Announcer: Brian Andrews.
The ecology-minded WTBS weekly newsmagazine devotes its entire half-hour to the lasting effect of the defoliant Agent Orange on participants from both sides of the Vietnam War; it’s a grim subject that demands further investigation and, probably, action.
The camera moves back and forth from Vietnam to the States, visiting alleged victims of U.S. chemical warfare.
Evidently, batches of Agent Orange (used to strip jungles of flora) were accidentally contaminated with the chemical dioxin.
Veterans Administration and EPA officials declare that there’s no proven link between dioxin and various diseases affecting Vietnam vets — the VA recognizes only four diseases from as many as 24, and those only when developed within 10 years of service.
The argument rings as hollow as that of tobacco companies’ statements that there’s no connection between smoking and lung disease.
“The Last Battle of Vietnam” shows deformed children and adults in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital, where a nurse asserts that 64% of women having deformed babies were exposed to Agent Orange.
Likewise, in a village where approximately 7% of children are born with birth defects, local medics attribute the grim figure, said to be 20 times higher than normal, to dioxin poisoning.
Stateside, two-tour veteran Rodney Tyler is introduced in a wheelchair, victim of a nerve disease said to be linked to dioxin. Although the chemical eventually loses its potency, the show points out, its effects sometimes don’t show up for many years — while Tyler left Vietnam in good health, symptoms appeared 13 years later.
Protagonists are Vietnamese researcher Dr. Le Cao Dai and U.S. Dr. Arnold Schecter, both of whom specialize in recognizing the effects of lingering contamination. Another strong witness is Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, USN (Ret.), whose son died of diseases associated with dioxin (non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Hodgkins lymphoma) that developed 13 years after his return from Vietnam.
Host David Mattingly is a typical foreign-correspondent type, too busy to stand still while delivering his lines and seemingly so self-involved that, after visiting a hospital, he notes that “(one doctor’s) hope was for better studies, and my hope was for better elevators.”
The director is unnamed on titles, but a TBS representative credits Craig Duff and Greg Kilday.
Show packs a lot of information into 22 minutes. Script unfortunately is full of qualifiers like “probably” and “some say,” and more statistics would have been welcome in addition to the largely anecdotal evidence presented here.
But at least this story should cause viewers to investigate matters further, if only for their own good: as script points out, one out of four Americans dies of cancer, and dioxin can be found as a by-product of paper and pulp processing, smelting and agriculture — right here at home.