Friday, January 14, 2011
voices from the plain of jars
i have more pictures to post, but i wanted to do this first. well, i didn't bring creating Laos with me to read on the trip like i had posted. i switched books at the last minute and brought voices from the plain of jars, life under an air war. this book is out of print, but apparently it is being reprinted. basically, the book contains narratives and drawings from the survivors of the secret and illegal bombing campaign that the usa carried out in Laos in the last half of the 1960s.
the war was illegal in the sense that the usa had previously agreed that it would not participate in military action in Laos, but then went ahead and did so anyway - training hmong and mien soldiers and then using them to locate villages that were supposedly sympathetic to the pathet lao. the american military would then drop bombs with the purpose of obliterating the villages and many civilians were killed. hence these narrative accounts.
read this blog review of it from tikkun daily blog -
the blog includes an updated introduction by the editor. the original intro was one the interesting things about the book as the editor, fred branfman, provides a summary of the events of the secret bombing campaign, and and sets up the narratives of the survivors that follow. admittedly this is a controversial subject for many people. some defend the american's actions in Laos as necessary in the fight against communism or whatever - just read the comments a the bottom of tikkun's blog post. but it is hard to imagine the justification in dropping so many bombs on such a small piece of land.
the interesting thing about the narratives and branfman's introduction, is that nothing is said about the cluster bombs and the subsequent damage that these munitions would cause for years to come - everything is written in the moment - about what damage was done in 1969. but thousands of these bomblets did not explode and are still killing people today - many of them having been born after the war ended. branfman takes note of the cluster munitions in the updated edition:
And I discovered a new dimension of “nonhumanity.” U.S. leaders had spent over $10 billion on bombing Laos but had contributed virtually nothing to clean up the unexploded cluster bomblets they had left there – even as they were spending tens of millions to look for the bones of U.S. pilots killed while bombing Laos. (The U.S. spent just $5 million on UXO cleanup in Laos for all of fiscal year 2010 – equivalent to what it spent on just eight hours of bombing during the Indochina war.)
see this article about the issue and the recent convention on cluster munitions; the article also reports on the death of a 10 year-old girl in Laos who picked up a bomblet while the convention was being held.
regardless of one's opinion of the bombing, branfman makes a valid point. check out the work of legacies of war, an organization that uses the narratives and drawings from branfman's project to get the message out there that more needs to be done. (in fact, check out the story of how the drawings were rediscovered in 2003 which led to the creation of legacies of war.)
i didn't make it up to the plain of jars on this trip as i had originally planned. but at least that gives me a reason to return to Laos in the future. still haven't made it up there, still need to go.