Will 50.000 casualties make us learn?

Davey Meelker

If you are in Laos it is impossible not to notice remains of the secret war. During the war in Vietnam the United States illegally conducted 580.000 bombing mission, meaning one bombing missions every eight minutes for nine years. Laos is the world’s most heavily bombed country per capita. When the bombings ended huge parts of Laos were spread with unexploded bombs of which people are still dying. Did the United Stated take the responsibility after their illegal war and cleaned up the mess they left behind? I don’t think so. Will we make the same mistake again? Possibly.

The United States used cluster bombs to bomb Laos. This system, where one big bomb contains up to 680 individual bombs (called submunitions or bombies), was designed to kill people. And that is exactly what it did and is still doing, since those bombs are famous for their unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Like the heavy bombings conducted over Cambodia during that time, the Laotians never saw an American soldier. Those living in border region with Vietnam saw planes bombing them every day. It was not their war, but they still suffer the consequences of the gross violation of their human rights. Around 50.000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO’s between 1964 and 2011, because around 80 million unexploded submunitions remained in Laos after the war.

Sadly, some people say that the cash crop of the poor country of Laos is scrap metal from the UXO’s. Scrap dealers pay between one or two Euros per kilo of scrap, which is enough incentive for many villagers to take the risk and amateurishly dismantle the explosives. Consequently, 24% of all the reported UXO accidents are a result of collecting scrap metal. Other accidents happen through daily activities as ploughing fields, building houses or by kids who play with the bombies. I heard the same sad stories in Cambodia and Vietnam, where, as a result of the same war, maybe 25 million bombies did not explode on impact.

Almost as outrageous as the bombing itself is that the United Stated took no responsibility when the war was over. They left Laos (as Cambodia) destroyed behind with many unexploded bombs in their soil. The United States stressed they gave Laos aid to help in clearing the UXO’s, but it was not much they were giving. It was only a fraction of the work that had to be done. Furthemore, they saw it as aid. Some kind of voluntarily charity they were giving to Laos. Like the Laotians should be thankful for the help, while it should be the United State’s responsibility to clear the UXO’s. When you start destroying the country – and you need extremely good reasons to do that at the first place – it is your responsibility to clean up the mess for the sake of the innocent civilians and that is no charity.

I hope we learn from these events. First of all, cluster bombs should be banned from the battlefield as the UN is advocating. But when bombings a country, with cluster bombs or not, it is time to stand up and take responsibility. Is that happening nowadays? The 72 hour Israeli bombing of Lebanon with cluster bombs in 2006 left, according the UN, a million unexploded bombies. I don’t expect Israel taking their responsibility in the clearing process. But what about the International community and UN who are preaching about human rights? Afghanistan was bombed with 1.228 cluster bomb between 2001 and 2002, meaning 248.056 bombies. In Iraq 50 million sub munitions were used between 1991 and 2006 of which 2.6 to 6 million did not explode. Now the international community left Iraq and will leave Afghanistan, we will see if they take responsibility. Those are the countries that are preaching about human rights all over the world, and it is time to for them to practice what they preach. It is the opportunity to show the world we learned from the mistakes and are not letting history repeating itself over and over again.

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