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Bombs Away with a Sprinkling of a Lao Richard Simmons

Last night I found myself at a park that sat along the Mekong River. My kids hadn’t seen a play ground since we left Maui and when Chelsea and I saw this one, we knew we had to take them. We arrived at the park at around 5:30 PM and by the time we got there it was packed full of people and street vendors. Dozens of tiny huts lined the parking lots with everything from fruit smoothies to flip flops.

I found myself surrounded by thousands of smiling Laos’ (the people that live there. )  All of them had smiles on their faces and most were laughing with each other.  Some were playing on the playground with their children. Some were playing badminton (you know that game that’s kind of like Tennis but played with a birdie).  Some were working out with two hundred of their closest strangers in giant aerobics classes (More on that later as these were a riot). Some were stuffing their face and drinking beer while others were simply enjoying themselves along the picturesque Mekong River.

As the sun began to set we pried the boys away from the park and headed toward a large statue.  It was roughly thirty feet tall and was the image of a Lao man holding a samurai looking sword in its scabbard while reaching his hand out for an embrace. I was curious what this towering monument was all about so we trudged lazily to read the placard, enjoying the sunset along the way. As far as sunsets go, it was stunning. At this point of my life I have had the pleasure of seeing two sunsets over the Mekong river and I would say their beauty rivals any I have seen from anywhere in the world. There is something timeless about the river as men fish with hand lines and children race along the shore that only serve to add to its charm. By the time my family and I made it to the statue, it was official, we had all fallen in love with the Mekong River Park.

The statue proved a bit anticlimactic as the placard was in a language I had never seen before and then a thought leapt into my mind. The area seemed familiar and I felt like I had seen it before on the Amazing Race (Turned out I had in season 11).

I knew nothing about Laos (pronounced Lao). Earlier in the day I had found out the conversion rate of their currency from Thai Baht and US dollars from a mini mart clerk, but I didn’t know what it was called. I didn’t know what type of government they had, I knew next to nothing about their history, and I didn’t even know what language they spoke (Even though I could say Hello and Thank you in it :)). Many of you might be alarmed that my family and I found ourselves in a country that we knew next to nothing about but I assure you it was no big deal. In any event, my curiosity had been aroused. I was going to find out about Laos.

When we arrived back at our hotel, the La Ong Dao Hotel #1. I booted up my Mac and started researching Laos. I don’t know what I expected to find, but certainly not what I did. Most of the information I found concerned the incredible amount of bombing done to these people by the United States. During the Vietnam war they had more bombs dropped on them then from all of the second world war combined (270,000,000 bombs!).  Of that two hundred and seventy million, 31 % of that ordinance (bombs) did not explode and remains active on Laos land to this day. Stated another way 80 million of the 270 million bombs dropped did not explode and are hazardous to the people of Laos.

I couldn’t help but be saddened as I read facts like Laos is the most heavily bombed nation ever in US history or by doing some quick math found that forty bombs were dropped for every man, woman, and child that lived in Laos. Reading more, I found that the bombing isn’t merely historical, but has very present day consequences killing or dismembering 100 Lao people a year and preventing agriculture on a massive scale. I was blown away when I read some of this information. How could these smiling Laos people that my children were playing with be the decedents of the most bombed nation in the history of my country? This is now the second nation that I have visited, Japan being the first, that the USA has blasted immensely. In both cases as I walked around the nations, rode on trains, and mainly, interacted with the native peoples I found myself thinking that it just didn’t seem possible that we were once at war with this country.

group aerobics class at the park

As it turns out, Hillary Clinton arrived the same day and into the same city as I did in Laos for many reasons, but chief among them to apologize about the unexploded bombs and commit to removing the ordinance and assisting victims. Roughly 1% of the unexploded bombs have been cleaned leaving 99% left as a risk to Laos citizens.  Her statement was as follows: “we need to do more.” Before her visit, the last high ranking United States official to visit Laos was in 1955 by John Foster Dulles, the then US Secretary of State.

I can’t help but wonder if sometimes it’s easier to blast a country into the Stone Age when your kids haven’t played with their kids at a park. Or done group aerobics with two hundred of your closest strangers in a park.  Yes, after seeing the Laos version of Richard Simmons leading aerobics in the Mekong River Park, my family and I returned the next day and joined the masses to participate in the aerobics class. In case you wondering, yes, it was awesome, and of course we bought sweatbands to make sure we looked the part. As I type, I am still sore from all of the crazy gyration’s the Lao Richard Simmons had us do. But it was fun to spend time with these people, to laugh with them, to be silly with them.

I will readily admit that I am not a scholar on the historical activities of Laos or the intricacies of every step of our decision to blow the hell out of them, but after spending time with these warm and friendly people, I just can’t help but feel that maybe before blasting someone you should spend time with them. If anyone is interested, I can direct you to my family’s favorite group aerobics site, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

Until Next time,

Jarrett Ingram

Sources include the following:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/hillary-clinton-laow_n_1665494.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laos

There were a few more, but these were the primary.

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14 thoughts on “Bombs Away with a Sprinkling of a Lao Richard Simmons

  1. Pingback: Laos pronounced “Lao” « Our Sonny Life

  2. wow – never realised that one country could still have that many bombs waiting – and so many people could still be affected. Makes you wonder what our presidents are thinking – how could anyone say yes to war and then have a good reason why?
    I like your suggestion – spend time with people enjoying a different way of life and then there might not be a reason to go to war 🙂

    • Officially, the vietnam war cost 111 billion dollars, not counting inflation. However, when I tried to figure out the cost of a bomb in 1960, I was out of luck. I found a website that said that the cost of a regular bomb was 300.00. I dont know the source though. If you ran the numbers with that they dont jive. I would love to see hard numbers if anyone has them.

    • Officially, the vietnam war cost 111 billion dollars, not counting inflation. However, when I tried to figure out the cost of a bomb in 1960, I was out of luck. I found a website that said that the cost of a regular bomb was 300.00. I dont know the source though. If you ran the numbers with that they dont jive. I would love to see hard numbers if anyone has them.

  3. It is shocking and so sad, isn’t it?? Wait until you get to Cambodia where there are similar statistics, and then on top of that the fact that while we were bombing the hell out of them it paved the way for a maniac, Pol Pot, to come in and destroy what was left of the cities, countryside, and population. A true genocide!

    The reason for the bombing of Laos and Cambodia (which started in the 60’s well before the Vietnam war actually began) was because of the Mekong really and the fact that it was a huge trade route. The people of the country had nothing to do with it yet the path of weapons supposedly went through both Cambodia and Laos and so we bombed the shit out of them for years!!! Incredibly sad, and downright embarrassing in my opinion.

    We have learned so much about history on our travels but what we take away the most are the similarities in the peoples of the world. We all want to be happy and to be safe, no matter if its a communist country (which Laos is) or a democratic one (which the US pretends to be). People are so similar and if we could focus on that instead of the differences then maybe bombing the crap out of people would stop! We are all Humans after all:)

    P.S. Sorry about the journal I wrote here:) I loved Laos!

  4. What an interesting couple of days you have had. And thanks for the history lesson, didn’t know about the bombs still left.

    Would love the links to group aerobics. Just recently started walking again and need to do things so I don’t get bored.

    Hugs and love to you, Chelsea, Peyton & Connor!!

  5. i have been there! spent a month in Laos a few years ago! did the same route you have done from northern Thailand! Are u off to Cambodia next? much love

    • Hey Grace!

      I hope all is well. We are going back to Thailand to hang out there for the next 3-6 months in either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. We acquired our double entry Visa into Thailand today. Are you going to be in Nicaragua for a while?

  6. wow that is crazy and sad.I’m really glad you shared that with us..something to think about for sure. It is crazy what some of us do not know about our own country we live in and how it operates, I should learn more, would probably change my mind on where I live.
    On a happy note, I love that you guys joined right in, how funny! i would personally love to see pictures of you guys doing the aerobics please!! Happy you guys are there and having fun! love you

  7. So sad, I too am amazed that Laos has been allowed to be left that way! Thankyou for the info, it’s sparked an interest to know more! Keep smiling and enjoying your travels, can’t wait for your family’s next installment! 🙂 xx

  8. First, let me say your travels are amazing and your story about Trek and your beautiful family has touched me so much. Hugs to you as you miss your beautiful son.

    Well, here is a rather long explanation….when Lao joined forces with the Vietcong, Viet Minh and Khmer Rouge they were pretty much asking for it.

    The Pathet Lao of Laos was a ruthless communist government that was in control at that time. The genocide it committed against its own people, the Hmong, was estimated to be over 100,000.

    Khmer Rouge, (have you ever heard of Pol Pot?) a Loatian ally, was so strongly against capitalism that it killed any person with an education, professionals politicians etc. after the US withdrawal from Cambodia and Vietnam. They felt that parents were tainted with capitalism, so the children were separated from them at a very early age and brain washed……they taught them to torture animals and were then given authority to carry out torture and executions. The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the death of around 1.7-2.5 million of its own people through torture, execution starvation etc….these things happened after the fall of Saigon. Pathet Lao was aiding and abetting the Khmer Rouge and Vietcong in Lao.

    This group is what the US was trying to hold off from invading South Vietnam and overthrowing Cambodia. This is who the bombings were directed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge

    If you want to learn about it, watch the Killing Fields. Pol Pot, a Laotian ally, was responsible for that mess….the mass genocide of a nation of people….over 21% of its population.

    Why the US bombed Cambodia and Laos is one thing….HOW the US conducted the bombings is a whole other can of worms. I think it was called Operation Menu or Operation Freedom Deal and was very secretive with no Congressional knowledge. The bombings were in response to the invasion of NV into Cambodia and the uprising of the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian govt. asked for the US to bomb NV and KR occupied areas which included Laos(who had joined forces with the Khmer Rouge etc) The uprising of the KR and the invasion of the NV in Cambodia was completed when the US stopped the bombings and withdrew. The KR then went on to conduct mass genocide…..which is what the US was trying to avoid.

    This from Wiki:

    “William Shawcross and other commentors asserted that the bombings caused the domino effect in Cambodia that the Vietnam War had been intended to prevent, claiming that there was no doubt they helped set Cambodia on the road to an abyss of violence that Sihanouk had worked for ten years to avoid.[34] While out of the country on 18 March 1970, the prince (of Cambodia) was deposed by the National Assembly and replaced by Lon Nol. The Nixon administration, although thoroughly aware of the weakness of Lon Nol’s forces and loath to commit American military force to the new conflict in any form other than air power, announced its support of the newly-proclaimed Khmer Republic.[35]”

    “Shawcross was challenged by Peter Rodman as follows:

    When Congress, in the summer of 1973, legislated an end to U.S. military action in, over, or off the shores of Indochina, the only U.S. military activity then going on was air support of a friendly Cambodian government and army desperately defending their country against a North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge onslaught…What destabilized Cambodia was North Vietnam’s occupation of chunks of Cambodian territory from 1965 onwards for use as military bases from which to launch attacks on U.S. and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. Cambodia’s ruler Prince Sihanouk complained bitterly to us about these North Vietnamese bases in his country and invited us to attack them (which we did from the air in 1969–70). Next came a North Vietnamese attempt to overrun the entire country in March–April 1970, to which U.S. and South Vietnamese forces responded by a limited ground incursion at the end of April…The outcome in Indochina was not foreordained. Congress had the last word, however, between 1973 and 1975.[36]”

    (insert my commentary: basically what Rodman was saying is the truth, and historians are now able to see this. Since Congress ordered the withdrawal in 1973, and US troups were withdrawn, leaving Cambodia vulnerable and weak to the onslaught of the brutal and barbaric SV and Khmer Rouge. Congress, by ordering the withdrawal, sealed the fate of Cambodia and over 1.7 million of its people were slaughtered by the KR after it took over)

    Kissinger in an interview with Theo Sommer defended the bombing, saying:

    “Now, with respect to Cambodia, it is another curious bit of mythology. People usually refer to the bombing of Cambodia as if it had been unprovoked, secretive U.S. action. The fact is that we were bombing North Vietnamese troops that had invaded Cambodia, that were killing many Americans from these sanctuaries, and we were doing it with the acquiescence of the Cambodian government, which never once protested against it, and which, indeed, encouraged us to do it. I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved and why Cambodian neutrality should apply to only one country. Why is it moral for the North Vietnamese to have 50,000 to 100,000 troops in Cambodia, why should we let them kill Americans from that territory, and why, when the government concerned never once protested, and indeed told us that if we bombed unpopulated areas that they would not notice, why in all these conditions is there a moral issue? And, finally, I think it is fair to say that in the six years of the war, not ten percent of the people had been killed in Cambodia than had been killed in one year of Communist rule.”

    Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives after 1991 reveal that the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and negotiated by Pol Pot’s then second in command, Nuon Chea.[37]
    When Phnom Penh was under siege by the Khmer Rouge in 1973, the US Air Force again launched a bombing campaign on Communist forces, claiming that it had saved Cambodia from an otherwise inevitable Communist take-over and that the capital might have fallen in a matter of weeks. By 1975, President Ford was predicting “an unbelievable horror story”[38] if the Khmer Rogue took power, and calling on Congress to renew air support for the Lon Nol regime, which it (Congress) refused to do.”

    Ford knew what the Khmer Rouge would do. And the horror story unfolded in front of our eyes. The blood of 1.7-2.5 million (the UN estimate is 2-3 million) innocent Cambodians was on the hands of Congress. Here is more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian_Civil_War

    War, bombings…its all horrible, tragic and I wish it didn’t happen as it does. But I am a firm believer in standing guard against evil people and protecting those who can’t protect themselves. The US, for good and bad, tried to help and withdrawing and leaving Cambodia to fate was asinine and the moral implications of the aftermath make me sick. Talk about suffering. The Cambodians were tortured, entire families gene pools wiped off the face of the earth by Pol Pot, aided by Laos and North Vietnam. We knew who he and his cronies were and we should not have abandoned the Cambodians. Funny thing is those monsters studied and learned their radical views in the communist underground in France…ironic since the French occupation was what the Viet Minh wanted to overthrow in the beginning (1954).

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