Enduring more than 580, 000 bombing missions, Laos is the most heavily bombed nation, per capita, in history. They had the equivalent to one bombing every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
The bombings were part of America’s secret war in Laos from 1964 to 1973 to support the Royal Government and deter North Vietnamese supply lines along the fabled Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Over two million tons of ordnance was dropped in this small landlocked country, a third of which failed to explode. More than 270 million cluster munitions were used with as many as 80 million failing to detonate. Only about a million have yet to be removed.
With over 25% of the country’s villages still infested with unexploded ordnance (UXO), more than 50,000 people have been killed or injured between 1974 and 2008. Children are often the casualties.
There is a small free museum, gift shop, and cafe at the COPE Visitor Centre located in Vientiane, Laos, on the grounds of the Center for Medical Rehabilitation (CMR), on Khouvieng Road.
It is part of an organization that provides prosthetics and rehabilitation to ordnance victims in Laos. It is a place of both horror and shame, as well as inspiration and triumph. Most visitors probably have no idea of the secret war on Laos and the cost it continues to wage on its people.
In the museum, visitors learn of personalized accounts of villagers who innocently have lost life and limb. You’ll also see a bevy of homemade prosthetic limbs, from the crudely fashioned to the cleverly engineered that have since been professionally replaced. Many resourceful Laotians have cleverly utilized the old ordnance casings and fashioned them into such things as cooking utensils, plates, pots, pans, lanterns, even canoes, transforming instruments of death into tools for living.
One of the benefits of travel is learning new things, whether they are cheery or not. In doing so, you not only learn about a new culture but also, quite often, learn about your own country, pleasing or not. The secret war in Laos is, in no small part, also American history. Without being too didactic, this small museum provides not only a much-needed history lesson but also brings to light the many worldwide humanitarian efforts to educate, rehabilitate, and remove UXO’s in Cambodia. The COPE center also serves as a stark reminder that the ravages of war are far from over once peace is declared.
Donations are encouraged. To learn more and/or donate, please visit the COPE website.
Britt is a photographer/music producer & proud member of #teamtraynham