Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War by Patrick Hogan is a highly personal and technical examination of the dangers faced by “boots on the ground” veterans in Vietnam, not from the enemy, the North Vietnamese, but rather from their own Government who systematically and regularly sprayed them with a deadly cocktail of herbicides and insecticides that would have devastating effects on the veterans’ own health over the next fifty-odd years but perhaps even more importantly on the health of their children, their grandchildren and perhaps generations yet unborn. Hogan details, in a ordered and scientific manner the many chemicals and chemical cocktails he and his fellow veterans were exposed to on a regular basis. Although Agent Orange is probably “the face” of the Vietnam veterans’ exposure to herbicides, the author details the many different and varied deadly chemicals they were subjected to. He also reviews the duplicity and intransigence of the Federal Government in dealing with their responsibilities to the veterans for this mistreatment. Equally he highlights the almost criminal manner in which the multi-national chemical companies were and still are allowed to produce such lethal concoctions for both military and civilian uses.
This book was something of an eye-opener for me. As a non-American reader I was aware of the use of Agent Orange that both affected US soldiers as well as others from the international forces stationed in Vietnam, however the sheer volume and persistence with which these cocktails of chemicals were systematically delivered to the Vietnamese and the soldiers was frankly horrifying. The intransigence of the Government to accept responsibility for their actions was and is reprehensible. The adage of “delay and obfuscate until they have all died,” does indeed seem to be the guiding principle of successive DVA (Department of Veteran Affairs) administrations. I found the book compelling and readable despite its, at times, highly scientific language. Even the layman can understand the intense toxicity of some of these chemical given Patrick Hogan’s analogies. Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War is a chilling reminder of just how easy it is for Government to lose sight of protection of their own troops when waging “all-out” war on their enemy. I realise this was written solely from a US Veteran’s perspective and naturally focused on their health problems and difficulties getting resolution, but as a non-American reader two things that were only briefly mentioned, struck me forcefully. Were the US guilty of war-crimes by spraying such a toxic mix of chemicals on what was essentially a civilian population? Sarin gas may kill quicker, as used by Saddam Hussein on his own people, but one can’t help but wonder what long-term effects this program has had on the health and future genetic stability of the Vietnamese population. This is a thought-provoking and at times anger-provoking read. Thank you to the author for putting such a complicated issue into terms we can all understand.