Sunday, March 20, 2011

Phonsavan, Laos, Plain of Jars; and the bombs the US dropped, in photos

Welcome to Phonsavan, where former bombs are used as art, fences, flower pots, etc. Go Team AMERICA!

During the Vietnam War, the US and Vietnam were secretly warring in Laos - secretly seeing as how they'd signed a treaty saying Laos was a neutral zone and they would stay out. So for about 20 years they fought, but at first it was kind of low key with mostly the Laos tribes who were anti-commi doing the fighting and just a handful of Americans helping them out. Then things escalated (secretly, of course) and many, many American soldiers were flown in with big planes, bombs, and guns - and they bombed the SHIT out of Laos, in search of the Viet Cong.

Bomb craters

Bomb craters

"Laos is more contaminated by cluster bombs than any other country on Earth. Roughly 90 million of them were dropped between 1964 and 1973, as part of a bombardment heavier than that suffered by Germany and Japan combined in the Second World War. It is estimated that almost a third of the bomblets did not explore and have lain in fields and forests like deadly seed ever since. More than 12,000 Laotians, many of them children, have been killed or injured by these and other UXO since the war." - MAG

Bomb craters and the denuding of the surroundings.

Nature persevere...or tries to.

The US dropped many, many cluster bombs and all sorts of other bombs on Laos. A lot of these babies did not explode, so here they are being used to hold up houses and other things.

These kids were so cute.

A fence.

Then we (our guide, Pam, Steve, and I) hiked down to a waterfall.

I havent met many Americans traveling, so it was entertaining to be with two other Americans on this guided tour (because you cant do it alone - there are landmines out there). Pam is a former librarian with a second degree in Anthropology, Steve is a retired geologist. Fun times.

We went to the Plain of Jars....which of course also had many bombs dropped on or around them. We went to Site 1, but there are over 50 sites with only 8 or so cleared for people to visit.

Plain of Jars. Mysterious gigantic urns. One theory is that rice whiskey was harvested for giants here. Another is that humans decomposed here for a few days after they died, and then were taken to a nearby cave and cremated. This was a bazillion years ago. They really have no  idea.

Some of them were HUGE!

There's a bomb crater.

Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb.

They say that more people have died after the war from cluster bombs than during. MAG International hires mostly women (to prove that women can be as or more badass as men) to go out into the fields in Laos and other countries, to clear the sites of the bombs. Over THIRTY years later, unexploded ordnances are still being found! There is a big black market for bomb metal scrap, which does NOT help the situation as people are conflicted between reporting the bombs they find or trying to disassemble them and sell them.

Recently, a treaty was signed making cluster bombs illegal to be dropped because of the long term damage - many, many countries signed this treaty EXCEPT for the US, Russia, China, and Israel.

If you ever travel to Laos, a highly recommend Roger Warner's Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos as it gives you a great history of the war, as well as talks about the different cities and provinces you will probably be visiting. It was really great to read the book and be able to picture where these things were happening.

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