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The Long Reckoning

About the Book

George Black cites an estimate that over 30,000 books have been written concerning the war in Vietnam. But his well-researched volume adds a new dimension to one of the most enduring and tangible symbols of that war: Agent Orange.* From its early use in “Operation Ranch Hand” to defoliate trees along the Ho Chi Minh Trail (making troops on the ground easier targets), American forces switched to spraying rice paddies to deny enemy troops food, destroying a staple of the local civilian population in the process. The use of Agent Orange led to long-term health impacts on civillans, soldiers, and the environment generations after it rained from the skies– impacts that have long been underplayed and misunderstood.

Setting the scene of the political history of the war, Black then goes deep into “two of the most bitter legacies of the war”: the fate of P.O.W./M.I.A.s and Agent Orange, each “a surrogate for emotions about the war itself.” The book follows two exposed soldiers and the trials and tribulations of getting their diseases recognized and treated by the U.S. government. Black also includes research on the current issues caused by the use of defoliants on the ground in Vietnam and Laos.

While Black points to all the bureaucratic dodging and denial by various administrations, he also tells the story of the unlikely alliance of veterans, scientists, pacifists, and their Vietnamese partners who persevered in their attempts to have the U.S. recognize and allocate funding for the damage caused by Agent Orange. 

*It should be noted that the U.S. used several chemical mixes during the war, not just Agent Orange. They were shipped in 55-gallon barrels, and each combination was painted with colors to differentiate the mix. Orange was the most widely used mix, but there was also blue, white, and purple.

Why We Recommend It:The Long Reckoning grapples with the legacy of the use of Agent Orange during The Vietnam War, highlighting what is possible when unlikely allies come together to heal from the past. It should be required reading for anyone wanting to know about the use of chemical warfare during The Vietnam War and its long-term effects on human health and the environment.

About the Author

George Black

George Black

GEORGE BLACK is the author of seven previous books on subjects including India, China, and foreign policy. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in New York City.

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