Phonsavan, Laos 26 Jan 12
Odometer 74,958 m 120,682 km

Out on the enigmatic Plain of Jars in the Xieng Khouang province of northeastern Laos, beside a prehistoric stone urn large enough to swallow me whole, I stood agape with wonder and disgust. The megalithic jar was painstakingly chiseled out by Iron-Age craftsmen from a single boulder and was used to bury their dead. But over 2000 years after its manufacture, at a time when the U.S. Air Force defiantly vowed to bomb the North Vietnamese back into the Stone Age--when we dropped more ordnance than the whole of World War II on this tiny, noncombatant country--the priceless stone jar lays shattered. A huge impact crater is carved from the earth beside it. And 80 million
unexploded bombs remain behind.
We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.
-- US Air Force General Curtis E LeMay, in 1965
International travel quickly teaches us that a variety of perspectives lead to different understandings of the same event. What we in the United States call the Vietnam War, the people of Indochina call the American War. And if you stop and think about it--this alternate version of historical nomenclature is substantively more accurate.

No act of man is more destructive than waging war. In addition to the tragic loss of human life, wars between or within nations destroy the environment, historical and cultural artifacts, property and infrastructure. Wars bleed scarce resources away from constructive purposes. They foster hatred and mistrust. They erode our sense of humanity.

But as bad as war can be, there’s one thing even worse: when war is waged in secret.
My Image
Bombs dropping from the sky are no secret to the recipients. But what of a nation’s people who support their government with the understanding that they’re being told all of the facts? What of a people, like the American public, who were systematically lied to and purposefully kept in the dark about what the CIA was doing when they began a secret war in Laos and Cambodia to thwart equally illegal incursions by the North Vietnamese?
lao traditional dress
A young Lao girl in traditional dress treads gently across the Plain of Jars. Provided she's careful and lucky, the last words she ever reads won't be MADE IN AMERICA.
In spite of Congress never officially declaring war on North Vietnam, the public was well aware that the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations spent much of the 1960’s and 70’s deepening our involvement in the Vietnamese civil conflict, half a world away. What we were not told, until Daniel Ellsberg surreptitiously leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, is that in addition to sending our boys and weaponry to fight for “freedom” in Vietnam, they had secretly extended the battle into two, neighboring, officially neutral countries, as well.

So, without the public’s knowledge or approval, the American government bombed the Plain of Jars and Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos with a fury never seen before or since in the history of the world. Take a look at the map at right and you’ll begin to understand why the military calls it “carpet bombing.” But despite flying 580,000 missions to drop
2 million tons of ordnance on Laos alone--we lost the war--not to mention our credibility.

Fortunately, at least at the time, 30% of the munitions dropped were duds; they failed to explode. Most of these were cluster bombs, a larger bomb made up of smaller bomblets each about the size of a tennis ball. But just because they failed to detonate upon impact doesn’t mean they were no longer lethal. Every year kids here get their arms blown off or worse because they find a “ball” to play with out in a farmer’s field. In fact, with much of the Laotian countryside still rendered useless due to the presence of unexploded ordnance (UXO), it’s no wonder that there have been 20,000 reported casualties since the last bombs were dropped in 1973, and that 100
new casualties are reported each year (60% resulting in death; 40% being children).

With these facts in mind, I’m left to wonder how the gentle people I’ve met here are even able to smile once learning that I’m an American. I feel ashamed. Not only for what my government did to them between 1964-73, when we eagerly spent $17 million per day bombarding a country that never attacked us, but because we’re now too stingy to spend more than $3,500 per day cleaning up the mess we created! I’m sickened, even if they’re not.
My Image
Or are they?

I asked my new friend Monan, a young man I met at a guard post who spoke a little English, “What do you all think about what was done to your country, the UXO and how it has left so much of your country unusable and dangerous?”

He thought about it for a minute or so, then fatalistically shrugged. “I guess we have more important things to worry about.”

“More important things,” I incredulously pressed, “what could possibly be more...?” He cut me off.

“Like food.”

“Like food?” Incredibly, Monan’s response made it clear that neither he nor his peers have the luxury of worrying about the right and wrong of the conflict--a war that claimed the lives of his own mother and father--or even its present day impact on the people's lives, with land mines and UXO covering so much of their countryside. With two simple words he had made his point: philosophy is a frill for the well fed.
uxo map
Benjamin Franklin, one of this country’s Founding Fathers, wisely stated that there’s no such thing as a good war or a bad peace. The Secret War is a case in point. And while no nation stands without sin--the United States has a special obligation to step up and rid Laos of the explosive remnants of the American War.

On July 11, 2012, Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Laos since John Foster Dulles in 1955. She pledged greater U.S. aid for cleaning up UXO and promoted stronger, more positive relations between our two countries.

Please explore these links to learn how
you can make a difference:

Plain of Jars Project
Plain of Jars Fundraiser
MAG International

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