Secret War in Laos

PhotographerKosuke Ryujin
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

During the Vietnam War, although the US was not at war with Laos, a CIA top-secret operation dropped 270 million bombs on Laos. They fell on the Ho Chi Minh trail that ran through the country, and in order to prevent the communization of Laos. During 1964 to 1973, the tactic of bombing was carried out as many as 580,000 times, roughly once every eight minutes for every day of those nine years. Today, about 90 million bombs remain as unexploded within the country. Since the end of the war, unexploded bombs have caused over 20,000 casualties. The number of the bombs that have been disposed of sits below one percent of the total, and it will take over 100 years to dispose of all of them. The bombs that once kept falling incessantly have still tormented the people of Laos.

Story

“I said it when former US soldiers came here to console us. ‘You tried to kill me, but I survived. Now, give me back my foot.’ They had no response to that.” Mr. Saysani was 14 when he lost his left foot by aerial bombardment of US forces. Laos, a country located in Southeast Asia with a population of 6.8 million, has been targeted by more bombs relative to population than any other country in the world. During the Vietnam War, although the US was not at war with Laos, a CIA-led top-secret operation saw the US drop 270 million bombs on Laos. They fell on the Ho Chi Minh trail that ran through the country (90 percent of the Trail having been set up within Laotian territory), and in order to prevent the communization of Laos. This figure exceeds the total number of bombs dropped in World War II. It also includes the bombs that could not be dropped on Vietnam and were dumped on Laos to avoid shock or detonation when landing. During the period from 1964 to 1973, the tactic of aerial bombing was carried out as many as 580,000 times, roughly once every eight minutes for every day of those nine years. As the interest of those in the media was focused on Vietnam, the US completely destroyed Laos under a veil of secrecy. Today, roughly 90 million bombs, one third of those that were dropped, remain as unexploded bombs within the country. From the end of the war to the present, unexploded bombs have caused over 20,000 casualties, most of whom have been impoverished farmers and children. Countless cases of unexploded bombs being detonated when agitated by farm tools such as hoes and spades as farmers worked their lands, as well as children being injured or killed when playing with objects without knowing that were bombs, have been reported. Unexploded bombs in the forests and mountains are also often detonated while poor farmers disassemble them to collect the metal in order to sell it as scrap. In 2016, as Barack Obama made the first visit of a US president to Laos, he touched on the US’s moral obligation and promised to begin providing assistance with unexploded ordnance management and risk education. However, the number of unexploded bombs that have been disposed of thus far sits below one percent of the total, and it is said that it will take over 100 years at the very least to dispose of all of them. While the remarkable growth of the Asian countries in its vicinity continues, the countless unexploded bombs buried within Laos’s territory are hindering its development. It has been about 50 years since the end of the war, and the bombs that once kept falling incessantly still torment the people of Laos to this day.