New project sheds light on U.S. “secret war” in Laos

By MM via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Legacies of War, a Washington D.C. advocacy and education organization, has a new initiative. 

The new mission called Legacies Library aims to tell the story of the secret bombings done by the U.S. on Laos during the Vietnam War. A group of volunteers have started to collect books, films, and other materials that document the bombings in order to educate the broader public.

“We’re trying to preserve this history so we can protect the future,” said Sera Koulabdara, executive director of Legacies of War, to NBC News. “We wanted to encourage more people to write about it and take interest in their history, including the American public.”

According to the Pew Research Center there are over 250,000 Laotians in America. There are also more than 300,000 Hmong Americans in the U.S. Many Hmong refugees come from Laos, but they are a distinct ethnic group from Laotians. 

The bombing of Laos took place from 1964-1973 under the Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon presidencies. The bombings were done in secret on Laos, a neutral country, without Congress being fully informed about of the involvement. The U.S. bombers were focused on destroying communist supply lines on the border of Vietnam and Laos, but they did so without regarding the civilian population.

It is estimated more than 2 million tons of ordinance were dropped on the country in 580,000 bombing missions. This went on for nine years, making Laos the most bombed country in history using a per-person scale.

This secret war was not known to the public until the early 1970’s after journalist  Fred Branfman exposed what was happening and Congressional hearings were held in 1971. 

In the decades since the war, about 30 percent of the ordinance did not detonate on impact and are still in the land. Around 50,000 people have been injured or killed by these unexploded bombs since 1964, according to AUSLAO-UXO, a company that helps clear UXO.

Formed in 2004 Legacies of War has been trying to educate the public and raise awareness of the bombings on Lao. They have pushed the U.S. government to help fund UXO clearance. In 

Legacies of War, formed in 2004, spent years pushing Congress to increase funding for bomb clearance in Laos. 

Their efforts have proved to have been successful as in 2016, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos. He committed $90 million over a three-year period to help clear bombs. Legacies of War has noted that improved funding towards Lao has led to “more land being available for cultivation and economic development” as well as “casualty rates” dropping “more than 300 to less than 50 per year.” 

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