Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Review: Silent Spring, Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War

For the rest of the world, the Vietnam war is over. For the soldiers who fought in it, no matter what their role, it will never be over. Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War is described by author and Vietnam veteran Patrick Hogan as “part memoir, part exposé, and part call to action against the bureaucratic and legislative negligence and indifference that has violated, and continues to violate, the trust of veterans and US citizens as a whole.” Succinct and well put, this is the perfect description of a horrific cover-up, one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the 20th century, and one that, had it happened today, would have been labelled genocide. The author served two years, nine months and 22 days in Vietnam and that was enough to poison his body to the extent that he ended up with a laundry list of ailments. This only manifested 43 years after his service ended, but confirmed Patrick’s conviction that his time in Vietnam and his unbelievable laundry list of illnesses were linked. After all, on many occasions, among the reasons cited by medical experts for his problems were the two chilling words “environmental agents.” And thus began his exhaustive and minutely detailed investigation into the witches’ brew of potentially lethal tactical pesticides which he is sure contributed to the decline in his health and that of many other veterans.
Sidelined and pushed from pillar to post, Patrick came up against the stone-walling tactics of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the US government, both of which deny the effects of the toxic chemicals Vietnam veterans were exposed to during the war. The reasonable person wonders why the government and chemical companies did not set about covering medical bills and compensating these men. The answer is simple. Money and greed. The refusal of the DVA and the US administration to accept responsibility is to protect them from international liability and accusations of use of chemical warfare/weapons (which is the case) and to avoid the massive payouts they would be forced to make. This is a shameful indictment of the political administration of the time and the current one, when reparations could, but won’t be made.

I had a vague idea of the Vietnam War when I picked up this book, and of course I had heard of the infamous Agent Orange, a horrifying herbicide and defoliant chemical used to destroy jungle cover for the enemy and any food supplies they might locate there. The US government destroyed millions of acres of South Vietnam jungles. It was an environmental catastrophe beyond any natural disaster ever known. I had never heard of Agent White and the numerous other toxic and deadly concoctions, a chemical poisonous soup, used as pesticides. Vietnam is home to myriad insects, bugs, and critters all carrying their own types of bites, stings and diseases. They had to be exterminated. The problem was that daily exposure to these poisons inevitably altered the molecular structure of the cells of people exposed, but took years, even decades to manifest. This gave the government and the DVA enough wiggle room to claim inconclusive evidence and the fudge the facts and manipulate the statistics.

Despite the horrifying details and chilling statistics contained in this memoir, the author has no moments of self-pity. He includes very detailed research, scientific, chemical and medical information, but all in a very readable, user-friendly style. I felt as if I were sitting with the author and chatting over coffee. He manages to intersperse fact and figures with events in a way that makes it easy to absorb the statistics and the information which is so relevant to his story. Photographs are an added bonus to help the reader visualize the location and the living conditions of the men who served in Vietnam. The facts are thoroughly researched with bibliographic and reference end notes to give credibility to Patrick Hogan’s story, one of tragedy shared by many, many other soldiers who gave their lives in a war that should never have been fought. Very impressive and highly recommended.

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