This "Dioxin Bird" painting by Pham Thanh Liem recalls the C-130s that sprayed 20 million gallons of
Agent Orange defoliant on
Inside a special ward at Tu Du
One was an armless 12-year-old girl who had learned to write with her feet. Some kids moved in wheelchairs. Others moved hardly at all.
The possible cause of the children's condition was the reason for
Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the legacy of Agent Orange
still tortures the Southeast Asian land. In a 57-minute film, Gardner and
co-producer Pham Quoc Thai examine the defoliant's
harrowing impact on three generations of Vietnamese, following the story onto a
new battlefield, a class-action lawsuit brought by aggrieved Vietnamese against
The old news footage at the start of The Last Ghost of War is grainy
but familiar - giant C-130 cargo planes, soaring above the jungle canopy,
trailing long white clouds of vapor. Between 1962 and 1971, the
But Agent Orange contained traces of dioxin, among the most deadly materials known to man. Many Americans and Vietnamese later developed cancers, their children sometimes born with profound disabilities.
"It's very hard to prove that Agent Orange caused birth defects,"
said coproducer Pham, who was born and raised in Na
Trang, north of the huge American military base at Cam Ranh
Bay, and came to the
Vietnamese who claimed they'd been injured argued in a federal court in
"The Vietnamese victims association was following the example of our
veterans" - who in 1979 had sued over their own exposure,
The film's title comes from the words of former American Ambassador to
Vietnam Raymond Burghardt, his characterization of
the Agent Orange issue. Narrated by actor Kevin Kline, the film includes an
interview with a lawyer for Dow - the only one of the chemical companies that
agreed to speak. It features Philadelphia-area activist and
And it introduces Vietnamese families in which all three children, or all four children, suffer terrible deformities.
The link between exposure and birth defects is still debated; Vietnamese doctors certain of it, American scientists less sure. The chemical's enduring bequest, the film suggests, can be found in places like Tu Du Hospital, and in rural villages where little medical help is available.
Gardner, who lives near Princeton, has long produced and directed fine,
Asia-based documentaries, including Precious Cargo, the story of the
2,000 children airlifted from
Back in the mid-1980s, after the American veterans first filed suit,
"We're just presenting the case - we want the viewer to decide," she said. "It's the last issue of contention between the two countries."
The Last Ghost of War is being shown at
The film is produced by Pham Quoc Thai and Janet
Gardner, and directed by
Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.