George Black’s powerful cover story, “The Lethal Legacy of the Vietnam War,” in The Nation, showed how tons of unexploded ordnance, herbicides, and defoliants the U.S. dropped on Vietnam during the war continue to plague farmers there today. The piece, which appeared online in late February 2015, had considerable reach. The Nation has 1.3 million monthly readers in print and online, and as of April 15, 2015, the story had received nearly 18,000 views at the magazine’s website. Prominent political activist Tom Hayden was among the many who sent The Nation letters praising Black’s skill, calling the story “one of the finest works of journalism I have read in years.” He went on to say, “Black uses the long-form approach to a long story, but in a way that will engage anyone with an ounce of curiosity or humanity. Not that social media doesn’t have its place, but Black shows us what our culture is losing to chatter.”
Black told the tragic story of Vietnam’s farmers through the lens of Chuck Searcy, a veteran from Georgia who has devoted his life to helping the Vietnamese overcome their deadly legacy. Black was interviewed on TV by Al-Jazeera America, and on a number of radio programs, including the Legal Broadcasting Network, the Morning Briefing on SiriusXM, and Chuck Morse Speaks on USA Networks. The combination of a vet as the main character and the still-controversial war assured that Black’s piece also was picked up and referenced in alt-weeklies and niche blogs around the country, places that don’t typically hit the radar of the East Coast media. That’s an important audience for a story about unintended consequences of American power and human suffering in a far-off land.
And while cause and effect is hard to pin down, there is reason to believe Black’s article spurred further coverage of the issue. In April, for instance, Reuters published a major photo essay on the toxic legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam.