Laos, a small and poor nation in Southeast Asia, has recently become the center of attention as the 2016 East Asia Summit unfolds. Many world leaders, including Barack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull, have gathered there to discuss important topics. What interested me most, was what Obama would do as the first sitting president to visit a country that US bombed relentlessly during the Vietnam War. Would he acknowledge the pain and suffering that Lao people endured as a result? Would he apologize? I held my breath.
To my disappointment, Obama fell short of an apology. What he did offer though, is $90 million for a national survey of unexploded ordnance and efforts to clear the affected areas. Is that enough? I highly doubt it. About one third of the 2.2 million bombs dropped on Laos remain undetonated and threaten the lives of Lao people every day. Obama acknowledged that too few people knew about the bombings of Laos, and that America has a “moral obligation to help Laos heal”. I can only hope that this promise will be kept by the next US president and the ones after that. To many people, the cleanup effort is too little too late.
In Xieng Khouang, the most affected province, bombs are found in forests and school buildings, roads and rice fields. Kids often mistake them for toys. One survivor says, “Until every bomb is removed from the ground our children will be at risk. I want to know whether those Americans who pierced our land with bombs, are they sorry?”
Until then, let us not forget.
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