For those already committed to voting for the so-called 'antiwar' candidate, I recommend putting this book in front of Sen. John Kerry and demanding to know what he will do as president to address American responsibility and pay reparations for the genocidal assault on the people of Vietnam. Such action will constitute a litmus test for this candidate, his "band of brothers" and future warriors about how the USA intends to solve the problem of terrorism. Will they acknowledge international law and prosecute the guilty parties including politicians, bureaucrats, executive military officers and defense contractors? Will they honor, finally, the Paris Accords and repair the ecocide brutally wrought upon the Vietnamese by their chemical weapons? Or will they continue to cover up a deliberate, malefic genocide by honoring war criminals like Kissinger and McNamara who now cries cinematic tears while his Pentagon successors plan the mass destruction of any nation that dares to oppose American hegemony?
Philip Jones Griffiths's AGENT ORANGE, COLLATERAL DAMAGE IN VIETNAM is a complex, dense statement that can be viewed and read several ways. Foremost, it is unquestionably the greatest work of photojournalism ever published. I do not make this statement lightly or without professional judgement. For twenty-five years, I edited the work of distinguished photojournalists -- Capa, Richards, Salgado, Peress, and Nachtwey among many others. Comparable only to W. Eugene Smith's MINIMATA: LIFE -- SACRED AND PROFANE, a passionate chronicle of the devastating effects of post-WW II industrial pollution on a Japanese town, AGENT ORANGE surpasses all previous attempts to synthesize the medium of still photography with historical documentation. Griffiths's masterly images unselfconsciously insert readers into the scene of an historical crime and guide them through the evidence page by excruciating page as a means to elicit direct testimony from the perpetrators and their victims. With the possible exception of Erich Maria Remarque' s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, no other monograph so successfully confronts citizens with the folly of leaders who commit atrocities in their name. The stares of genetically deformed children struggling to articulate humanity across the threshold of pain and disability give absolute lie to the facile excuses of national security used by politicians to conduct high tech assault-and-battery on unwitting, innocent populations. Then it was Vietnam, today Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beginning with his eloquent book, VIETNAM INC. first published in 1971, Griffiths has pursued an unrelenting inquiry into the truth of violence and war. He reported from the Mekong Delta battlefront and also the brothels of Saigon. Returning years later, he earned the trust of farmers who had rebuilt their devastated villages with the detritus of war. Pushing his inquest further he located and photographed war orphans, now shunned as the miscegenated offspring of foreign invaders (DARK ODYSSEY, 1997). Infrequently supported by the mass media, Griffiths parlayed his skills as a commercial photographer to raise the cash necessary to return periodically to Southeast Asia, as if excavating its pitted landscape for some fragment of reason that might explain the macabre body counts and haunting trans-generational birth defects. Some photographers are celebrated for their commitments in documenting a family coming of age or the rise and fall of a nation. Journalism schools promote the virtues of in-depth or extended coverage (sometime a whole week!) while network and cable news personnel embrace the fame of sticking with a big story only to defer, in the final analysis, to the desire of corporate sponsors. By contrast Griffiths has the determination of a seasoned forensic scientist. Although no maverick, he has paid the price of banishment from the newspapers and magazines "of record" whose editors remain too frightened by management to commission or publish his work. Why would they want to remind subscribers of their own inaccuracies and slavish pandering to the official story?
In this respect, AGENT ORANGE can also be read for its scholarship because it presents new historical research about the manufacture and deployment of chemical weapons during the Vietnam era. It has been almost twenty years since American courts acknowledged the gravity of dioxin poisoning in rulings on lawsuits filed by military veterans. Yet companies who supplied the military with these chemical defoliants continue to falsify experimental data on their products' potential for birth defects. Our government stands mute on the issue of "peace with honor" and refuses to contribute any meaningful economic assistance, nonetheless stipulated in the treaty with Hanoi. The war's apologists and neoliberal ideologues continue to deride Vietnam as a failed socialist experiment. Griffith's photographs and words rip their lies to shreds and dissolve their chauvinism in the cold truth of twisted limbs, hare lips, and hydrocehpalic fetuses preserved in formaldehyde. AGENT ORANGE is the black book of American infamy, its author has given citizens a priceless instrument to test their politicians sincerity and commitment to peace. Buy a copy and ask Kerry for a clear statement of conscience!