Legacies of War, an exhibit that brings attention to the continuing consequences of the U.S. secret war in Laos from 1964 to 1973, opened in Boston this past week. It includes survivors’ illustrations, interviews from refugee camps, archival and contemporary photographs, and a documentary film, Bombies (a review of the film is forthcoming). Far more than a historical commemoration, the exhibit is an appeal to humanity and morality that technological militarism and imperial policy be accountable for the continuing slaughter of innocents.
According to the “Legacies of War” project, planes bombed Laos every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 10 years, amounting to more than 1,000 pounds of bombs for every person living in Laos — making it the most bombed country in history, exceeding the total amount of ordnance dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II. After than 30 years since those sorties, the unexploded ordnance, particularly the elements of cluster bombs, are still killing Laotian civilians. Channapha Khamvongsa, the project director observed. “Every two of five victims are children. Some of these children were born three generations after the end of the bombing,”
The catalyst for creating the exhibit came forth in 2003 with the recovery of drawings and narratives from survivors, which were collected more than 30 years ago in a refugee camp. These drawings and other effects are in the exhibit. The wedding photo of Sao Doumma, an 18- year old peasant woman so happy on her wedding day, unaware that she was soon to be murdered by people she did not even know. An interactive display illustrates the destructive power of cluster bombs.
Since the end of the bombings, more than 11,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO, and more than half of Laos’ arable land is too contaminated to be safely farmed, according to an article in the October 2005 issue of Geographical magazine.
Presently, there are poorly funded efforts to disarm the bomblets spread through Laos. Our country, that is primarily responsible, donates about two and a half million a year, for efforts though it still denies culpability for these fiendishly clever killing devices. With a small Lao population in the U.S., popular attention to the issue is absent. This is what the exhibit, by appealing to America's humanity, hopes to overcome.
The next stop for the exhibit is San Diego. More information can be found here.