by Mike Liu
In Bombies, archival footage shows dozens of huge cluster bombs descending from B-52's passing over thick forests. Part-way down the bombs unfold into two halves, spraying two to six hundred and fifty small bomblets. These bomblets, as one writer described, " are stuffed with hundreds of metal chunks; after hitting the ground, each canister is designed to explode in a 150- yard arc. Some are filled with napalm, others with molten copper that penetrates armor plating. Others spray metal spikes that can pin a man to a tree."
It's a terrifying, mechanized reality that contrasts with the film's contemporary footage of subsistence Laotian peasants working with buffalo-drawn plows and hand hoes and their children who are still being killed by these weapons of slaughter from three decades past.
It's this tension that drives Bombies, a film about human dedication and compassion trying to clean an Aegean stable with the equivalent of teaspoons. Between 1964 and 1973 the United States conducted a secret air war, dropping over 2 million tons of bombs making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history. The ten to thirty percent of bomblets that didn't explode those years have survived to maim and destroy in the succeeding decades.
The film interviews the primary players trying to defuse the ten million bomblets - Mennonites, later the British NGO, the Mines Advisory Group, and now former Laotian peasants.
These people carry out the slow, careful process of identifying and marking these bombs. The institution primarily responsible, the US government, in contrast spends two times as much recovering the remains of each dead soldier from that war as it spends annually on supporting these efforts - a backhanded comment on the worth of Laotian lives.
The humanity of the bomb-defusing workers lies alongside the pain of a segment at a hospital, where a bloody young boy, a victim of one of these bomblets, must be treated without anesthetics, which are in short supply in this poor country. These images calls for us to see that nations' destructiveness should have limits as well as remedies. As former President Jimmy Carter said,
"The United States' insistence on the use of cluster bombs, designed to kill or maim humans, is condemned almost universally and brings discredit on our nation. Even for the world's only superpower, the ends don't always justify the means."
To see why, see Bombies.