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By John Ketwig (reviewer)
by Ariel S. Garfinkel
(Lucita Publishing, 2018)
Sometimes I stumble across a book which hasn't had much attention, but it is hugely important, informative, or interesting. I'm very pleased to tell you that "Scofflaw" is that kind of book, and much more. This is a study of Vietnam after the war, and the international laws and precedents that our country has systematically ignored with regard to the UXO (unexploded ordnance) and chemical damages due to Agent Orange and all the related rainbow of chemicals America inflicted upon Southeast Asia during the period known as "the Vietnam War."
Carefully researched and fully documented, "Scofflaw" is a small book that is a damning indictment of the destruction and suffering America showered down upon Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Today, as we "commemorate" the 50th anniversary of that war, the explosives and anti-personnel weapons we dropped in such profusion are continuing to kill and maim the impoverished peasants of those countries. In total, the US dropped an estimated barrage of more than 7.6 million tons of bombs upon those countries, three times the amount of explosives utilized in World War II in Europe and the Pacific theater combined! We employed more than five million tons of explosives in Vietnam alone, the vast majority in South Vietnam, our supposed ally and a poor, rural, agricultural country. In Southeast Asia, American bombardments and artillery were the most intense in the history of warfare. Today, after decades of cleanup efforts, the Vietnamese government estimates "...350,000 to 800,000 tons of bombs and mines remain, including high explosive bombs, shrapnel bombs, penetration bombs, missiles, mines, cannon warheads, and other explosives" remain. In addition, the US deforested 4.5 million acres of Vietnam with 18 million gallons of highly toxic chemical defoliants. Initially, these chemicals were used to make the jungle vegetation shrivel and die, stripping the enemy guerilla forces of their cover. However, as the war dragged on with few positive results for the Americans, those chemicals were employed to poison vast areas of Vietnam's agricultural capacity. The intent was to deny the enemy food, and to destroy the Vietnamese population's resolve and willingness to continue the war. Of course, those defoliant chemicals contained dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to science. Today, children in Vietnam continue to be born with gruesome deformities caused by the permanent alteration of their parents' and grandparents' DNA by exposure to those chemicals.
Scofflaw offers a concise, accessible and thoroughly understandable discussion of international laws and protocols regarding warfare and the cleanups after war. Clearly, the vast majority of those rules, legal obligations, and guidelines have been systematically ignored throughout modern history, leaving the residents of war zones little hope that the leftover weapons will ever be cleaned up, nor that there will ever be reparations or humane assistance. American combat troops left Vietnam in 1973, forty-five years ago. Congress and the Pentagon have been terribly reluctant to help our own disabled or poisoned veterans, let alone the peasants of Southeast Asia. The tragedy of the Vietnam War continues to today, and it will certainly continue for decades to come.
It is all too easy for Americans to ignore the suffering and misery the Vietnam War inflicted, just as our national attention is diverted away from the human toll of the seventeen-year war in Afghanistan, or the suffering we have inflicted upon the populations of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, or many other areas of the world. If there is any hope that America's militarism, imperialism, and an economy dependent upon death and destruction might someday be refocused upon peace, brotherhood, humanity, and hope it will be books like "Scofflaw" that will inspire the changes. Highly, highly recommended!
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of ...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam.