Years and years and years ago, when I was a young teen, I read an article about the Vietnam War. I can still visualize myself, sitting on the top floor of my grandparents' house in Fire Island, leafing through the New York Times Sunday Edition.
The article was about the lingering effects of Agent Orange, as veterans of that war were increasingly suffering side effects from exposure. Details from that reading still flit in my mind, about how soldiers would assuage concerned Vietnamese that the compound was harmless by drinking it.
For some reason, I always assumed it would taste like Tang.
But the image that stuck in my mind, and that has always stuck in my mind, came from a short narrative about what happened to the jungles and rainforests of Vietnam after they'd been sprayed. Agent Orange, or so I recalled, acted by massively ramping up growth. Plants exploded in a riot of false fecundity. Huge, pulpy, and misshapen fruit hung from branches. Leaves became vast. The forests, or so the article in my memory described, became almost alien in appearance. Growth was everywhere...but also utterly unsustainable.
The plants would grow beyond their capacity to sustain the growth. They'd burn through their own internal nutrients, exhaust their supplies of water and minerals, and then...as quickly as they'd grown...they'd die. It was the growth that kills.
As a metaphor, that image of Agent Orange has legs.
Being a pastor and all, it makes me think of the bureaucracies of old-line denominational churches, the big cumbersome governmental structures that once matched our size but now drain energy and passion from our fellowship. It makes me think of the gargantuan megachurches, arisen in an era of consumerism and cheap, easy transportation. Which, as we know, will always be the case, forever and ever, AMEN.
It makes me think of fossil fuels, which have allowed us to cheat Malthus for three generations. God help us all.
Problem is, for years and years I could never find reference to that article, or anything in general articles about Agent Orange that would confirm that memory. Reliant on only that, it felt too hazy. Maybe I dreamed it. One never knows. But I never quite followed up on verifying the image.
Until I realized that I should just Google it, and add "growth" to my search parameters. And there they were. Article after article, confirming that the best way the military ever devised to make war on plant life was to make it grow and grow with no hope of ever stopping.
Ah, the internet.