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The Defoliation of America
By John Zutz (reviewer)
The Defoliation of America:Agent Orange Chemicals, Citizens, and Protests
by Amy M. Hay
(The University of Alabama Press, 2022)
When the phenoxy herbicides were introduced commercially in the mid 1940s they were generally accepted. They mimicked the growth hormones in broadleaved plants causing them to "grow to death." By the '50s millions of pounds of the poison were sold to control brush, eradicate weeds, manage forests, and other applications.
There were skeptics, and after Silent Spring was published by Rachel Carlson, that trend intensified. Ms. Hay illuminates three women from the western US who began documenting and protesting the harm caused to the natural world by modern chemicals. She documents those women fairly well.
When millions of gallons of defoliants were sprayed in SE Asia, especially Vietnam, the practice was intended to clear the canopy and the base perimeters, as well as killing some crops. But the world began to notice. They noticed the miscarriages and the birth defects among animals and humans.
Scientists, environmentalists, and veterans who tilted against the large chemical companies, the regulations, and the constraints of evidence were justified to some extent.
She acknowledges Maude DeVictor, the VA worker who recognized the connection between chemicals and physical problems in veterans.
VVAW plays a significant part in this publication. A large portion of the protest area is dominated by VVAW. Even the photo on the cover is a VVAW protest (full disclosure: I was the photographer).
This is a wide-ranging book that comes at the problems of the phenoxy herbicides from an academic background. Much of the introduction is difficult for a layman, but the body of the book is more comprehendible.
Though the book is informative, I believe the most valuable part is the "Notes" section which contains a fantastic bibliography. A good place to begin or continue your own Agent Orange study.
John Zutz is a Milwaukee VVAW member.