20 September 2016
20 September 2016 - Written by Donatella Montrone
Tobias Nicolai documents the legacy of the United States’ chemical warfare program in Vietnam where the poison of Agent Orange continues to be passed down through generations.
"Wars do not end when the leaders agree on a truce, or when the bombs stop falling from the skies," says photographer Tobias Nicolai. "Societies feel the devastating effects of war for many years to come."
And such is the case with Vietnam, a country still plagued by the Agent Orange pesticide sprays over large areas of mangrove jungles, which the US government carried out during the Vietnam War in its attempt at deforestation to make it difficult for communist guerilla fighters to carry on hiding in the thicket.
When sprayed on the foliage from the skies, the pesticide would quickly strip trees of their leaves, revealing anything below the canopy. But Agent Orange also stripped humans of their skin and blighted the lives of many.
Nearly half a century later, the campaign is known to have caused untold land contamination, environmental damage, devastating birth defects and ill health in villagers still exposed to the toxic remnants in the soil. An estimated 100,000 of the affected are children.
"The lasting consequences of the Vietnam War are proof that in conflict, civilians will almost always pay the highest price. I wanted to portray the extreme damage that chemical warfare has done to the people born 30 to 40 years since the war ended. I also wanted to show that many of the victims, so many decades later, are new-born children." And though they laugh and play just like children everywhere, the legacy of the war lives on in them, he explains.
"I was interested in doing the story because the subject seems to have faded from a lot of people’s memories, even though the effects linger on for so many. For younger generations, the Vietnam War is just another chapter in a history book in the curriculum."
"2015 marked 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War. My hope was that this 40-year anniversary would be helpful in getting the story some exposure, and hopefully remind people of what we must not forget."
Donatella Montrone is a freelance production editor and journalist based in London, United Kingdom.
Early Careers focuses on a series by a photographer from the Photographic Museum of Humanity’s online community.