Friday, March 16, 2018 – Vientiane, Laos: A quote from my journal:
“My life has changed! I’m hopping off the Tour instead of continuing south through Laos with the Stray Group, as I had intended. The clincher came at our visit today to the COPE Center, a museum detailing the atrocities caused by cluster bombing of this innocent country, Laos, by AMERICA during the Vietnam War. I feel a new sort of glint in my eye that tells me that I am really very mad all of a sudden! You might well get that impression about me if you will allow me to rant for a moment. Or, two! I am staying awhile in this capital city to volunteer at this center, or to help with the disabled…. and to learn all I can about this horrible atrocity. What can I do after half a century has passed? I have no idea, but I will find out!
There was a shameful secret here in Laos, with cluster bombs being dropped by OUR country upon this totally uninvolved and innocent nation, every eight minutes for nine full years, between 1964 and 1973! This is now referred to as The Secret War. Look it up on YouTube! Not that any of us have ever heard about this…. even now! You Tube, or not! I just looked it up there. What was the map on the Center’s wall showing American attack flights and bombings in bright red, if it truly was a Laotian Civil War as some stories on YouTube imply? And some stories say that Laos is a Communist country!? There is not a shred or a clue, over here, feet-on-the-ground, that it ever was!
And I spent eighteen months, altogether, between 1990 – 1994, giving grassroots, two-week-long, Citizen Diplomacy Tours twice a month, through Russia, Siberia, and the Eastern Bloc nations, before the USSR dissolved In fact, I was in Kiev, Ukraine, the day that it did. I should know what Communism and post-Communism looks and feels like! Laos does not fit in that company! It is one of the most peaceful, spiritual, and loving countries I have ever been in! And I sure have been in a whole lot of countries; including Communist ones. Well, okay, I see that its full country name is Laos PDR, which stands for Peoples Democratic Republic, which may be a hint at this type of politics. But, that’s the only tipoff that I can see. Belatedly, at that.
Buddhist! Ohmigosh, yes! So, so Buddhist! Not Communist! Ye Gods! I had to read You Tube to hear that claim!
Anyway, what were those nine years worth of constant American bombing runs over Laos, every eight minutes around the clock, all about? And, why were they using ammunition built by USA’s own Honeywell Company, where cluster bombs used to be produced until constant protest demonstrations made them discontinue? I wonder if cluster bombs were the product being manufactured at the Honeywell plant near my home in Clearwater, Florida, during those very same years that I spent at home, birthing and raising my two babies?
You see, these are the sudden questions that crowd the mind as one tries to assimilate shocking new information.
They told me yesterday at the COPE Center, that Laos is the most heavily-bombed country in the history of the world and Google does agree with that! And, that it was all America’s doing! I sure have a few questions for the American Embassy here. That should be interesting next Monday, day after tomorrow; unless I have popped onto their Suspicious Persons list by that time, and they won’t speak to me. You bet! I AM suspicious about all this! I’m mad, too! But, I want to give my government a chance to explain.
Sure, I knew about the Vietnam War and believed what I was told at the time: That it was to “stop the spread of Communism and make the world safe for Democracy!” Right vs Might, and all that stuff! My male contemporaries were serving over there! And dying. Some came home with PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder! I’ll bet they were the pilots that flew those airplanes, who even had orders to dump their remaining payload if they were returning from a bombing mission over Vietnam; so that they wouldn’t risk the aircraft carrier or landing strip, themselves included, while trying to land. Nightmare worthy, to say the least! I’m feeling it right now and I wasn’t watching or doing the dumping.
A cluster bomb is a whole bunch of explosives that look like metal tennis balls, contained in a bigger bomb which pops open as it nears the earth. These deadly pellets then scatter everywhere and explode on contact. Rather than destroying buildings, they are specifically designed to kill people, as the ball’s lead pellets penetrate every surface and do fatal damage. Seventy percent of these bombs performed as expected, and intended, by the U.S. Government during those Vietnam War years, probably with the brilliant military strategy of messing with the enemy’s Ho Chi Minh supply trail that curved through much of Southern Laos as well as South Vietnam. What will I find when I arrive there on this same trip?
Is that really an acceptable excuse, America? For the fact that these bombs are still going off, fifty-four years later? Now killing the children and grandchildren of those who were children at the time? I don’t think so! In the cold light of day…. and the passage of time…. no war is acceptable! But, bombing a country outside of the war zone and protected by the United Nations, covered by accords and agreements… and not, to this day, either admitted to, or “reparated,” by the good old U.S. of A…. is simply NOT ACCEPTABLE in my book!
How about yours? Stand tall, my fellow Americans!
You see, thirty percent of those small, scattered cluster bombs failed to detonate upon landing and they are still suspended in tree branches or buried under farm soil or the squishy mud of rice paddies, waiting to be stepped upon by water buffalo or humans, including me. Because, just the other day, I drove a plow behind a buffalo in a demonstration paddy of knee-deep mud. It could happen! Without warning! And it does all the time. Maiming or killing, in the blink of an eye!
I was the only American in my tour group and was filled with horror, guilt and shame and such a need for immediate action. But, the COPE Center does not need volunteers to manage, unless you are a member of an NGO, and thus, already under sponsorship. So, I have changed my goal to one of spreading this information just as far as possible. I thus, am turning to you, Dear Reader, to respond and forward this news to all of your friends to forward to theirs…. ad infinitum. This secret cannot remain so sacrosanct as it has been for so long. Yes, President and Mrs. Obama were here recently. I’m sure that helped; but we still don’t know about this travesty, as a nation. And we simply must find out so that we can help fix this lurking leftover of a ghastly problem that we caused in the first place!
All COPE needs is enough money to keep treating the amputees by supplying prosthetics; job training; continuing medical care, and always: searching the country with metal detectors and carrying out controlled removal and/or detonation. That’s not too much to ask and they are not begging for our assistance. Who can set up a GoFundMe account for them? Who can raise some money for that? Please do your part to help these Laotians, the most cheerful, smiling, philosophical and unblaming people. Is it Buddhism or living through the bombing?
Be prepared to read more about this subject, including a tribute to my departed firstborn, Randy. My son, Douglas Randolph Brown, died at age 48 in 2011, after living all of his life with Dejerine-Sottas Disease, a very rare neurological disorder. He wore leg braces; he used crutches, and finally, a full-time wheelchair. But, he could still drive that disability-adapted van of his! And, he could still live alone in his studio apartment attached to my bigger house. He had a happy and full life as a very talented artist.
With an incurable, progressive, almost-unknown condition, not unsimilar to Stephen Hawking’s ALS wasting disease, Randy was a brilliant, cheerful, wonderful painter, who was very accepting and low-key about his shrinking skills. He was also a long-time Buddhist and I lived with him as caretaker for his last eight years. I am sure he is why I take this story so very personally and I can sense him covering it from The Other Side. All of us are parents of some sort, and Grandparents and most of us have the luxury of living in health and peace. Let’s share the wealth!
And, dear, dear, dearest StephenHawking died just a few days ago, on Wednesday, March 14, Pi Day, and Einstein’s birthday, the day before I discovered these unbelievable details of America’s Secret War while I am right here in Laos on the very ground where that war took place! I like to think that Stephen Hawking and Randy Brown have quite a bit in common!
Please, somebody! Set up a GoFundMe presence to benefit COPE! I can’t manage it. Can they? Maybe, they already have one? I haven’t researched this online, hardly at all. Heck, I haven’t even checked my email for three days. I’m still out here on the round-the-world trail where wi-fi is spotty… if I’m lucky! But, I’ve got a lot more blogs on this subject. Be prepared for puns and Wordsmithing! Somebody, Upstairs, is a wiseacre! Or would that be wisecracker? Or whipcracker? Or whippersnapper???
COPE – Helping People Move On www.copelaos.org
COPE – Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise