Next time you hear a politician boast that he wants to “carpet bomb” someplace on the planet “into oblivion” take a look at these portraits of the people of Laos. I made these images a few weeks ago in Xieng Khuang province in Laos, a tiny nation in Southeast Asia. Laos holds the dark distinction of being the most bombed country in the history of the planet. These may be pictures of Laotian people as they look today, but not much has changed in Laos since bellicose politicians from a slightly earlier era thought they could accomplish political goals through massive violence and indiscriminate force upon a country and its people.
These portraits of people from Laos are of our fellow human beings. People perhaps from far away, but just like us. The Laotian people love their families, they have hope and aspirations for the future, they laugh, they play and they pray for a better future for their children. They also live pretty much the same as they did before, and after, the “secret war” began to rain destruction upon their homes, their fields, their livelihoods and their dreams. The government in Laos is the same government they would have had had there been no bombing. One inescapable difference is that every day these people have to live with the memories and legacy of the failed policy of a foreign government that thought, through “carpet bombing”, they could force them to submit to their will.
From 1964 to 1973 the U.S.A conducted more than 580,000 bombing missions over Laos — the equivalent of one mission, every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years. In cluster munitions alone, over 270 million units were dropped — more than 100 bombs for every man, woman and child in the country. During the last ten years there have been approximately 3,000 new casualties caused by unexploded ordinance, over 40% of which are children. Although I personally have never felt any animosity toward me from the people of Laos, it would take someone stronger than me not to be suspicious of, or hold a grudge against the people that brought so much malicious, and ultimately futile, devastation upon my country.
When I hear politicians speaking with a swagger of using air power to “carpet bomb” a place, or pounding it so hard it could “make the sand glow”, I know they have no better ideas, have failed to learn anything from history and are certainly lacking in basic humanity. It sickens me to know that some who consider themselves to be good and thoughtful people are swayed by this ridiculous rhetoric. The lessons from Laos are clear for anyone who chooses to see them. Problem is, many people choose not to see the senseless suffering visited upon our fellow human beings.
I hope you enjoy seeing these people as much as I enjoyed making their portraits.