“The People vs. Agent Orange” (86 min, no MPAA rating; Documentary). 8 out of 10
News of the usage of the defoliant chemical known as Agent Orange was revealed while the Vietnam War was still going on — a harmful herbicide to destroy plant life, but ended up being harmful to animals, including humans. As chemicals were abundantly used in WWI, and I’m sure to some extent in WWII, though there doesn’t seem to be much documented, just as DDT, a pesticide used in the 1950s and 1960s, the usage of Agent Orange did not stop at the end of the Vietnam War.
Unlike chemical warfare in WWI, the usage of Agent Orange wasn’t intended to kill people, but defoliate the jungles of Vietnam where the enemy was hiding under the camouflage of thick vegetation. However, there were side effects from exposure to this chemical that were discounted by the U.S. government who were focused on winning the war regardless of its effects on villagers and animal life. And here we are some 50 years later still waging a war — not in far-off lands — but here in the U.S. as this deadly toxin wreaks havoc on the human genome causing deformed births, mutated aquatic life, illnesses and deadly cancers. The primary component of this toxic defoliant, 2,4-D, is used to control weeds in farming, forestry, and public parks — and even on children’s playgrounds.
Kate Taverna and Alan Adelson are behind a new documentary entitled “The People vs. Agent Orange,” about the continued struggles to eradicate usage of Agent Orange in the U.S. to bring attention in pointing fingers at those responsible for causing death, deformity and suffering to the innocent victims from its use. You can’t truly blame Dow Chemical for manufacturing it, because they have buyers, both in the private and public sectors and all levels of government. It falls on their heads to use better judgment on the limited, judicious deployment of this environmentally sensitive substance. Documentaries like this, and there have been plenty, remind me of crusaders like Karen Silkwood (against Kerr-McGee) and Erin Brockovich (against PG&E), fighting a noble cause to expose huge corporations from knowingly releasing harmful chemicals into the environment for years. The 2019 film “Dark Waters” was another fine film based on true events implicating Dupont Industries from knowingly polluting the drinking water supply in populated areas of New England.
“The People vs. Agent Orange” focuses on two crusading women leading the charge against continued usage of this deadly toxin. One is in France, Tran To Nga, who filed a lawsuit in 2014 against manufactures of this dioxin-contaminated chemical, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto. Final pleadings of the case were recently heard in French court with a decision due in May 2021. The other is in America, Carol Van Strum, who has been at it against the American chemical industry since the 1980s when she was a young woman. Carol has been an activist in this public arena for a long time on exposing the ongoing contamination of waterways and reservoirs, particularly in the Pacific Northwest where Carol lives. Rare interviews with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle are included in this insightful documentary stating that for years, information was withheld regarding exposure of Agent Orange to veterans as tantamount to a government cover-up scheme.
Both in Vietnam and here in the States, the continued unfettered use of this and other deadly compounds used in the air, on the land and in our waterways needs to be stopped. Through the efforts of activists and participating law firms along with public support and media cooperation, the fight for a cleaner environment and the health of people, above all else, rages on with some positive results. Filmmakers Kate Taverna and Alan Adelson make the point it is not enough — of course, not when a small but unified group of citizens have the temerity to take on such imposing opponents as multi-billion dollar corporations — and the U.S. government. The struggle should never end…not until it is all truly over.
“The People vs. Agent Orange” is being released in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and over 20 other cities on March 5.