The Secret War

This past week we visited Vieng Xai, the birthplace of the Laos communist resistance force, the Pathet Lao.  This region is not only beautiful but loaded with history.  The surrounding cliffs contained a vast number of caves that were used as a hideout between 1964 and 1973 while the USA was carpet bombing the country to try and prevent the spread of communism from Vietnam to its neighbouring countries.  This was known as the Secret War because the USA was never officially at war with Laos.  In those nine years, the USA dropped over two tons of explosives per person on the country, making Laos the most bombed country per capita in history.  This war cost the States around two million dollars a day and didn’t prevent Laos from gaining a communist government or from supporting the Viet-Cong along the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Although this bombing failed to achieve its means, it left a legacy in the form of UXO’s or unexploded ordinances.  These were bombs dropped that – either by mistake or by design – did not explode when dropped but will explode if disturbed.  One Laotian (usually a child) is killed or injured every day by these explosives.  The explosives also hinder the country’s progress by limiting expansion and the setting up of modern farming infrastructure.  There are different organizations that are trying to clear these UXO’s but at the current rate, it will take around 100 years to completely clear the land of bombs.

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