Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

Through the Looking Glass of Collateral Damage in Vietnam

By Jacqueline Munera

Devastation is the keyword during battle–use whatever it takes to win. The consequences for the losers continues long after the guns quiet and the bombs no longer fall. The dangerous chemical “Agent Orange” (named for the color of the striping around the barrels in which it was shipped) was by no means the only colorfully named deadly chemical used during the Vietnam War. “Agent Blue,” “Agent Red,” and others were also used but with less frequency. The most often quoted amount of herbicides deposited in Vietnam by 1971 is approximately 19,395,369 gallons, but newer research published in the April 17th, 2003 Nature magazine lists a much larger amount. The study’s chief author, Dr. Jeanne Mager Stellman, believes the number to be actually 2-4 times higher. Whatever the accurate number, it is an almost unimaginably large amount of poison introduced into the environment. Studies conducted in the past thirty years conclusively state dioxins, including “Agent Orange,” are some of the most hazardous chemicals ever released on the planet. Exposure to dioxins has a positive correlation to numerous serious health problems including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, birth defects, liver disorders, Hodgkin’s disease, neurological defects, auto-immune diseases, and at least 15 other cancers. In an effort to crush the rural lands and forests that provided sanctuary for the North Vietnamese Army, the U.S. forces embarked on a total environmental assault. Forests were not the only areas targeted; food-crop destruction was also a high priority. If the enemy can’t eat, they can’t fight. Agricultural areas were bombed and sprayed with herbicides until nothing was left. This massive loss of vegetation snowballed into an environmental nightmare. If there is a significant loss of trees and other ground covers, then the soil erodes quickly, exacerbating a problem Vietnam was already experiencing prior to the war. massive soil loss is devastating in any environment because it results in loss of remaining vegetation and prevents replanting food crops. The remaining soil is heavily toxic from the application of herbicides, and consequently unsafe for food-crops.. Animals also suffered physical injury and death from bombings, chemical toxicity, starvation and lack of habitat. It has been reported that birds in the tree canopies and fish in the streams immediately died after herbicide sprays. Currently, many areas are still barren of almost all plant and animal life, possibly never to regenerate. only one life form seemed to have thrived in the devastated environment– Anopheles maculates, a malaria-carrying mosquito that was quite at home in the numerous water-filled bomb craters.

A very bleak picture indeed. Fortunately, there is a willingness on the part of the Vietnamese people to attempt an environmental repair. one would think that they would be highly motivated, but the country is poverty-stricken. The U.S. has, not surprisingly, turned down many pleas for cooperation in repairing the damage done during the conflict. Meanwhile, the majority of the Vietnamese population is simply trying to survive. What kind of solution could be low-tech and affordable enough to provide a viable solution for an impoverished country to detox itself? Surprisingly, the answer could have been right under our feet for the last 400 million years. The answer is fungus. This is certainly a case of the truth being stranger than fiction, but mushrooms may truly save the planet from our destructive ways. mycology-the study of fungi- is a growing field attracting some of the most ingenious scientists on the planet. Their discoveries are providing tantalizing facts about what many call our fungus friends.

For instance, genetic research shows that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants, and both may even share a common ancestor. mycologists believe that animals developed from one branch of fungi through the process of evolution. After events approximately 65 million years ago that resulted in the destruction of the dinosaurs, mycelium flourished by acting as recyclers of the debris left behind. This debris was turned into healthy, nutrient-rich soil that then allowed plants and smaller surviving mammals to thrive.

As for the profitability factor, no one can deny it is difficult to get money invested in research that doesn’t pay back in huge, tangible amounts. luckily, the Department of Defense and other government agencies are becoming interested in the growing field of mycology and have begun providing needed research funding.

Obviously, mycorestoration could be a huge part of the process to regenerate war-torn environments, not just in Vietnam, but also elsewhere on the planet. Fungi are capable of cleaning the soil and filtering the water. They can stop soil erosion, allowing forest vegetation and food crops to regrow which in-turn nourishes countless life forms from insects to humans to thrive. Edible and medicinal mushrooms can offer an eco-friendly source of food and income for indigenous peoples. So, if “war is hell,” perhaps our salvation lies with one of the humblest of life forms – a mushroom.

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