Many people are unaware of a serious situation that has lasted for decades in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: the deadly toll of unexploded American bombs. On Friday, Portland State was the fifth location on a nine-city tour sponsored by the State Department to raise awareness about how these bombs continue to kill and maim Laotian people.
Many people are unaware of a serious situation that has lasted for decades in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: the deadly toll of unexploded American bombs.
On Friday, Portland State was the fifth location on a nine-city tour sponsored by the State Department to raise awareness about how these bombs continue to kill and maim Laotian people.
Children, especially, are still at risk.
“We left a major problem behind that is still an issue today,” said retired United States Air Force member and keynote speaker Michael L. Burton.
Statistically, Laos is the most bombed country per capita today. It is estimated that 80 million of the 260 million bombs dropped on Laos have failed to explode. UXOs, or unexploded ordnance, are explosive weapons that failed to detonate when they were deployed and still pose the risk of explosion.
Between the years 1964 and 1973, more bombs were dropped on Laos than on Vietnam.
“When I was stationed in Laos, I saw the destruction on the ground and became aware of how these UXOs were affecting the country,” Burton said. “I have been working with the Laos-American communities and those affected by the war since 1978. These people truly deal with adversity,” he added.
“The idea today is to make more Americans and second- and third-generation [Laotians] aware of this issue that continues today.”
Burton was responsible for bringing the touring panel to PSU.
Two Laotians impacted by UXOs and who fight to resolve the issue in their country, Thoummy Silamphan and
Manixia Thor, shared their stories.
“Many people in the U.S. and even Lao-Americans do not know about this problem,” said Silamphan, who, at 8 years old, had his hand torn off when he disturbed a decades-old bomb.
“This has been a major hindrance for the country’s development,” he said.
Silamphan works as a victim assistance advocate.
Thor works in an all-women de-mining squad and has uncovered roughly 10,000 bombs in her six years of service.
“I do this work because I am a mother and I don’t want my child to be hurt or injured by these bombs,” Thor said.
The panel was part of the organization Legacies of War, which seeks to educate and mobilize the Laotian-American and American public to help them advocate for more U.S. funding for bomb clearance, education awareness and victim assistance in Laos.
“Our mission is to raise awareness of the history of the Vietnam War-era bombings and to create the space for future peace,” said Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of the organization.
Legacies of War has raised $9 million to put toward remediation in Laos. They have also been featured with Amy Goodman on the public radio program Democracy Now.
“We are building the momentum to have a longer-term commitment by the U.S. on this issue,” Khamvongsa said. “Attention on this issue is the key point of this discussion.”
The Division of Political Science in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government and the Institute of Asian Studies provided the forum and the audience for the State Department-funded tour.
“I teach a class on war and morality,” said David Kinsella, chair of the political science division. “I am always on the lookout for events and speeches that are relevant to my students’ experiences.”
The lecture drew a diverse crowd of high school teachers, Vietnam veterans and even a Laotian professor.
“If you can’t do anything else to help, please go home and tell one other person about this issue,”