The Secret War 1

Whilst the Vietnam war is well documented, far less is known about the military activity carried out by the USA in Laos and its ongoing legacy. I’m still trying to piece together the events leading up to ‘The Secret War’ but what we saw today had such an impact on us that I feel compelled to write about what we’ve learnt so far

This afternoon we went to the Cope Centre in Vientiane, the capital of Laos (http://www.copelaos.org/). The centre exists to highlight what happened in Laos during the 60s and 70s and to explain what is being done to help the current victims of the thousands of unexploded bombs (UXO) that remain littered across the country

The visit was both enlightening and upsetting. We met Peter Kim who had lost both hands as well as his sight at the age of 16 as he tried to take apart a Bombie* (or Bomblet) given to him by his friend. He has been at the Cope centre for the last year and a half and has spent much of that time learning English so that he can meet and talk to the centre visitors. It’s no understatement to say that I don’t think I have met a more remarkable and courageous person

*The most commonly used bomb dropped on Laos contained 600 smaller explosives called ‘Bombies’ or ‘Bomblets’ each embedded with 300 small ball bearings. The total destructive area of each Bombie was 30 square metres

To put the events of the 60s and 70s into context, here are some facts and figures (click on the images to see them full size)

Whilst the heaviest bombing was reserved for the Ho Chi Minh trail and the political targets in Northern Laos, aborted bombing missions over North Vietnam routinely led to bomb cargos being unloaded over Laos. The number of bombs dropped by the US increased dramatically after January 1973 (the date of the Paris Peace Accord) as the USA emptied its stockpile of bombs. (The image below is from a slideshow put together by Renaud Devout http://www.slideshare.net/mobile/rdavout/uxo-visualization)

What support are the USA currently providing to clear up the UXO?

Devout’s slides include the following statements: Cost of bombs dropped on Laos at 2010 values: $57,000,000,000. USA contribution to UXO clearance in Laos in 2010: $5,000,000. At current levels of funding it will take decades to clear high priority areas and 3,000 years to clear the entire country

Tomorrow we visit the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) Centre to see what action they are taking to locate and disarm the UXO

 

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1 comment
  1. MrPJDK said:

    How horrific – and I feel bad that I knew nothing about it until I read your post. I’ve looked at the slide show too and even half an hour on I still can’t get my head around it all.

    I does remind me of an old John Denver song “What are we making weapons for?” And there’s still no answer.

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