This post is the third in a series of dispatches from Lynn Bradach, who is currently traveling in Laos, the world’s most heavily cluster-bomb-contaminated country. She lost her son Travis, a U.S. Marine, when his team in Iraq accidentally detonated an unexploded cluster bomb submunition. Lynn is a member of Handicap International’s Ban Advocates, a group of people who lost loved ones or were themselves injured by a landmine or cluster munition. Members use their personal experience with these weapons to advocate for international treaties banning landmines and cluster bombs.
Over the weekend, I traveled to Phonsavan and decided to explore the countryside. I have read many articles about the heavy U.S. bombing that took place here from 1964 to 1973, and I wanted to see how the area is impacted today.
The area surrounding Phonsavan is beautiful. It is extremely lush with rolling hills. I hired a guide and went out hiking. We climbed a hill that was almost 4,000 feet high. From here, the reward was the most amazing view of Phonsavan and the hills and valleys that surround it. At the top of the mountain, there was a bunker used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War to shoot down U.S. planes as they flew by to drop their cluster bombs. Surround by all this quiet and beauty, it was hard to picture the terror that would have existed for the farmers below. It is also hard to imagine that many unexploded cluster bombs still lay hidden in lush grassy slopes.
The town of Phonsavan itself is sprawling, with lots of new development. As you wander down the streets, you notice that the people of this area have been very creative in using bomb shells. You see bomb shell fences, planter boxes, and barbeque grills. You also find jewelry and eating utensils in the shops that have been fashioned from scrap bomb metal. When I look at these items, I am aware of the fact that many victims of cluster bombs were collecting scrap metal when they were injured. The surrounding villages are so poor that if locals discover a bomb, they will try to retrieve the metal to resell. This process often leads to injury or death.