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not a barrel of fun

February 27, 2012

Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher who helped give us social contract

theory, pointed out that life is short and brutish.  I bet he said it in February.

But even with the extra day of nastiness this year, we’re almost out of it.


This is my last scheduled post for the month.  We’ve covered a lot of ground:

the death of Al the Mayor, some really rough weather, the Super Bowl, the 

hangman Albert Pierrepoint, Mardi Gras and updates on the chickens.  The

crazy days here officially end March 1st, so I wanted to cap them with one

more downer topic.


While I was doing research for another writing project a few days ago, I was

reminded that the legacy of Agent Orange continues to unfold.  Let’s review:


Agent Orange was the most widely used of the rainbow herbicides used by the

U.S. government in the Vietnam War.  The “rainbow” referred to the colored

stripes around the 55-gallon barrels the toxic compounds were shipped in. 

They were sprayed over 20 per cent of the forests of South Vietnam to reduce

cover and deprive food for the enemy.   


Orange was particularly nasty.  Its chemicals, produced mainly by Dow and

Monsanto, killed or maimed 400,000 Vietnamese and caused birth defects

in 500,000 more.


As members of the U.S. military returned home, some of them exposed to

Orange began to develop cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and sarcoma.  The

dioxin in the agent is a human carcinogen, according to the National

Toxicology Program.


Veterans began filing claims for disability with the Department of Veterans

Affairs in 1977, but were told that they had to prove that their symptoms had

started while they were still on active duty or within one year after discharge.

By 1993, the V.A. had only compensated 486 vets out of 39,419 claims.


In 1980, the largest U.S. class action suit at that time was filed against several

manufacturers of Orange.  The principal client, Sgt. Charles E. Hartz, provided

testimony by deposition, because he would not be alive for the trial itself due

to a brain tumor.


Four years later, the suit was settled out of court for $180 million, about 45 per

cent of that to be paid by Monsanto.  Outraged veterans, concerned about how

that sum would be paid out, demanded hearings and appeals.  The hearings

happened in five cities, but a federal judge refused any appeals, declaring the

settlement “fair and just”.


In 1989, it was announced that a totally disabled veteran would receive a max-

imum of $12,000 over ten years from the suit.  Further, if he accepted it, he

would be ineligible for better paying state benefits like food stamps and public

assistance.  A widow of a veteran who died from the effects of Agent Orange

would receive $3700.


In 2004, a spokeswoman for Monsanto said that the corporation should not

be liable at all, explaining “we are sympathetic with people who believe they

have been injured and want to find the cause, but reliable scientific evidence

indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health



Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act in 1991.  It gave the Department of

Veterans Affairs the power to assemble a list of conditions presumptive to

exposure to Orange/dioxin.  This allowed Vietnam veterans access to treat-

ment and compensation.  The list continues to grow.  Three more conditions

were added in August 2010.


In October 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Hanoi that

that a clean-up of dioxin contamination sites would be initiated.  In June of

2011, a ceremony at DaNang Airport marked its beginning.  So far $32 million

has been allocated.


Last year, Veterans Affairs decided that there was not enough dioxin residue

on the aircraft used to spray Orange in Vietnam to injure current service

members.  But just last month, the U.S. Center for Disease Control challenged

this decision with its own findings.


I encourage you to research the true costs of war.  To that end, please go out of

your way to watch the documentary Wartorn: 1861 -2010 It’s a gripping survey

of PTSD, starting with the letters of a U.S. Civil War soldier that chronicle his

complete unraveling.  Recent veterans tell you directly what they’re going

through.  It’s the most comprehensive look at the problem I’ve ever watched.


Writing about all this has my blood at a boil.  That may not be so bad this deep

into winter.  I’m going to walk Slinkee.  I’ll see you in March.  Don’t forget to

stay warm.

  1. wade permalink
    February 28, 2012 10:20 am

    Thanks for the recap regarding Agent Orange. Being involved with the anti-war movement here in Chicago, i have met several Iraq & Afghan war veterans. They are being screwed by the US Gov’t as well.

    This all has to stop! (Not your blog, just to be clear- rather war & the insanity that goes with it.)

    Peace brother, peace.

    • February 29, 2012 7:52 am

      Back at ya, bro. While the Pentagon subsidizes enlistment ads like “Act of Valor”, it turns its back on its veterans.

  2. kris (lower case) permalink
    March 1, 2012 5:56 pm

    monsanto seems to own the government.. but then, corporations are people too…

    • March 2, 2012 11:50 am

      Did you see the Occupy Wall Street demonstrator on the news holding a sign that said “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”?

      • kris (lower case) permalink
        March 2, 2012 9:01 pm

        no…but i love that! i can think of a few that i would not mind seeing executed..

      • March 4, 2012 2:09 pm

        We should have seen the rise of the corporations coming. The 1975 movie “Rollerball” warned us.

  3. March 3, 2012 6:46 am


    I’m glad you wrote this! I think we all need to be reminded about the costs of making war and using poisons. It’s a shame how people are used for soldiers, as pawns in government games, and then treated like crap when they are hurting and empty and sick. Maybe I also need a walk.


    • March 4, 2012 2:19 pm

      We’ve known about the military-industrial complex since at least 1935, when Smedley Butler, once the most decorated Marine in its history, published War is a Racket. Ike Eisenhower, another U.S. general and 34th
      President, reminded us in his 1961 farewell address from the Oval Office. When will we ever learn?

  4. March 8, 2012 6:16 am

    I thought about your question for a while, even though it was likely rhetorical. This morning, half asleep, I’ll offer a bit of an answer. Now. We can learn a little bit more about this right now by watching Obama. I don’t know if you think he’s any good or not, but I think his policy on Iran is brilliant.

    He discouraged the trigger happy Israeli Netanyahu from assuming the US is just going to start bombing Iran willy nilly, possibly preventing a war with just that one action alone. He told Iran that the US will not let them develop a nuclear weapon, hopefully scaring the pants off them. (Message: you get nuclear weapons and you will be bombed.)

    He also gave Iran respect in the sense that he said they should be allowed to have nuclear power plants, and that would be okay as long as they submitted to a lot of inspections to prove that this is what they are actually doing. His solution in the meantime, diplomacy–which is an undeveloped skill in Netanyahu, but we all know it’s better to argue and yell than to start punching or knifing somebody.

    Whether this works or not is uncertain–but representing the US position in this way seems to be the best way of preventing war. Military experts agreed with him, using the example of North Korea, who has been frightened for years, knowing if they did anything with their weapons, the US would make them very sorry.

    Take a look at the competing Republican candidates–are they capable of this intelligent analysis of world politics? I’d say foreign policy is a really big issue, since all of our safety on this globe depends on it.

    Long answer for a rhetorical question. What do you think?


    • March 8, 2012 10:19 am

      I appreciate your insights, Julie. It seems to me that Obama is driving the GOPers nuts with his foreign policy, which balances bold action with thoughtful restraint. It has many woeful missteps, like keeping Guanatanamo open, but they agree with those. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich are hidebound as Republicans to beat the war drums, but please remember that their voters are just coming out of hibernation and require red meat.
      I believe Obama’s got it just about right on Iran and Israel, making the Reps look like schoolground bullies. Which they are. That is, Romney’s a fake bully, Gingrich is a totally self-serving bully and Santorum is a wannabe bully because he thought he heard God tell him to be.

  5. March 9, 2012 11:21 pm

    Funny, all God ever tells me is “Julie, you’re not listening.” Ha!

    Anyway, Canada is not going so well either these days, government-wise–feels like the bullies have taken over the playground and only bullies will prosper. But we’re tough, like your chickens; we will survive.


    • March 10, 2012 11:49 am

      As a native, you probably measure Canada’s problems differently than I do as an immigrant from the U.S. News like the Gomery scandal wouldn’t get much attention down south. I still find the Canadian political system more deft than below the 49th. And I really appreciate that it’s much more secular here. I remember when Harper was first elected, he tried to revive gay marriage as an issue, but was told to get on with more pressing matters. In both nations, however, it seems that the bullies rule the playground. Go, chickens!

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