and other uses for Unexploded Ordinances
In 2018 I visited Laos with friends.
At our hotel, there was an unusual planter in the foyer. It was a bomb casing, standing on end. During our trip, we saw other unusual uses, including a traffic marker and a gong in a temple.
In the city of Vientiane we visited a museum about the Vietnam war and it’s affects on the people of Laos.
In Asia, they call it the American war.
That was a surprise to me the first time I heard it, but it makes sense from their perspective.
The untold story of that war was the intense bombing of Laos that occurred.
They call this bombing the Secret War.
Laos borders Vietnam and the border runs along the area of what we call the Ho Chi Min Trail. This area of dense jungle was used to travel between North and South Vietnam.
The bombing was aimed at hemming in the Vietnamese enemies.
As a result, Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history (per capita).
In Laos today, there is an active trade in scrap metals. The people there are very poor and they scour the jungle floor for anything left from the war. Generally it is the children that meet the scrap truck and trade their finds for cash.
Often the metal includes an UXO or unexploded ordnance. The UXO that are still in the countryside include large numbers of bombs, rockets, grenades, mortars, landmines and cluster bombs. Sometimes they go off, seriously injuring or killing people.
Farmers find them in fields. People find them in the jungle while harvesting bamboo shoots to feed their families. It’s particularly dangerous in remote communities as the dense jungle is full of them.
COPE is the organization that sponsors the museum. The exhibits illustrate the way unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos affects life in the country.
COPE supports them by obtaining prosthetic limbs and providing support to help people affected by UXO explosions.
The statistics take your breath away.
It is estimated that during the Vietnam war, Laos was bombed the equivalent of a plane load every 8 minutes 24 hours a day for 9 years. Recently released records show that there were 580,000 bombing missions over Laos between 1964 and 1973. The estimates are that 10–30% were unexploded.
The cluster bombs dropped on Laos were large munitions filled with round bomblets the size of a tennis ball. These bombs are designed to open in midair and spray the bomblets over a large area.
They were designed for maximum damage.
The thing is, Americans were not at war with Laos and most people are unaware of the bombing that occurred there.
There is some good news.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions is a humanitarian effort to prohibit cluster bombs worldwide.
Countries supporting CCM make a commitment to never use, produce, or stockpile them. As of 2013, 111 countries have signed the commitment. The U.S. is not a signatory but has provided funding in the past to assist Laos with cleanup efforts. Read more about the commitments under the Obama administration here.
Although I initially was reluctant to visit the COPE museum, I am glad I did. What I learned was a difficult truth, but knowing it helped me understand the more about the people of Laos.
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