Presented by

The Atlantic Selects

A Victim of U.S. Chemical Warfare Achieves His Dream

Apr 26, 2018 | 778 videos
Video by Seventh Art Releasing

During the Vietnam War, from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military deployed an aggressive chemical warfare program codenamed Operation Ranch Hand. American troops in fighter jets sprayed highly toxic herbicides across more than 4.5 million acres of Vietnam in order to weaken the vegetative cover and food supply of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies. In this chemical cocktail was Agent Orange, which contains dioxin, a known carcinogen and “one of the most toxic compounds known to humans," according to the United Nations. Among other health problems, dioxin causes birth defects, skin lesions, and severe impairment of the liver, immune system, endocrine system, nervous system, and reproductive system. The country of Vietnam claims that an estimated 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, causing insidious and lasting harm. According to the Vietnamese Red Cross, an estimated 1 million people currently suffer from severe health issues as a result of exposure—many of them children who were exposed in the womb.

Le Minh Chau’s mother unknowingly drank from a contaminated river in Dong Nai, Vietnam, while she was pregnant with him. In 1991, Chau was born with severe birth defects. His arms are nearly useless; to walk, he shuffles across the ground on a single knee, his one functional leg dragging the other.

Filmmaker Courtney Marsh first met Chau at the Lang Hoa Binh Agent Orange Camp in Vietnam, where the fifteen-year-old was being raised by nurses who hoped to prepare him for life as a disabled adult. Marsh’s inspiring documentary, Chau, Beyond the Lines, follows the teenager for eight years as he relentlessly pursues his ambition of becoming an artist. At every juncture, the idealistic and indefatigable Chau fights the limitations of his body—and the words of naysayers—to achieve self-actualization. In the end, he becomes the narrator of his own life’s story.

“I hope that American audiences get a sense of awareness of our past and our ongoing involvement with Vietnam,” Marsh told The Atlantic. In 2012, the U.S. offered assistance in cleaning up the toxic legacy of Operation Ranch Hand for the first time.

This video is for private individual usage. For Educational/Institutional Use or to hold a public performance, contact Distributor: Seventh Art Releasing. Production Company: Cynasty Films. Director: Courtney Marsh. Producers: Jerry Franck, Courtney Marsh.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.