The Invention of Ecocide by David Zierler

David Zierler, who works as a historian for the U.S. State Department, has a different take on the consequences of the spraying of the extremely toxic herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam in his book The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam, and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think (University of Georgia, 232 pp., $59.95, hardcover; $24.95, paper). This book–unlike most books about Agent Orange and the Vietnam War—does not focus on the wide range of serious diseases caused by exposure to A.O.

Instead, Zierler has written a historical account of how a group of scientists worked to end the American military’s practice of spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam–something they called “ecocide.” As the author puts it, the book “offers a historical explanation for the rise and fall of herbicidal warfare.”

When he does address the health issues related to Agent Orange exposure, Zierler says that “certain uncertainties” exist about the “health legacy” of Agent Orange among Americans who served in the war zone, and that potential health dangers “were not fully understood during the war or now.”  Still, he says, the “absence of ‘conclusive’ data linking Agent Orange to almost all the health maladies that [American Vietnam] veterans and their families have claimed may say more about the limits of epidemiology than the true health legacy of herbicidal warfare in Vietnam.”

Zierler also says that the fact that it has not been conclusively proven that certain diseases among Vietnam veterans are caused by Agent Orange exposure works two ways. No one, he says, “can categorically tell a sick veteran than his illness was not caused by Agent Orange; consequently, the failure to establish causation, in the author’s view, makes neither the U.S. government nor the corporate producers of dioxin-laden Agent Orange any less negligent in the massive procurement and dispersal of [that] chemical agent [in Vietnam].”

—Marc Leepson

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