April 26, 2012

Looking at "Laos Scarred by Secret War"

Just a few weeks ago a group of our students returned from Laos, where they experienced first hand the ravages of the "Secret War," played out by the CIA during the 1960s and 70s. While the press covered the horors of what was occurring in Vietnam, the millions of tonnes of cluster bombs concurrently dropped on Laos went largely unrecorded. When American troops packed up and left Southeast Asia, they also left a legacy of unexploded ordinances (UXOs), polluting almost every inch of Laotian soil; a problem that has killed 12,000 people since the end of the war (the majority, civilians and children). 

In her article, "Laos Scarred by Secret War," Michelle Cooke details the daily struggles of contemporary Laotians to cope with the legacy of war that continues to plague one of Southeast Asia's most remote and beautiful countries. Her report begins with the story of a young man, Phonsavath, now blind and handless because of a "bombie": 

"On Phonsavath's 16th birthday a bomb blew his hands to pieces and caused him to go blind.

He was walking home from school when his friend picked up a rusty bomb, the size of a tennis ball, from the side of the road.

Curiosity got the better of him, and he attempted to open it, but it exploded in his hands.
His story mirrors thousands of others and is a permanent reminder of how although the Vietnam war ended nearly four decades ago, its remnants remain across South East Asia, especially in Laos, the world's most-bombed country.

The live bomb which injured Phonsavath was one of an estimated 80 million which lie in wait of victims.

At the same time the United States was fighting the North Vietnamese, it was dropping the equivalent of one bomb, every eight minutes for nine years, on Laos - more bombs than the allies dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War 2.
But the outside world had little idea of what was happening: it was so covert it became known as The Secret War.

What now plagues Laos are the millions of bombs that did not explode on impact, so the tally of casualties adds up, year after year..."

Laguna Blanca students with Phonsavath at COPE 
Click here to read the whole article and learn about the real costs of war, as well as what has been and still needs to be done to heal the country. Cooke's article also includes a short, informative film that's well worth your time. 

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