Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Taste of War: Vietnam and Monsanto & Dow Chemical


War Remnants Museum, Saigon, Vietnam

It wasn't the pictures of American soldiers engaging in waterboarding, or holding up pieces of blown up Vietnamese corpses, or the skull of a Vietnamese soldier worn a top a helmet that got me. War is hell and can turn even the noblest of men into monsters. We all know this. In 2005, when Carmen and I traveled around the country shooting our documentary, Dear America, we saw first hand what the Iraq War had done to an otherwise upstanding family man. On his computer screen he had horrific images, some even saved as a screensaver, of his experiences in Iraq, like a reoccurring nightmare he didn't know how to escape. As a Vet, he was against the war, but war had made him both a victim and a killer, a tool and a sacrifice. We have seen the movies, we have read the stories. But what shook me to my bones was the museum's wing documenting the aftermath of Agent Orange. I had no idea that until this day, Agent Orange is still affecting the people whose villages were in the spraying zone. Grandchildren are being born with birth deformities. Children born with no legs or arms, siamese twins, blind, painful facial deformities that look similar to that of burn victims, cancers, mental retardation, or perhaps even more terrible are the children that are born healthy but at two years old begin suffering from the effects to the point of complete paralysis by adulthood.Yesterday we visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, a sobering experience documenting the atrocities of war. The Vietnam War is something that one cannot detach from while traveling through Vietnam. And while I think it is especially impossible as an American, I think any traveler would find it impossible. As home of the world's most unpopular war in modern times, the unspoken memories of what happened here are etched into its streets. And if the post war architecture is not a good enough reminder, the many beggars with physical deformities seem to suggest that things are still not quite right here.

Gas masks used when spraying Agent Orange

According to a statistic in the museum, three million people were still being affected through 2002, perhaps the last time the museum was updated. Dioxin, an extremely toxic chemical, is still in the soil, even in the water supply. US Soldiers returned home and died of mysterious illnesses or gave birth to babies with deformities. This I knew. But the three generations of Vietnamese families effected in rural villages was something new to me. Also new to me, learning that Monsanto, who controls 90% of the world's seed genetics, was the maker of Agent Orange, along with Dow Chemical who is currently seeking approval from the USDA for their genetically altered corn and soybeans whose seeds would be accompanied with herbicide, a weed killer, that contains some of the same chemicals used in Agent Orange. While some studies say the components used in this weed resistant herbicide are not harmful, are we actually buying that these two companies who didn't give a damn about human life in the 60s and 70s have the American people's interests at heart? Furthermore upsetting, was after the museum where I learned that the Vietnam government is actually in talks with Monsanto to bring some of their gentically altered seeds back into the country it has ravaged for almost fifty years to help boost crops.

The Aftermath of Agent Orange

I think of the history books that hopefully will exist long after we perish and I try to imagine what a young student would make of this crazy world, where corporations could wipe out entire peoples, and leave a disfiguring imprint on their children and grandchildren for fifty years only to be welcomed back into the country to plant their money in the still poisoned soil. I wonder about Americans who lost fathers and brothers to Agent Orange then feeding their grandchildren with crops laced with the same chemicals that took their ancestors. I wonder how it all will change. I wonder what it will take for my country to stop touting "American family values" as political fodder to win elections and actually start giving a damn about the lives of the same families that they so earnestly express they care about.

On the bottom floor of the museum was a poster that read "War is an invasion of life." I wonder when we will see that war does not quit once the bombs stop and the soldiers come home. It does not end with a victor and the defeated. War is creating a living legacy that invades far more and much longer than we humans can comprehend. War invades the psyche. It negotiates with the spirit, breaking down a people to the point where we find ourselves eating it on our plates.

Don't like the taste? Then get up from the table.



Carmen said...

great post. thank you for sharing. i recently saw another upsetting documentary about war - "dirty wars" up for best doc this year. so much we dont know.

TommyD said...

Thanks for this post.