Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War by Patrick Hogan

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In Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War (Whatnot Enterprises, 216 pp., $12.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) Patrick Hogan is the best, most fact-filled current book about Agent Orange that this reviewer has encountered. Departing from some previous AO offerings that little more than chronicle the woes and health challenges of the authors—along with a litany of beefs with health-care providers, primarily the VA—Hogan goes many steps further in this second edition of his book. We reviewed the first edition on these pages in December of 2018.

Hogan does lay out the health experiences that brought him to the writing desk, but not seeking pity or sympathy. He then moves quickly into explaining the military operations that sprayed million of gallons of herbicides, insecticides, defoliants, and other generally bad stuff on the Vietnamese countryside, as well as on U.S. bases and other installations, and troops in the field.

Hogan, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, was motivated to dig into his subject after watching a presidential speech, and having a good buddy die of complications of Agent Orange exposure—as well as his desire to learn the details of how the spraying began and continued. He describes tactical, economic, ethical, and political decisions made on the battlefield, in the halls of Congress, and in industrial boardrooms.

And he takes us on a chemical excursion in which he spells out the main ingredients—both active and inert—that comprised Agent Orange, Agent White, and the other toxic chemicals used in the Vietnam War. Hogan also describes delivery systems and methods and compares wartime military concentrations of these toxic chemicals with peacetime commercial, agricultural, and homeowners formulations.  He also covers the laxity of handling and storage protocols.

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Hogan in country during his Sept. ’66-June ’69 tour of duty

As the result of his prodigious research into recently declassified documents—many apparently strategically and widely misfiled—Hogan finds (and wrestles with) decisions that seemingly were made with little with no regard for their health consequences. Seemingly without rancor—but certainly with exasperation and incredulity—Hogan includes evidence that the government and chemical manufactures had a cover-up mentality that pervaded our wartime leadership.

He also chronicles the VA’s past actions—and inactions—in dealing with the medical claims submitted by service personnel exposed to AO and other chemicals. And he details the progress being made, including what to expect from the VA in the future with respect to Agent Orange compensation,

All in all, this is a well-researched and executed book. It is well worth reading by anyone who was exposed to Agent Orange.

The book’s website is silent-spring-deadly-autumn.com

–Tom Werzyn

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Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War by Patrick Hogan

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Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War (Whatnot Enterprises, 216 pp. $12.83, paper; $3.99, Kindle) by Patrick Hogan indicts and convicts the United States government and Department of Veteran Affairs for miscalculations and denials about the indiscriminate spraying of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals as weapons during the Vietnam War.

The spraying was intended to prevent the enemy from using forests as refuge and crop growing areas. The prolonged and intense spraying operation, though, shortened lives and threatened the health of future offspring of everyone in the country.

Hogan’s concern primarily focuses on the plight of Americans who served in Vietnam, as well as their children and grandchildren, all of whom should read this book. Hogan also mentions international liability, which suggests reparations for the Vietnamese.

In a manner similar to that with which American officials denied the existence of post-traumatic stress disorder, Hogan makes a case that government tactics have centered on the idea of “Delay, deny, wait till they die” with veterans who developed cellular and genetic diseases from exposure to toxic chemicals in Vietnam.

The portion of his research devoted to an analysis of the herbicides and insecticides resembles a textbook. He introduces the reader to  2,4-D and  2,4,5-T as part of a “short list of the most prevalent toxic organic chemicals.” Hogan’s classroom-like approach should not intimidate readers because he also provides detailed examples of the criminally improper uses of the chemicals, such as the Seveso Incident and the Times Beach Relocation Project.

Similarly, he speaks of ailments caused by chemicals as casually as introducing an old friend. They range from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to “cholecystitis—with subsequent cholecystectomy.

The last half of the book provides a courtroom of sorts for Hogan to plead his case against American leaders’ misuse of chemicals. In it, he argues the pros and cons of their decisions regarding programs such as Operation Ranch Hand and other spraying ops for defoliation or insecticide purposes.

He portrays the dangerous, far-ranging effects of using a mist-drift tactic for delivering chemicals. He cites lessons learned based on official reports. He explains improperly performed, intentionally skewed, and knowingly bogus research that “proved” that the chemicals were safe. He reveals government cover-ups that still exist. He describes how the chemicals of choice would have been less toxic to humans if Dow Corporation and other chemical manufacturers had been less greedy.

In summary, Hogan says that the failure of our government and the VA to take appropriate action is politically expedient and much less costly. He labels the inaction as betrayal.

Hogan knows whereof he speaks. His personal trouble began with “an angry rash” on his face a few months after his discharge from the Army, he says. An enlistee at eighteen, he had served with the 423rd Supply Company at Cam Rahn Bay from September 1966 to June 1969.

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Hogan, right, about to leave Vietnam in 1969

Soon after, indigestion and respiratory problems bedeviled him. He treated their symptoms with over-the-counter medicines, all the while suspecting that exposure to Agent Orange caused his health problems. Hogan was on his own, however, because the VA denied any toxic effects from Agent Orange.

From 1970-99, abdominal and digestive tract problems caused him to endure many surgeries. In 1999, Patrick Hogan took early retirement following a long law enforcement career, but his medical problems persisted.

In 2012, “a barrier broke in his mind,” he says. Memories of years of VA refusals to provide medical care and an Army friend’s early death from leukemia triggered him to write Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War. The depth of his research is highly commendable.

History needs more writers like Patrick Hogan—a guy off the streets who won’t take it anymore and acts on his feelings.

His website is silent-spring-deadly-autumn.com

—Henry Zeybel

Detour: Agent Orange by Dale M. Herder and Sam Smith

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For seven weeks, Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran Sam Smith could move only his left eyeball. His paralysis, a peripheral neuropathy disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, developed in twenty-four hours and likely was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange several years earlier while serving as an infantryman in Vietnam.

Smith describes his recovery from the disease in Detour: Agent Orange (Arena, 203 pp. $8.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle), which he co-wrote with Dale M. Herter.

The two men have made extensive use of four hundred pages of notes recorded by Smith’s sisters—Linda, a lawyer, and Diane, who owned and ran a concrete plant with her husband. The women began recording events the moment they arrived at Smith’s bedside in an intensive care unit on Day One. Herder, a former naval officer (and Diane’s husband), monitored the notes in a ship’s log format for the first four months of his brother-in-law’s paralysis.

The phenomenal part of Smith’s ordeal was his ability to use his left eye—his only functioning body part. He communicated with his sisters by moving that eyeball left or right and up or down.

With his mind fully functioning, Sam Smith heard and saw everything that took place near him. Hospital staff members viewed him as a lost cause, however, and did not provide adequate treatment. Staying at his bedside 24/7 in shifts of 12-on/12-off, his sisters eventually obtained a writ of guardianship that gave them control of his medical care. For four months a ventilator, pacemaker, feeding tube, and tracheotomy tube provided the functions that his body was incapable of supplying.

After nearly two years in intensive care, acute care, and rehabilitation hospitals, Sam Smith still had a weakened body and lacked muscle control. He forced himself to become stronger and self-sufficient. His explanation of how he mastered the discipline required to use a wheelchair could stand by itself as a training manual.

He learned to walk and tend to his everyday needs. He got a driver’s license, earned a bachelor’s and part of a master’s degree, married, worked as an engineer for twenty-six years, became a grandfather, and retired.

Sam Smith describes his ordeal more like a reporter than as a victim. He seeks no pity. “Heartrending” is the perfect adjective to describe his life, yet he displays a sense of humor even after describing his direst moments.

From 1961-71, the U.S. military’s Operation Ranch Hand sprayed more than 20 million gallons of herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Agent Orange, which contained dioxin—one of the most toxic chemical compounds ever synthesized—was the most commonly used herbicide.

Detour: Agent Orange gave me a deeper understanding of the dynamics of quadriplegics and other people with acute physical handicaps. They live heroic lives. Smith’s stoicism has influenced me to ignore most of the aches and pains of aging that I often feel.

Agent Orange crippled Sam Smith as surely as any kind of damage inflicted by arms. He survived his war injury because he and his sisters live in a world apart.

—Henry Zeybel

From Enemies to Partners by Le Ke Son and Charles R. Bailey

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A look back at the chemical abuse that the United States perpetrated against the population and topography of Vietnam during the American war dictates a look forward about the enduring effects of that action. Defoliation of the countryside by the use of Agent Orange/dioxin and other toxins took place between 1961 and 1970; its effects are still apparent fifty years and several generations later.

Making amends for the use of Agent Orange has been difficult. Le Ke Son and Charles R. Bailey promote this effort in From Enemies to Partners: Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange (G. Anton, 242 pp. $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle). Son and Bailey have collaborated on this problem since 2006. Son holds a PhD in toxicology; Bailey has a PhD in agricultural economics. Both men have worked with agencies such as the Red Cross and Ford Foundation on correcting the damages inflicted by Agent Orange.

From 1975-2006, Agent Orange was “an extremely sensitive and controversial subject,” the authors write. “Official views were polarized, information was scant, disagreement was rife and suspicions on both sides ran high.” They counter this situation by assembling enough data to make Agent Orange a discuss-able topic. The book highlights the contributions of people and organizations that have helped to compensate for Agent Orange’s misuse.

The thoroughness with which Son and Bailey examine the Agent Orange/dioxin situation  is spellbinding. They have assembled a wealth of data that arguably amounts to more information on the topic than may be found in any other single publication.

They open their argument with a province-by-province review, complete with charts and studies, that shows—among other things—that dioxin still exists in Vietnam. They then examine dioxin’s impact on people and the ecology. There also are charts, tables, and studies to promote awareness among Americans and Vietnamese about the problem and the needs of victims. The book ends with a summation of bilateral efforts to date and proposals for the future.

The magnitude of future problems relates to locales, expenses, and people. American bases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and Phu Cat were Agent Orange’s most toxic areas. Da Nang has been cleansed of poison. The cost of remediating Bien Hoa is estimated at $375-$500 million and will take a decade, the authors say. Meanwhile, several hundred thousand young Vietnamese with birth defects linked to AO exposure passed on through their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents await help, according to the authors.

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Son and Bailey argue for continued collaboration between the United States and Vietnam and urge greater funding by Americans to finish tasks such as sanitizing the Bien Hoa Air Base.

A raft of color photographs pays tribute to people who have supported the cause. An appendix cites the Ford Foundation and seventy-eight of its grant recipients. Another appendix—”Fifty-Five Years of Agent Orange: Timeline of Key Statements, Decisions and Events 1961-2016″—provides an excellent twenty-four-page summation of the book’s theme.

—Henry Zeybel