It was purely at the recommendation of a woman we met on a short taxi ride from the Thai consulate in Vientiane that we decided to visit the COPE Museum (http://www.copelaos.org) during our short stay in Lao. We did little research prior to our visit and had no idea what to expect. On arrival it appeared to be a rather typical medical facility, we paid a small fee to park the motorbike and headed over to the visitor’s center tucked away in the corner. It didn’t take long after we entered the visitor center for me to grasp the magnitude of what the COPE Museum represented. Just inside the entrance, dangling from the ceiling was a large American military rocket split in half with hundreds of small, baseball size explosives suspended in the air, more commonly referred to as Cluster Munitions.
You can barely see the map on the wall in the background but the red area (which is actually thousands of small dots) represents the locations where the United States Air Force littered these cluster bombs all over Lao. This short video will provide a much clearer picture of what the 8-year US bombing campaign really looked like.
Here is a couple of the short stories that were posted on the walls inside the visitor center:
Thong regularly cooked over a wood fire, similar to the one set up here. The fire was built into the dirt floor in her home.
On 10th May 2010 she began to cook above the open fire. She had no way of knowing there was a bomb buried beneath the fire.
The bomb exploded, sending shrapnel flying. Thong and her 15 year old daughter were both seriously injured. Neighbors helped to get them to the local hospital and from there they were transferred to a larger provincial hospital. Thankfully, they both survived but shrapnel remains in their bodies.
Making a fire in the UXO contaminated parts of Lao PDR is never safe. The heat from the fire warms the earth below it and if there is a bomb buried, it could cause it to explode.
and one more …
In 2004, Ta was out fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10. He found a bomb lying on the ground. He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that the explosive made it easy to catch fish. He sent this children behind a tree and crawled up to the bomb. As soon as he touched it, it exploded. His sons dragged him into a boat and rowed back to the village. In total, it took 9 hours for them to reach medical help.
Ta lost both arms, an eye and all of his family’s livestock to pay for this treatment. For 4 years, Ta described how he had to, “eat like a dog”. Since being brought to the CMR by the team at PCL (A UXO clearance organization) he has received three different types of arms and is now able to help his family and try to rebuild his life. He has become an advocate for a ban on cluster munitions and travelled to Oslo to watch the signing of the treaty.
At this point I was completely overwhelmed with emotion, if for no other reason that (as an American) I felt incredibly humbled to even be permitted inside the country (think about that next time you give a nasty look to a foreigner in the states). I have not been a saint by any means and I am no stranger to violence, but I have never had an experience where I felt such a sense of shame and embarrassment as I did walking through this museum. I wish every American child could walk through this facility, to see the harsh realities of war and the byproducts of US foreign policy. No one “won” the Vietnam war, more than a million people died, and still 50 years later innocent children and people are losing limbs and dying because of the decisions of a few men in positions of power. The only winners are the bankers and the military industrial complex who profit from these fabricated wars. Everyone else loses ……. PERIOD.
Apart from the fact that it was started under completely false pretenses, the War in Iraq will be / is my generation’s Vietnam. If you doubt what I am suggesting, I’d encourage you to do a little of your own independent research, specifically on the use of depleted uranium munitions.