[the human factory]

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Among his belongings is an illustrated encyclopedia from the late 50s. I’m taken with one illustration called “The Human Factory.” It depicts the functions of the body as one would think of machinery: “a picture of a motor is shown to indicate the muscles—energy and power,” one caption reads. “The breathing system is shown as a bucket chain picking up oxygen from the air at the nasal openings and emptying it into the blood within the lungs,” reads another. He operated a crane shovel, spread Agent Orange on acres of jungle in Vietnam. His first diagnosis was melancholy depression. Then emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Years later, he was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer, along with a brain tumor. Six months before he died, the Office of Veteran’s Affairs determined his cancer was a direct result of his service in Vietnam, of spreading the defoliant. He was just one corroded bolt on a large piece of American machinery.

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