Laos KAPOW addressed my original overjoyed response to the exotic Luang Prabang experience. En route home, a New York Times article brought to mind the unfunny underside of Onomatopoeia: Hidden Calamity in Yemen’s Civil War: A Million Land Mines read the headline, with an accompanying photo of a ten-year-old Balda, Yemen boy who blew off his lower left leg while playing. The caption read “Mines have killed 920 civilians and injured thousands,” detailing how millions of inhumane weapons carpet the landscape. Rights groups and other monitors say the minefields will leave Yemen riddled with buried explosives that could kill or maim unsuspecting civilians for decades before the devices can all be removed, as they have in Afghanistan, Columbia and Laos.
Luang Prabang’s UXO Information Center and Laos Unexploded Ordinance Program turns the dark side of Laos’ Secret War to the light. From roughly 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on the country. During 580,000 bombing missions, a planeload of bombs fell every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. The bombings were part of the U.S. effort to support the Royal Laos Government against the Pathet Lao – closely tied to the communists of North Vietnam - and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Many villages were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced.
Of the over two million tons of cluster sub-munitions or “Bombies” dropped, over 30% failed to detonate, leaving 80 million unexploded bombs across the landscape of all 17 of Laos provinces. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents in the post-war period, 1974-2008. UXO Lao works in the country’s nine lost heavily contaminated provinces. Learning of and remembering the Laos people’s plight, I felt grateful being Home, well appreciating the security enjoyed as a resident of the states, and being more keenly aware of it after experiencing lands less free.