Billee Shoecraft’s Sue the Bastards
A fairly recent article appearing in Truthout on the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War brought to mind what is now considered ancient – lost- history: the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) aerial spraying of 2,4,5-T (TCDD) and related herbicides in the Tonto National Forest near the rural area of Globe, Arizona in the 1960s.
The case is somewhat documented on the Web and in newspaper articles available from the google newspaper archive. No one source, however, documents the story with more passion and determination than Ms. Billee Shoecraft. For the first time on the Web, a basic but readable scan of Ms. Shoecraft’s 1971 first hand account titled Sue the Bastards is now available.*
In retelling the history of the use of defoliants near Globe, Ms. Shoecraft cites the April 7 and 15, 1970 Senate Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and the Environment hearings titled Effects of 2, 4, 5-T on Man and the Environment. Shoecraft writes:
Except for a little mountain town named Globe, Arizona, these hearings might never have been held, and the use of these defoliants might not have been stopped in Vietnam and other areas around the world. As a result of those hearings, the world of deformities in plants, animals and humans may have a few less members, and the disease known as cancer may claim a few less victims. Possibly some of the findings disclosed may force us to realize that man as he now exists is on the verge of extinction. During the Senate hearings, it was disclosed that the chemical defoliants 2-4D and 2,4,5-T caused deformities in at least five animal species. A government study known as the “Bionetics Report”, which cost three and one half million dollars, was begun in 1963 and completed in 1968. This report had also shown that these chemicals produced deformities, but the information it contained was kept secret.** These chemicals were developed at Ft Detrick, Md., during World War ll to be used as biological war weapons. *** These are the chemicals that have been used in Vietnam against the enemy. These are the chemicals that were used by the government in Globe, Arizona. (p.vii)
Shoecraft’s story begins with the question “is it less of a crime to use biological war weapons in America than it is in Vietnam?” (p. viii).
Shoecraft’s almost autobiographical work is an homage to wild Arizona; it is a bittersweet account of living in a “little town at the foot of a mountain we love and would die for” (p.41). It is a story of the land ethic. In weaving her tale, Shoecraft illustrates the outside world is never far off; it permeates across time and space, often coming to rest in unexpected and critical ways. It is here that Globe, Arizona is forever connected to the some of the most destructive events of the Vietnam War, Operation Hades (renamed to Operation Ranch Hand).****
In attempting to reconstruct the details of the defoliant sprayings during the years 1965-1969, Shoecraft encountered what she describes as the “creeping sickness of bureaucracy” (p. 6). She writes of the lack of transparency and accompanying uncertainty of not knowing what chemicals were sprayed, amounts, and toxicity:
This area has now been exposed to five aerial sprayings covering a period of four years, with 2-4D’ 2,4,5-T’ and 2’4’5-f (Silvex) in various strengths and formulations What exactly was used where or when, or in what mixture, appears to be unknown. At least in the last spraying, June, 1969, water was substituted for oil, which more or less caused the chemicals to reach their targets undiluted. (p.7)
In Sue, Shoecraft describes the dramatic July 24, 1969 funeral procession from Globe to Phoenix, where an “ancient hearse” held a coffin of “fruit trees, garden plants, and other foliage which were allegedly killed” by Silvex, one of the defoliants sprayed in the area (p. 37). Shoecraft is careful to point out the procession was not a ” ‘publicity stunt’ for ‘publicity’s sake.’ ” The somber event was the
Only way we knew to let you know about what had happened here that was so wrong! And that it must not happen anywhere again! This was the oniy way we knew to break the strangle hold of suppressing what we had already seen first hand about the effects of “phenoxy herbicides.”
I had always believed until this happened that if something has been done, unless it is intentional. which is wrong and the person’s attention is called to it, that he will try to make it right again. But this was not the case. The threat of more spraying was hanging over us. And those who had injured us showed no remorse or regrets. (p.41)
With other Globe citizens, including Bob McCray, Shoecraft sued the USFS and Dow Chemical for spraying “Kuron,” Dow’s trade name for the Silvex (2,4,5-TP). Two chemicals in Agent Orange, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, are found in Kuron.
Ms. Shoecraft passed away in 1977. A settlement was reached with Dow in 1981 with an accompanying gag order.
* Sue the Bastards appears to be out of copyright and perhaps is an orphan work. If Shoecraft family members have objections to posting the text here, please contact me. For an additional account on the role of Ms. Shoecraft and the Globe sprayings, see Amy M. Hay’s (2012) “Dispelling the ‘bitter fog’: Fighting chemical defoliation in the American west.” Endeavour, 36(4), 174-185.
** Secret and hidden no more, I make the three volumes of the Bionetics reports publicly available here:
Evaluation of carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic activities of selected pesticides and industrial chemicals. Volume I. Carcinogenic study, 1963 – August 1968: bionetics_eval_vol1_PB223159
Evaluation of carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic activities of selected pesticides and industrial chemicals. Volume II. Teratogenic study in mice and rats, 1963 – August 1968: bionetics_eval_vol2_PB223160
Evaluation of carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic activities of selected pesticides and industrial chemicals. Volume III. Mutagenic study in bacteria, 1963 – August 1968: bionetics_eval_vol3_PB223161
Thomas Whiteside’s February 7, 1970 New Yorker article titled “”A reporter at large: Defoliation” is reprinted in the Senate hearings. The article recounts the delay in publishing the Bionetics volumes (p.113-115). Whiteside identifies the role of law student Anita Johnson of “Nader’s Raiders” in first recognizing the significance of the report(s).
*** See p.108 and p. 128 of the Senate hearings; the hearings are illuminating for their discussion of Rocky Mountain Arsenal by Congressmen Richard McCarthy (D-NY) on p.152. The 1969 Mrak report, or the Report of the Secretary’s Commission on pesticides and their relationship to environmental health, Parts I and II (Chairman E.M. Mrak) U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, is also discussed at length.
**** Operation Ranch Hand is the code name for herbicide spraying by the U.S. Air Force in Southeast Asia from 1962 through 1971. See William A. Buckingham, Jr.’s Operation Ranch Hand: The Air Force and herbicides in Southeast Asia, 1961-1971 (Office of Air Force History, 1982), Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a121709.pdf
Also see Alvin L. Young, et al., The toxicology, environmental fate, and human risk of herbicide Orange and its associated dioxin (USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, Aerospace Medical Division, 1978), Retrieved from http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA062143 and D.A. Butler’s (2005). Connections: The early history of scientific and medical research on Agent Orange. Journal of Law and Policy, 13, 527-552.