Unsent letter #12 [I still think of you when the world gets like this]

A Prose Poem by Anon ymous


How you told me 11 is the number for clarity;
it’s morning, rivers and sleet. It’s anything
wet: sweat on a glass of beer, a splash from
fish, silver and sleek, It comes before blood,
before the impact of Agent Orange, before Dow
Chemical burns the flesh from children running,
before we learn how to swallow loss. You love
this town, its broken pieces laid out before this
Great Lake. The park by the canal is deserted,
gulls pick at tourist leftovers. I imagine you
painting, writing, listening to your favorite
playlist; firefly or lush or a Monsanto madness.
I watch the lights on the hill go out one by one
by one; count them until everything becomes clear.


Agent Orange Not Included In “NEW” Lessons from An Old War

by Heather A. Bowser

The “NEW” Lessons from an Old War, do not Include Agent Orange, According to University of Pittsburgh’s Honors College Panelists

When something is just to good to be true and it usually is. The University of Pittsburgh held a college honors program, March 4th, called Vietnam: New Lessons from an Old War, a Half Century On. The speakers were Senator Bob Kerrey, Vietnam Veteran and former governor of Nebraska, Peter Arnett, from New Zealand, he won a Pulitzer prize for his journalism during the war, Thomas Vallely, the former director of Harvard’s Vietnam Project and Vietnam Veteran. Laura Palmer, reporter during the Vietnam War and author, and lastly, historian Edward Miller, an expert on Vietnam and an associate professor at Dartmouth College.

I was interested in how those who were in the thick of the Vietnam War have processed what they went through as a young adult. I was also very interested in hearing panel members talk about the chemical defoliant the U.S. used in Vietnam to kill the jungle and decimate crops. The D.O.D. sprayed over 19 million gallons of herbicide on south Vietnam. The herbicide manufactured by seven different chemical companies were contaminated with dioxin. The dioxin in the herbicide, poisoned drinking water, and food.

Agent Orange has left a permanent mark on Vietnam Veterans and their families. It has also destroyed the environment and people’s lives in Vietnam. Vietnam Veterans are dying quickly. Their children and grandchildren have been begging the government to take seriously their claims of devastating chronic illnesses and birth defects they say have been caused by their father’s exposure. Even with the explosion of epigenetics their cries for help falls on deaf ears.

The second floor ballroom was packed with well over two hundred people. Thirty people were milling about in the standing room only section. I pushed through the crowd and slid down along the back wall just before the event began. As my Vietnam Veteran father taught me, not through words, but through action, whenever I’m in the crowd, I have to be aware of my surroundings. I scanned the crowd, lots of college kids who were probably forced by some professor to come, who wouldn’t even bother attending themselves, a few journalists, many baby boomers, some academic types, and several Vietnam Veterans. I have Vietnam Veteran vision; they do not have to wear their Vietnam Veteran ball cap (though many were) for me to spot them. They are usually the sixty something men who look a bit haggard, even sickly, who are maybe walking with a cane, or have a Parkinson’s tremor, they look wise beyond their years and tonight, they looked hopeful. I also checked for my escape route “just in case.”

Even though Agent Orange took my Father’s life sixteen years ago it is his actions that I learned from. My father genuinely cared for others who were veterans in need. He would drive Vets to V.A. to get care. He served as Commander in the D.A.V. several times in his town’s chapter. He became an agent Orange Activist after I was born with multiple birth defects. While his desire to be there for others drove him out of his PTSD symptoms at times, ultimately he became very sick. My father had emergency bypass surgery on his heart at age 38, five arteries were clogged at the time was a fit laborer in a steel mill. He had a 50/50 shot of surviving the surgery. He did. He went on to develop diabetes at age 40, at 48, he had a stroke, and at age 50 he died of a massive heart attack.

A Vietnam veteran in the row in front of me offered me his chair since I was standing; I declined and thanked him as the program began. The first go around through the panel was to be a three to four minute response to quickly introduce themselves and their connection to the Vietnam War. Peter Arnett was first to respond. He relayed the fact he was an Associated Press Journalist from 1962 to 1975. He then launched into a prepared diatribe beginning with the biggest downfall of the American Military during the Vietnam War. In Mr. Arnett’s opinion, American Military didn’t know their adversary. Rule number one, “Know your Adversary.” He went on to explain, the US believed by shear military force and by reputation, America thought they would be successful in Vietnam. The downfall being, the U.S. did not have any allies in the war who understood Vietnam, Australia was our only true allies and they had little or no understanding of Vietnam either. No one knew who the enemy truly was, Arnett explained. He suggested if the U.S. would have gone to the French for advice they could have done a better job. From my vantage point, I started to see Vietnam Veterans shift uncomfortably in their seats.

Senator Bob Kerrey was next to speak, he downplayed his military service stating he took a free physical and ended up volunteering for the Navy. What he failed to mention was he wasn’t just any other sailor, he was a Navy Seal. There was no mention of his swift boat patrol which he led into a village in Thanh Phong, where his platoon killed innocents because they believed they were Viet Cong. He didn’t explain, he was brought up on having committed war crimes in 2002 by the Vietnamese. He didn’t talk about the controversy that swirled as these charges were brought up. People were outraged a suspected war criminal held a position as College President at The New School, in New York. He didn’t talk about how he lost part of his leg later in combat. Unless the young college students in the crowd had done some research, there is no way they would have known the extent of his Vietnam War history.

What Senator Kerrey did share was after he was home; he worked to oppose the war. He stated it is not easy to make peace happen. He credited the U.S. for normalizing relations with Vietnam in the 1990’s when it would have been just as easy to forget about Vietnam. I believe there were a lot of Vietnam Veterans who were there to see Senator Kerrey.

The Vietnam Veterans in the crowd were disappointed. There is so much he could have shared about the lessons he personally learned from his time in Vietnam. So much real life angst and trauma he endured and afflicted. There was such an opportunity for him to connect with other veterans who were there because he was there, to help them move on, and move through. They wanted to know someone understood their own anguish.

I would never expect a man of his stature to break down in front of a crowd, or to totally bear his soul, but SOMETHING. There were zero attempts to connect with the Veterans in the crowd. At one point later in the program, a question was asked about whether the draft should be reinstated. Senator Kerrey quickly responded “No.” He stated the all volunteer military has moved us into professional soldiers. He summarized, while their tours are long, and not as many civilians feel a connection with the military, we need to respect them, but also not glorify them too much.

The next panelist that interested me was Laura Palmer. Laura shared how in a twisted set of events, she ended up in Vietnam as one of the youngest female reporters reporting in Vietnam. She focused a lot on journalism and how she ended up leaving Vietnam the Day Saigon fell. She was very nostalgic for her time in Vietnam. I felt she tried to connect with the audience more than the others. She gave a riveting tale of her last moments in Saigon. Her notoriety came from her account of evacuating Saigon by helicopter.

Laura, plugged her book about the Vietnam Wall, but did mention to the audience war not only affects the Veteran but the families as well. I thought things were looking up. When asked about the parallels between the current military conflicts and Vietnam she responded that she just doesn’t understand why the public isn’t outraged by the epidemic of suicides of our veterans. She also stated that we need to do more to recognize all the Vietnam veterans who ended their lives prematurely by suicide while the V.A. made veterans go it alone, unlike today’s efforts to protect our emotionally wounded warriors. She stated so many Vietnam Veterans have died of suicide, if the National Park service were to add their names to the Wall; the Wall would stretch to Virginia.

I have say I have done my own research over the years, “Twenty two veterans die every day from suicide,” is a popular quote, but according to the VA’s 2010 report 68% of the Veteran’s completed suicide are committed by males with an average age of fifty or older. Another opportunity was missed by a panelist. She could have connected the past to the present. A strong lesson in proper mental health care for ALL VETERANS no matter the era in which a veteran served could have been stressed. A plea for Vietnam Veterans, who are still struggling with the aftermath of their service, to get the free mental health services they are eligible for through the V.A. could have been made. Instead she mourned her time in Saigon, her “hometown” as she put it.

Between speakers Vietnam veterans, started leaving. I saw it. They tried to not show their frustration, but for someone like me who was watching, it was very sad. It started in trickles but more and more would leave as the question and answer session continued.

Audience members were asked to submit questions for the panel. I had written two in hopes one would be answered. Neither of mine were chosen by the moderator. Most of the questions asked dealt specifically with Vietnam as a country, is Vietnam now more capitalist then communist? Was Ho Chi Minh a communist or a Nationalist? Lots of questions in regards to journalism were asked, not surprising, as the moderator is himself the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. More Vietnam Veterans escaped.

Mr. Arnett escaped himself, into two other prepared ten minute diatribes, and the historian Edward Miller, plugged his research, himself, and his book. Mr. Vallely did not speak much at all. I held out hope my questions would be asked right until the very end. I looked around in disgust, as I knew; the program was drawing to a close. The veteran who had offered me a seat was gone.

Could this really still happen? Could the “New” Lessons from an old War, not include the irresponsible use of herbicide, also known as Agent Orange? A two and a half hour forum such as this and not a single mention of the ill that is killing Vietnam Veterans quicker than any other Veteran era has faced? The issue that is on the minds of Vietnam Veterans and their families was not even alluded to. Not a single utterance of herbicide, or Agent Orange. Surprisingly, not even the Vietnamese struggle with the aftermath of herbicide was mentioned. It was as if it didn’t exist, just like Senator Kerrey’s admittance that he was a Navy Seal. The panel closed and the moderator thanked everyone. He mentioned folks could still make it home to see the Arizona game on TV, and that was the end.

As the crowd filed out, I decided to go and talk to some of the panelist. I spoke with Senator Kerrey, I gave him my card and quickly told him about our organization, Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance. I told him about my dad and my birth defects and how many kids of male vets are suffering and are not recognized for the same birth defects that are covered in the children of women Vietnam Veterans. His response, “I didn’t know so many were out there. “ My response, “Now you do, please put us on your radar. “

Journalism college students were no match for me, I maneuvered my way around and was assertive, until I was able to speak with Laura Palmer. I had the most hope for my conversation with her. After all, during the panel she mentioned children, wives and families. I basically wanted to introduce myself and say “thank you,” for mentioning the struggles of military families. I gave her my card and introduced myself, told her briefly about my story.

She stopped me mid sentence and said, “I am not reporting anymore.”

Shocked I said,” I just wanted to thank you for mentioning families.”

She replied, “There are a lot of journalists here, like people from the Post Gazette. I am no longer reporting.”

I said,” I don’t need a reporter, I just wanted to introduce myself, thank you for mentioning the families.”

“Oh, Ok, you’re welcome,” she said, nervously.

With that, I left. I felt numb. I wanted to scream, but there is no energy to scream anymore. I wanted to cry, but there are definitely, no tears.

The “NEW” Lessons from and Old War, taught tonight were (don’t get excited they aren’t new):
Vietnam was an unpopular war.
If we pretend Vietnam Veterans don’t exist we can rewrite history the way we want it viewed.
War is violent and people don’t like to admit their involvement.
We can try as hard as we can to do “good” in the country we engaged in war with, it doesn’t change the fact we were at war with them and they with us.
Some people had exciting adventures during the Vietnam War. They built their careers while soldiers and civilians died.
We don’t want to glorify the soldier, because then you are promoting war (Total B.S.).
Agent Orange? What is that? Huh? Never heard of it.

One thing I will take away from this evening is Peter Arnett’s, quip, “Know your adversary. Tonight I watched our Vietnam Veterans shrink away slowly from the familiar pain of disapproval. How many more times do the lessons from an “Old” war have to repeat and be reinforced in their lives by people who should know to do things differently?

Posted By COVVHA – AO2GEN Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance On March 19, 2014

Heather A. Bowser © 2014 (COVVHA) Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance INC. All rights reserved.

The Hell of Agent Orange

A Short Story by Donal Mahoney

“Throw me down the stairs a sandwich, Ollie, I’m hungry,” said Dr. Olga Sumvitch, hollering up to me from Hell again in her best fractured English.

Although she had spent the last 30 years of her life in the United States working for Monsanto, Dr. Sumvitch still speaks English with a thick accent. I’m one of the few Americans who can always understand her. She has trouble pronouncing my first name, Oliver. But she can always say Ollie, and I have no problem answering to that.

Years ago, Dr. Sumvitch emigrated from Moldova to the United States after being hired by Monsanto to fine-tune the formula for Agent Orange. There were some problems in its effectiveness and she had the expertise to work them out.

The day the government finally approved the formula for use in Viet Nam, Dr. Sumvitch had gotten hit by a bus coming back to work after a sumptuous lunch with her celebrating co-workers.

The injuries were bad. She suffered seizures in the hospital for several days and foamed at the mouth intermittently. The night nurse needed towels to sop it all up. She died at midnight on Good Friday with a groan that woke everyone in her ward. After her last groan, a deaf patient on her floor said that he could hear again on Easter morning.

Dr. Sumvitch and I were chemists by trade. We became friends at professional meetings. In the beginning I knew nothing about her work. In fact, I had declined a job at Monsanto right after getting my doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, and I had always wondered if I had made a mistake in turning that job down. The pay and the benefits were excellent. And Monsanto had a great reputation for quality in their products.

Dr. Sumvitch trusted me not to talk about her work, saying it was top-secret, hush-hush by order of the government. It was the government, after all, that had underwritten the years of research and development that made Agent Orange possible.

Without millions in taxpayer money funneled through the government back to Monsanto, Agent Orange might never have been produced. I promised her I would never say a word about her work. That would have been hard for me to do even if I had wanted to because I honestly didn’t quite understand the true nature of the product at the time.

Even now, more than 40 years later, I have to ask myself why would our government be interested in producing a product that would silently decimate land and crops as well as the people who depend on both for their livelihood.

It sounds a lot like chemical warfare to me, and I didn’t think my country would ever engage in such a thing.

Right now, America is all worked up about what’s going on in Syria–poisonous gases of one kind or other. I’m happy that I’m an expert in formulating new toothpastes. It’s my job to make people smile brighter and whiter–not kill them–over a period of time.

Dr. Sumvitch went to Hell immediately but stayed in touch with me after she died. I was afraid to tell anybody about that for fear they would think I was hallucinating after too many years experimenting with toothpaste. Once a month or so, however, she hollers up from Hell when she gets real hungry.

“Food is scarce down here,” she told me, “unless one has no objection to cannibalism.”

On Earth, and in Moldova especially, she had developed a taste for organ meats–gizzards and livers and hearts–provided they had been harvested from beasts, not human beings.

Chicken gizzards piled on a mountain of rice were her favorite, although turkey hearts, if they were big enough, were almost as good.

Whenever Dr. Sumvitch hollers, and lately she’s been doing it more frequently, I wake up and get out of bed and head for the kitchen. I always make her a fine sandwich. I stack beef or pork, whatever I have in the fridge, on marble rye with a slice of onion and a dollop of Tabasco sauce. I top it off with a slice of Kosher pickle, wrap it in Saran Wrap and toss it down the stairs to Hell. It takes around an hour for it to arrive so I hang around in the kitchen till I hear from her.

“Thank you,” she yells, when the sandwich finally gets there.

“Believe me, Ollie, I’d ask someone else for help but no one believes in Hell any more except me and my co-workers down here. It’s like a big Monsanto reunion from decades ago. There are thousands of us.

“Sandwiches like yours are impossible to come by. Eyeballs, armpits and feet are plentiful, if you like your meat well done.

“You can always see what you’re eating because of the bright light, and that can ruin one’s appetite. Agent Orange burns night and day. It’s always High Noon down here. No one gets any sleep.”

Editor’s note: first published by The Camel Saloon, http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-hell-of-agent-orange.html






Agent Orange

A Poem by Bob Boldt

Five hundred years ago, the poet Nguyen Binh Khiem called the land into being. He wrote: “Vietnam is being created!” *

Agent Orange:

You bring disorder to this land
and to the poetry of DNA,
disrupting its rhymes and bonds.
You take an eggbeater to the nest of life
to make your toxic omelet.
You sleep beneath the rich loam
in your lethal bed and wait
for some playing child or plow
to release your venomous molecules.

Hong Hanh**
stops to rest her burden
in the heavy, afternoon air
on the road to Ho Chi Minh City
carrying her son—
a legless, armless trunk of a boy
in an improvised backpack—
beloved baggage.

The all-compassionate Buddha asks us to forgive;
he does not require us to forget.

I have seen the photographs
of your rich harvest of deformed children,
the agony-painted faces of parents
and those who bear the dubious label of “survivor.”


When I regard your makers
at Monsanto and Dow Chemical
I think they must be thankful there is no just God.

I try to imagine them
in their air-conditioned boardrooms
and their laboratories—
researching the chemistry of denial.

On the unlikely chance there is a just God,
I picture them in some sweet Beulah Land,
their eyes anticipating
Saint Peter’s long-promised Pearl Gates.
But as the mist clears, a sea of twisted bodies
and decomposing double-headed corpses
appears beneath the weakening clouds.
This is their vile produce
over which they must slither on their climb to Paradise.
Just as the Gates are within reach,
a stern saint slams them shut in their faces.
Their futile attempt at redemption repeated,
promptly at six forty-five AM,
everyday for eternity.

God may forgive them, but Hong Hanh can never forget.

*Viet Nam has been in existence for over a thousand years. One of their most important buildings is their building of knowledge and it celebrated it’s thousandth year anniversary this year.
**a name that means apricot blossom

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day:

Around the world, the sights, sounds, and energy of women, men and children in their communities can be heard demanding JUSTICE! Among the thousands events planned worldwide, risers will be dancing on campuses, in Viet Nam to expose the effects of Agent Orange, in places near Monsanto to see what is caused, at the gates of the High Court in Bangladesh, in Trafalgar Square in London, at game parks in Swaziland, at oil plants in the Bay Area, against the militarization of the mines in the Philippines, within Ministries of Women, in active violent conflict zones, with the rising girls in Siloe, Haiti, at the Palace of Justice in Rome, across the five Burroughs of NYC, at the steps of City Hall in San Francisco, at the International Criminal Court, in prisons, and more!

“Dancing insists we take up space, and though it has no set direction, we go there together. Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, and contagious and it breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone and everyone, and it’s free. Dance joins us and pushes us to go further and that is why it’s at the center of ONE BILLION RISING”

–Eve Ensler

As we prepare for ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE, for the escalation and the deepening of the campaign, we want to take a quick look back and ask What did dancing do?

We have seen the power of communities coming together through dance and action.

Dance broke the silence in Somalia and new laws were passed in Guatemala. It’s unified groups, it’s made people feel free, it’s broken down barriers.

To the Directors Past and Present of Monsanto and Dow Chemical:

A poem by Melvin L. Johnson

When the blood lines pull taunt and your evil is done,
The hell bound and ugly come on the run
Cross cutting fields, tearing down wheat,
Swallowing your souls because evil is sweet.
The terror you brought veterans, Vietnamese and others
Should not happen to your daughters when they become mothers
And find out their babies have birth defects too.
Will you scream then because it happened to you?
Get this evil off your back. Do the right thing—
Your winter is nearing, wouldn’t you rather have spring?

Results of Monsanto Board of Directors’ Meeting, 28 January 2014

A Commentary by Richard D. Hartwell

The Original Source

Well, as I learned in the military, “If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit”! That was the connecting thread throughout this polite, but truly self-serving, annual corporate meeting. At the very end, after all the agenda points had been set to rest, a new advertising video was unveiled (although I could only listen, but it was easy to imagine the waving fields of grain and the ruddy-faced farm family). The voice-over began talking about how we, yes the 98% who do not live on a farm or work agriculture, don’t understand the needs and wants of the 2%, the farmer and laborer and the requirement to use innovations of materials and methods to increase production to serve a burgeoning world, etc.,etc. Well, my take-away was a very slanted ‘You 98% just don’t understand what will happen to you (us) without us (Monsanto)!

I can’t help but add more vitriol; I admire tremendously the spokespeople from SumOfUS and FoodDemocracy for their polite, controlled deliveries and rebuttals. I’m great with words, but many of mine would have been four-letter ones. But onward -

1. I lost count of all the director, executive, financial, and legal introductions, but it was announced that more than 86% of the common stock was represented.

2. Four new directors were forwarded for election. Amazingly, each received 97% or more of the vote and were affirmed for the coming year.

3. The proposed auditing firm for the company for the coming year received more than 99% of the vote and was affirmed.

4. The report concerning executive compensation recommendations received more than 97% of the vote and will be forwarded to the compensation committee.

5. The vote to affirm a shareholder proposal to require GM labeling received only 4.16% of the vote and was NOT passed.

6. The vote to affirm a shareholder proposal to require a report on certain GMO items – such as costs, safety, distribution – as to the impact of GM products on Monsanto’s productivity received only 6.51% of the vote and was NOT passed.

7. Miscellaneous comments, mostly from Chairman Grant, these are either quotes or as close as I could copy them down:
transparency matters to us
we are a seed company
we will continue to participate in an ongoing dialog
we believe in a voluntary approach to labeling along with the FDA (yes, this was snuck in, but rebutted by SumOfUs)
we oppose mandatory labeling; it will impose higher costs
we used to do a better in informing the public; we apologize, I apologize, for not doing a better job in informing all
we need to listen and engage in a robust dialog
we have a commitment to transparency
mainstream agriculture, supported by numerous science and medical organizations, all have verified the safety of our products
it would be redundant to review the business plan or financial impact of our decisions as they have been accounted for to the
we all have a role to play in the food, feed, energy, and water sources and requirements of the future
we need all manner of innovation to farm better in the future, to do more with less
these are all the steps forward to our earnings growth (this one alone says so much)
we made $14.9 billion in net sales last year, the third consecutive year of above 20% growth (I won’t bother to add anything)
we will be expanding are research center in St. Louis next year
these are the awards we have received this past year: etc., etc.
this has been a year of good business performance

I would present the counter arguments and statistics mentioned by Monsanto’s decriers, but these are already known to Forum members and apparently did nothing to sway the 94/95% of insiders. I could go verbosely on, all to no purpose, but I hope some of the foregoing has been insightful.

Richard D. Hartwell

Harvest of Hate

A Poem by Wole Soyinka (stanzas 0ne and two)

(Dow Chemical sold the US military napalm—a chemical that caused great fiery harm. Monsanto and Dow Chemical both were—and remain to this day—responsible for Agent Orange and the generations still very much so negatively impacted by it. This poem was written during the Viet Nam (American) War.—editor’s note.)

So now the sun moves to die at mid-morning
And laughter wilts on the lips of wine
The fronds of palm are savaged to bristle
And rashes break on kernelled oil

The hearth is pocked with furnacing of teeth
The air is heavy with rise of incense
For wings womb-moist from the sanctuary of nests
Fall, unfledged to the tribute of fire