The above photo has a red dot for every site that Laos had bombs dropped. That’s a lot of bomb sites.
Just to throw a few startling stats at you, Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world. On average, there was one bombing mission every 8 minutes, everyday, for 9 years straight between 1964-1973. And that’s not just “Oh here Laos, take this one little bomb, you’ll survive” – this was a bomb-load of B52′s every 8 minutes for 9 years. That’s 260 millions bombs during that period. Now if like me, you don’t know much about Laos’ history and involvement in the Vietnam War, you’re probably thinking they must have deserved it in some way, surely? But this poor country was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In a documentary we watched whilst visiting COPE, my American buddies squirmed uncomfortably in their seats watching in horror as US militant fighters admitted that during the Vietnam War, if they flew over Vietnam to bomb particular sites but couldn’t meet their targets, rather than return to base with all these bombs and put the safety of their own people at risk, they’d simple drop them off over Laos to get rid of them. So Laos copped millions and millions of bombs for no reason. We watched video clips of the US President at the time publicly denying all knowledge of this “Silent War” on Laos, yet he allowed it happen. I felt appalled and sickened.
The saddest part of all, is of those 260 million bombs dropped on Laos over that period, over 80 million of the bombs failed to detonate at the time and are still going off randomly and accidentally today, killing and badly injuring millions of people. That’s where COPE come in – the centre we visited that day is a not-for-profit rehabilitation centre which produces prosthetic limbs for those injured by these explosives that are still going off to this day. I read and watched clips of the stories of families who have lost all their loved ones from these deadly bombs, and the anger and grief stricken parents who mourn the loss of their 7 year old child who died playing with a bomb he’d found in the street. The sad reality is that the cycle is never ending – So many families go hungry and have next to nothing because their parents or siblings have been injured from bombs and cannot work, yet the bomb shrapnels found in fields produce income for families so local people (with no knowledge of how to correctly handle a loaded bomb) go to collect this “metal scrap” and well… it’s a bad cycle. They are poor because of the bombs, but collecting the bombs generates income, but then also causes injuries which puts them in a worst position than before. There are many NGO’s and different organizations across Laos working to safely remove these bombs so they do not harm the people, but there are literally thousands and thousands. This problem is not going to fix itself overnight, so in the meantime the horror and the loss of life continues for Laos.
The amazing part is, there is still a positive outlook and a smile on the face of the people we met in Vientiane. I walked out of COPE that day with a completely different attitude towards the local people, and felt my heart open up for them and everything they had, and still were, going through. They were the victims in a terrible war, yet they still greet foreigners (and amazingly, Americans) with love and affection. Incredible.
If you’re interested in knowing more, check out COPE’s website http://www.copelaos.org or check out a documentary called “Bomb Harvest”.