By Dave Lindorff
The NY Times on Monday ran a lengthy piece ("One Woman's Mission to Free Laos from Millions of Unexploded Bombs") on Channapha Khamvongas, a 42-year-old Laotian-American woman on a mission to get the US to help Laos clean up the countless unexploded anti-personnel "bombis" that it dropped, which are still killing peasants -- especially children -- half a century after the so-called "Secret War" by the US against Laos ended.
The article explained that Khamvongas, as a young adult in Virginia, had read a book by anti-war activist Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War (originally published in 1972 and reissued in 2013), which featured accounts and hand drawings by refugees from that war of the deadly US aerial attacks and bombings of their farms and villages. It was a book that sparked revulsion in the US over the saturation bombing of Southeast Asia's smallest and least developed country.
While the Times article mentioned that the secret air war, launched by Lyndon Johnson against Laos in 1964 and continued by Richard Nixon through 1973, was "one of the most intensive air campaigns in the history of warfare," and that it had made Laos, a country the size of Great Britain with a population of only a few million peasants, into "one of the most heavily bombed places on earth." What it did not make clear was that this bombing and strafing campaign, which Branfman's research showed was so intense that US jets were even killing individual water buffalo, and so continuous that any Lao person, including children, who dared to venture out from underground shelters during the daytime, was targeted.
Instead, Times reporter Thomas Fuller simply parrots the official US line about the Laos air war, which was kept secret from the American public at the time, writing that the campaign's "targets were North Vietnamese troops -- especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a large part of which passed through Laos -- as well as North Vietnam's Laotian Communist allies," the Pathet Lao.
This is a patent falsehood. The Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Laos but along its lengthy eastern boarder with Vietnam. The bombing of Laos, though, was extensive, covering the whole country, and especially the large region of Northern Laos known as the Plain of Jars -- an agricultural region in the center of Northern Laos (named for the many neolithic jars found there) that was so heavily bombed that it resembled the surface of the moon (today the circular craters that dot the place are now mostly ponds and breeding grounds for mosquitos). And the goal of the country-wide bombing campaign, as Branfman's interviews of its refugee survivors, was to disrupt agriculture and kill anything that moved in the country, in hopes of defeating the Pathet Lao insurgency.
Not once in the article is the term "war crime" mentioned, though clearly what the US did to Laos in its Secret War against the people of Laos was a war crime of almost unrivaled horror.