We are in Laos now and I will take a little time away from the travel journal and move into a topic that Michel and I are interested in. On our first trip to Laos we learned about the number of unexploded ordinances left here during the Vietnam war. We are resolved to learn more about UXO on this trip and share with others.
For myself, I am surprised to learn how much I did not know about what happened in Laos. I was very aware of the Vietnam war and remember standing up in junior high school and arguing in favor of Nixon and against McGovern in 1972. Amusing as I think of it now as I really had no idea what was actually going on. Certainly most of us could not know what truly happened in Laos until the information was declassified in 2007.
There was covert war in Laos from 1964 to 1975 aka The Secret War. It was covert because a UN agreement existed that designated Laos as neutral from foreign military intervention. The USA secretly supplied weapons and military training to the local tribes in effort to stop the supply of weapons from the Soviet Union for Vietnam and to stabilize the region ( not a complete summary but all I will attempt for now).
Please bear with me here but a few statistics are necessary:
Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history
Approximately 25% of villages in Laos are contaminated with Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)
More than 580,000 bombing missions were conducted over Laos
Over 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973
Cluster-bombs or ‘Bombies’ (as they are known locally) are the most common form of UXO remaining
More than 270 million bombies were dropped onto Laos Up to 30% failed to detonate
Approximately 80 million unexploded bombies remained in Laos after the war
All 17 provinces of Laos suffer from UXO contamination
The statistics alone really tell most of the story. The volume is astounding and the fact that all of those unexploded bombs remain in the fields of the locals to this day is disturbing.
Following our quest to learn more about UXO and their impact on Laos we learned about an organization called COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) in Vientiane.
We toured their facilities and watched presentations about some of the families who have been physically wounded while working on their farms. Approximately 1000 adults and children are injured or killed by UXO every year.
UXO are so common in Laos that many families use parts from the bombs as tools around the farms. One local was blinded as he was using a UXO to hold up his cooking stove. The heat from the fire finally causing it to explode.
There are many more stories to tell like the story of Air America (more then just a Mel Gibson movie) and Long Tien (Long Cheng) which was the most active landing strip in the late sixties and seventies. How the T48s that landed there had to drop unused bombs on the area prior to landing for their own safety. About the Hmong people who aided us during the war and were left behind without aid in 1974. We’ll share pictures and more stories as we move on through Laos.
It is all very emotional and disturbing, especially since the average American in my age group or younger is probably unaware of the issues and the fact that the US participated in such a travesty and is not currently instrumental in helping resolve it.
If you are interested in getting involved we have a few websites for you:
Other sources of information are:
Note: I fully admit that I am learning about this as I go. Please to not hesitate to point out any errors that I make in my information gathering or suggest places that I can go to learn more.
Categories: Laos travel