago, and they were not even tied to Agent Orange. Like Tran, most of the mothers blamed themselves for children coming out twisted, stunted, without limbs, craniums asymmetrical or ballooned out.
This is how capitalism works – lies, deceit, murder, cover, cover-up, blame the victim, pass on the diseases and poisons and clean up costs to the people. This is the price of capitalism, many Americans will say. This is the price of convenience. This is the price of Low Prices and instant soup, instant turkey, instant husband/wife.
Blame the child for the crimes of consumerism. Blame the fetus for the mother taking the advice of western medicine. Blame the communities for the sprayed hog blood-urine-shit in their backyards.
Capitalism is more than some giant smoke and mirrors game, bigger than some house of cards, bigger than snake oil salesmen/women grifting, bigger than shoveling up billions into the debt (poor) house. It is a system of rackets, and while Gen. Butler may have written War is a Racket about the MIC, we have to transpose that military industrial complex to Banks/ Hospitals/ Insurance Companies/ Courthouses/ Police Stations/ Law Firms /Colleges/Mining Companies/ Drug Manufacturers/ Big Ag Outfits/ Media Conglomerates/ So-Called Liberal Press and the like are the very definition of Rackets, certainly perfect actors for Dante’s Circles of Hell.
We are the fodder for that inferno, and if anyone of any political stripe doesn’t end up being pissed off after watching The People versus Agent Orange, then they are misanthropes, cult followers, colonized zombies. And I can say that about any number of hundreds of righteous documentaries — bear witness and then what? Retreat to stupidity, retreat to the capitalist’s see-speak-hear not evil while the evil eats your soul from the inside-out!
Please note that I was in Vietnam in 1994 and in 1996. I worked first with several biological teams doing a huge transect of the forest near the Laotian border. I met amazing Vietnamese scientists. I revisited places my military father was at as a CW4 cryptographic guy. His stories were my stories.
I was in Vietnam in 1994 the same age my father was there, shot twice. That was age 36.
I made a point of getting into many villages after the science report was done. I drove a motorcycle down Highway One. I met amazing people there, and had two Vietnamese who helped me navigate the language.
I was embraced by men the same age as my father. Men who fought as Viet Cong, and those men of course, did not do an eight-month and then a 12-month set of tours like my Army father. They spent more than a decade or more fighting the French, fighting the Americans.
I met a woman in Hanoi who was bombed as a child in an orphanage. I met people studying the breast milk of lactating women, in 1996, with 16 times the level of PCB’s (US standards) in their systems.
Vietnam came to me again, as I worked with many veterans, and some Vietnamese back in Texas putting on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon (April 1975). I had Le Ly Hayslip at the event, and she blessed my daughter who was still in her mother’s womb. Den Yen was the vice mayor of Saigon, and he too showed up. John McAfee, A Slow Walk in a Sad Rain, was just one of many writers, historians, artists who were in this historical event in 1995.
I worked with then Thomas Daniel, now taking on his mother’s name, Vu, who was both my student and friend and we worked together on art projects. My play, Tiger Cages, was partly written after I ended up in London after watching the bad play, Miss Saigon. My short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, tells the story of people somehow connected to the Vietnam war. I have taught college courses for US military, even at the Sergeants Major Academy at Biggs Field. Vietnam, “Never another Vietnam,” the “tragedy of Vietnam War,” and more is in my DNA. I even worked as a social worker helping homeless veterans and their families secure housing and benefits.
This film is powerful in that it tells a simple story of ecocide and American hubris. Several million Vietnamese were killed directly by US bombs. Many more died later from injuries and chemical death. The trauma on a country is also part and parcel of this illegal and unethical war.
Ecocide as a military practice was first coined for the war against the Vietnamese the US conducted. This documentary and Dr. Clary discuss this heinous war crime, of destroying the crops, the food sources, the soil as part of military stratagem.
As a note, my piece here was in my blog, and at first I thought I covered all bases. One of the filmmakers, Alan Adelson, made it clear to me some of my juxtapositions of quotes were wrongly attributed. I was writing this “review” as I watched the documentary, The PEOPLE versus Agent Orange. I let my passions and zeal overtake my editor’s calm and thorough copyediting.
I appreciate Alan’s email, and I know this sort of review is not mainstream, and probably not usable for the director. I am able to take off one revolutionary cap and put on a more traditional journalist’s cap. I hope the film shows in Portland and if so, that I can have a crack at talking with the filmmaker. I have other gigs, including Street Roots, in Portland. While my column, Finding Fringe, is not textbook newspaper “objective” reporting, it still provides a look into people like Carol and her son, Jordan Merrell — A letter a day for 15 years and 9 months
War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. — Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935)
I don’t think so. I think that the – the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.
And through Jerry, you’re – we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective. — Rachel Libert, co-producer of film, Semper Fi