Every country in the entire world has a story to tell in its long history, whether it is the good, the bad or simply tragic beyond any words. War has divided world for years and the sad truth it will continue down that sorrow path. For the land locked country of Laos in Southeast Asia, cluster bombs were tragic tale of war that claimed innocent lives and is still doing so to this day.
If you visit Vientiane City in Laos, be sure to stop by the COPE visitor centre, not only is it a source of artificial limbs and walking aids in the country, it holds a detailed museum that discusses the tragedy of Laos and its people during the Vietnam war and the following years. It is compulsory viewing to enter the movie room and watch feature length documentary on how the bombs destroyed villagers and their children.
What are cluster bombs?
A single Cluster bomb is about the size of a tennis ball, the bomblets are then cased together into a larger bomb and ready to be air-dropped. Upon being released from the War planes, hundreds of bomblets are separated from their casing and cause explosion on impact, fatally destroying their intended target. Check out WIKI for more details.
How it affected the Lives of Villagers
The problem, apart from the cruel act of war, was during the Vietnam war of the 1960’s and 70’s, the US dropped the cluster bombs over Laos, largely because they didn’t want to bring them back to base in Thailand. Millions of the cluster bombs didn’t detonate on impact and tragically the bombs remained live, buried and hidden from the locals who continued to live and farm in the area.
The villagers needed to farm and the children needed to play and in the years following the War, many lives were lost due to impact with the bomb with gardening tools such as a gardening rake or a shovel. Even uneducated children out having fun had contacted the bomb and were tragically killed or injured in the explosion.
If the bombs didn’t kill, at times the limbs were lost from the explosion and that is how the COPE Visitor Centre came about in 1997. A dedicated area for those who need artificial limbs and help in getting back to some sort of function with walking aids and wheelchairs.
What has been done to make it right
To the United States credit, in the following years after the war, a lot of money was put into the project and teams were sent in to recover the undetonated bombs. The good news is the detonation rate has improved, but still to this day many cluster bombs remain live and buried in the soils of Laos.
To end the sombre article on a positive note, in 2016, Barack Obama became the first American President to visit Laos for the Southeast Asia summit and made a $90 million-dollar pledge to clear the unexploded bombs.
For great facts about the Cluster Bombs, check out this detailed website, or even better visit the COPE Museum in Vientiane and find out the tragic details for yourself. I know it left an ache in my own heart but it was great to learn about the history of a nation.