Bombies… The Heavy Price and Legacy of the War in Southeast Asia
I wrote this story in a child’s voice because adults continue to prove, over and over again, that they just don’t get it.
Bombies are round, about the size of an apple. But, you can’t eat them. On their sides there are ridges that make them easy to grasp and throw. But, they aren’t made for throwing. On the surface of a Bombie there are tiny bumps, about the size of small pieces of candy, that look like decoration. But, they aren’t for decoration. They weigh about the same as Chinese Medicine Balls. But, they don’t bring good health.
A little over 50 years ago many countries had a meeting in a place called Switzerland. They were quarrelling because they wanted to choose what kind of government they thought everyone else should have. They didn’t agree on hardly anything but they all said they wanted to leave one country, a little country called Laos, alone to take care of itself. So they signed a piece of paper that said they would leave Laos alone. But some of them didn’t mean it. Soon one of the countries started moving guns and other bad stuff through Laos to places where they wanted to have their kind of government. Another one of the countries set up places inside of Laos where they could give weapons and things to people so they might have their different kind of government.
Because these countries weren’t leaving Laos alone, like they said they would when they met in Switzerland, they had to keep secrets. Secrets that they didn’t even tell their own people back home about because what they were doing was against the law. Soon, because nobody was doing what they said they would do, someone decided it would be okay to keep lying to their own people and do even worse things. They thought maybe if they started using Bombies, the other side, the other one that also wanted a different government, would stop doing their bad things. But that was really, really bad because; a Bombie is what Laotians call bombs. And bombs like the Bombies, kill innocent people and little kids too.
Bombies aren’t like other bombs because they aren’t made to destroy other people’s weapons. The tiny bumps on the side, the ones that look like candy, are made to kill PEOPLE. Bombies are dropped from the sky by big airplanes; some of the airplanes are called B52s. When they fall Bombies start to spin really, really fast and become what is called “armed”. When a Bombie is armed it hits the ground and explodes. Sometimes, when a Bombie doesn’t spin enough to get armed, or it lands on something soft like mud, it doesn’t explode right away.
Because a Bombie looks like a ball or a piece of fruit, sometimes children find them and play with them. Even today, over 30 years since the last Bombies was dropped on Laos, children are being killed and crippled by Bombies. Farm animals too sometimes step on Bombies and are killed. One B52 can drop over 25,000 Bombies at a time. About one out of three of those Bombies didn’t explode, at least not right away and many still are there, waiting to hurt someone. Because so many Bombies were dropped on Laos, farmers in some areas, even today, can’t plant crops on their own land because it is too dangerous. Between 1964 and 1973 over 260 million Bombies were dropped on Laos. That was almost 10 Bombies for every person that lived there.
Dropping all the Bombies didn’t really make anything happen; except hurting people. Laos has a different government now but they still buy things that the people who wanted them to have a different government sell to them. Businesses from the countries that wanted different governments still do business with and make money from each other. No one is happy about Bombies, except for maybe, the people that make money from making Bombies and people that worry about other things more than what happens to children, farm animals and other people.
Except it isn’t the end. It is estimated that there are over 300 casualties in Laos per year due to UXO (unexploded ordnance). Vast portions of fertile farmland in Laos are unusable to because of UXO dropped over 30 years ago. It isn’t just Bombies: There are still huge quantities of unexploded large bombs, grenades, rockets, mortar shells, artillery munitions, landmines and (IED) improvised explosive devices lying around.
There is a Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) Treaty but many countries, for the most part the more egregious producers of cluster bombs, have not signed it.
There are many organizations that help victims and work to remove cluster munitions including:
On my recent visit to Laos I had the opportunity to see, up close, the effects of indiscriminate bombing of innocent people. In many places we were told to stay between the signs or don’t leave the path because of UXO. Before I visited there I was largely ignorant of the situation and for that I am sickened. I am sickened by the actions of all guilty parties, but particularly those that committed these atrocities, in my name, and those that profited from and continue to profit from the manufacture of weapons of terror. I am also sickened by my lack of awareness and the educational system that glossed over this appalling chapter of our history. How hypocritical it is today to be outraged by IEDs that injure our soldiers in the Middle East yet remain silent when our own government purchases purpose made weapons to do identical damage, largely to non-combatants, from companies that profit from their manufacture? Patriotism isn’t about violence and force; it is about being a force for good.
Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the Nation while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the South and their countrymen mouldering the dust. – Abraham Lincoln.
Another thing that struck me about my visit to Laos was how little was changed by the fighting in Southeast Asia. If you want to buy a luxury automobile or an Apple computer they are freely available from company outlets and dealers. To justify fighting we were told that our freedoms were at stake and this was going to be our last stand against “evil”. Sound familiar? Now, as I see it, things are pretty much as they would have been had we not wasted so much of our blood and treasure, only to lose a battle that turned out not to really matter. I think there is a lesson there.
Of course there are bad things in the world; things that need to be stopped and things that need to be battled. The trick is accurately identifying them and learn how to combat them intelligently and not allow ourselves to be drawn into situations where we are weakened and lose our moral authority (if we have any left). The terms “thoughtful”, “measured” and “intellectual” are sneered at in some circles as of late. That is sad. What do we want to be, the opposite of thoughtful, measured and intellectual? Spend some time with a man, who lost his hands trying to defuse a landmine, and ask him what he thinks. Insanity has been defined as: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Why do we constantly listen to those that again want to beat the drums of war?
86 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The United States is not one of them.