By Kevin Stoda
I had certain concerns and questions about crossing into Laos as an American-even as recently as a few weeks ago. I wondered what remnants of war and isolation I would find in a land where the U.S. tonnage of bombs in an illegal and covert war in the 1960s and 1970s had totaled 2 million tons of bombs. At that time, there was only a population of about 2 to 3 million peoples among the various ethnic tribes and groupings in the whole country of Laos. That means that the total tonnage per capita was unheard of (in a comparison to any other country on the planet).
Americans have to a great degree not acknowledged (or at least often have failed to recall) what sort of damage and continuing damage such a war crime of bombing has created not only for the psyches of the Americans who had to participate as perpetrators in such misguided bombings, but of the continuing legacy of personal injuries, deaths and destruction affecting Lao peoples for far too long. Further, the war effort and subsequent U.S. isolation of the region has stunted cultural, economic, political, and social development in Laos and its neighboring Indochinese lands
My own cousin, who flew as a bombing pilot for the Navy in the Vietnam era, once shared how he had asked his navigator never to even reveal to him where his plane was headed.
My cousin consistently repeated to the navigator, "Don't tell me!"
This intentional act of not-knowing of my cousin is symbolic of the intentional lack of recollection by far too many Americans after April 30, 1975 of what we had done or had been doing in Southeast Asia. Now, because of this neglect of cultivating memory, young Americans of the past two generations have been led once again into the crimes of war by a new set of American regimes repeating the same sins and crimes in our present day-and again in Asia, but this time in Southwest Asia.
MY MEMORIES OF EDUCATION ON LAOS
Most Americans of non-Hmong or non-Laotian descent know only of the image of Laos (and the CIA) portrayed in the 1980s film with Mel Gibson, Air America. In This film, Gibson plays an American making money in the name of Patriotism in Laos on CIA run air strips. He sometimes even finds himself flying drug money in and out of the country on behalf of corrupt Lao generals.