Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Group 8 - Legacy of Environmental Degradation

By Patrick Camarador & Camilla Mariscal
The cost of war is never truly measured accurately until many years later, and this week’s theme ‘Legacy of Environmental Degradations’ exemplifies this. The reading, (selected chapter) Scorched Earth: Legacy of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam by Fred Wilcox, explored this unacknowledged legacy by looking into the effects of Agent Orange on the people and land of Vietnam. Wilcox’s methodology was ethnographic in practice, but scientific in nature. He uses this unique approach to showcase the lasting effects of the use of herbicides in Vietnam through, testimonials, case studies of legal events, and analysis of motivations behind key actions leading to the lasting consequences in the present day.

Wilcox’s main point was to emphasize that the damages of war have not been healed and that Vietnam continues to suffer from the effects of Agent Orange years after the war and use of herbicides ceased. In Chapter 1, he gives an overview of the herbicide campaign and some of the preliminary damage assessment that took place. Chapter 6 features the lineage of Dang Van Son and how the maladies of Agent Orange usage span multiple generations. Judge Weinstein’s dismissal of the legal fight for reparations is deconstructed in Chapter 7, bringing to attention U.S. apathies despite sufficient scientific and testimonial evidence. Chapter 11 takes readers to Du Tu Hospital to witness affected children’s experiences marred by Agent Orange, while Chapter 12 has Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong show just how bad the defects can be for those who end up unfortunate enough. Wilcox ends with Chapter 13, showing that some efforts are being made by individuals such as Ken Herman, but that more needs to be done if the process of healing is to be carried out to completion.

When thinking of chronic environmental damages, the typical first example is nuclear fallout. Although no nuclear weapons were used in the Vietnam campaign, the timespan of the lasting environmental damages caused by herbicides is just as grievous in comparison. This ‘legacy’ of the non-nuclear damages gets overshadowed by its brazen counterpart. Through Wilcox’s work, readers realize that it takes more than a Geiger counter to judge whether or not the scars of war have healed.

With this reading, Patrick found the traditional sciences were used ways that were novel and also ways that were amoral. Rather than writing about Agent Orange using “mountains of statistics or studies jam-packed with incomprehensible charts and graphs,” Wilcox uses his ethnographic approach to “in short...listen to Vietnam.” Patrick found his approach, “scientifically anecdotal, or anecdotally scientific,” still suitable for use in one of the central dogmas of science, the Scientific Method. Despite the dominance of qualitative evidence, Wilcox still cited quantitative findings to prove a point, particularly in Chapter 7 where it was needed to dispel Weinsteins assertions. However, Wilcox also brings to light the scientific arguments made by individuals on behalf of Dow Chemical. Patrick’s previous anthropology class on drugs, science, and culture, made a point that no scientific fact is ever isolated from the culture, politics, and economics in which it is created in. The various scientific defenses Dow employed along with its secretive policies allowed for generations of Vietnamese to suffer at the hands of haphazard destruction brought about by Agent Orange.

Social sciences aren’t so different from these traditional sciences. While Patrick brought his knowledge of quantitative based sciences to this project, Camilla was able to bring their knowledge of the qualitative science models often used in works such as Scorched Earth. Before field work can even begin, a researcher must select a research topic, review literature about the topic, formulate a research question, and prepare a research design. In the case of Scorched Earth, Wilcox addressed the questions of how Agent Orange is still continuously affecting the people of Vietnam physically, emotionally, economically, and socially. After a research design in constructed, they must gain access to these groups, collect data, and formulate an analysis and conclusion. Wilcox gathered ample qualitative interview and document based data from his travels in Vietnam, and used every chapter as a way to compile his field notes with analysis. While this form of data gathering cannot create a solid conclusion the same way as traditional scientific gathering since interviews cannot be boiled down into charts and graphs, it allows for a kind of data that re-humanizes these people and shares their story with the world.

Such ingenuous methods used to assess the costs of war must not be forgotten in the present day. While the war in Syria continues to rage on, the death toll and wounded count aren’t the only damages that are accumulating over the course of the war. Once the dust settles in the future, measures must be taken not only to measure the explicit costs, but also the implicit costs that require scientific and anthropological analysis to reveal. Using methods similar to Wilcox’s in conjunction with morally responsible scientific investigations, a more accurate picture of the state of post-war Syria can be acquired. This can lead to a more just ruling on war reparations for whoever is responsible, more effective rehabilitation efforts for people, and quicker creation of habitat restoration campaigns that assist the wildlife of the region to heal alongside the humans they exist with and are (possibly) interdependent upon for survival. The lasting benefits are cultural, environmental, and beneficial to the legacy of post-war conduct.

Warfare doesn’t have to be the driving force behind science and sociology working in tandem. Another present day example, the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline, offers another opportunity for multiple disciplines to collide and collaborate. Generating scientific facts alone will most assuredly fail to change the hearts and minds of people to undermine corporations. Taking the quantitative or esoteric dangers of fossil fuel use and translating it into more tangible reasons for ordinary citizens to do their part to stand in opposition of inconsiderate greed and resource mismanagement. By working together, scientists and sociologists alike can convince the public that while individually, they cannot be heroes that save the world, they can make the world a place worth saving.

Scorched Earth: Legacy of Chemical Warfare leaves a new legacy of its own: Environmental degradation cannot be ignored forever. The lasting consequences of chemical warfare will continue to plague victims until measures are taken to clean up the messes that were made. While it may take years to reveal the true total costs of war, the collaboration of science across disciplines can work to hasten the process of healing for all to benefit. If all warfare is based on deception, all cooperation in peacetime must be based on collaboration.

Works Cited:
Fred A. Wilcox. Scorched Earth: Legacy of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam. 2011.
Introduction; Chapter 1: Ecocide; Chapter 6: Generations; Chapter 7: Jurisprudence; Chapter 11: Chemical Children; Chapter 12 Evidence Room, Chapter 13: Letters Don’t Lie.

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