Dan Shea tried to put the war in Vietnam behind him when he returned home. Then his son, Casey, was born. Then his son died.
“Casey was born with congenital heart disease, cleft palate and other abnormalities. At 3 years old he underwent surgery to repair his heart and fell into a coma. He died in my arms seven weeks later,” Shea said.
Casey’s birth defects were attributed to Shea’s exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
On Jan. 14, the Salem Progressive Film Series tackles the aftereffects of war on people and the planet’s ecosystem with a screening of “Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War.”
Shea, Peter Bergel, director of Oregon Peaceworks, and Kelly Campbell, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, speak after the screening. The film will be shown at the Grand Theater, 191 High Street NE.
“Scarred Lands” catalogs a laundry list of war’s lasting impact on the world from scorched earth bombing campaigns to unexploded ordnance and the storage of nuclear waste to supply ships deteriorating on the ocean floor that will unleash hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil when their hulls finally give way.
Shea gave little thought to what would happen after the war in Vietnam was through, but realized later he was a first-hand witness to its devastating effects.
“We were in jungles all the time and I rarely ever heard birds or saw any animal life,” Shea said.
After his son’s death, Shea became a peace activist and a war resister. He returned to Vietnam in 2006 for an Agent Orange conference where he encountered again the war’s lasting repercussions.
“We’re in the third generation from the war and Vietnamese children are still being born with defects,” Shea said.
Bergel visited England as a young child not long after the end of World War II, and even then it was apparent to him that the people of Great Britain had experienced something unknown to most Americans.
“It changes people when war becomes part of their day-to-day existence. That’s something we’ve been fortunate to avoid in our country,” Bergel said.
Because such experiences are foreign to most Americans, he added, it’s hard to relay the urgent need for world peace.
“As activists we talk a lot about the things we don’t want, but we’ve been less clear in presenting a vision of what we want the world to look like,” Bergel said. “If we can’t articulate where we’re headed, we can’t expect people to follow our lead.”
Tickets to the Salem Progressive Film Series are $3 for adults, $2 for students. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. The screening begins at 7 p.m.