Upon visiting Phong Nah-Ke Bang – a national park located in the middle of the Annamite Mountains in Vietnam – I was stunned to observe that exploration was not advised without a map marking the unexploded bombs of the area. Despite the war in Vietnam culminating over 45 years ago, the subject of unexploded ordnance is an issue that plagues the inhabitants of not only Vietnam but Laos and Cambodia too, further exacerbating issues of poverty, inaccessibility of farmland and hatred towards the US.
Persistent aerial bombardment, otherwise known as Carpet Bombing, was undertaken by the US between the years 1965-68 under the name of Operation Rolling Thunder. The objective of said operation was to persuade North Vietnam to withdraw support for the communist insurgency in the South through the attainment of overwhelming civilian casualties. The Northern Vietnamese supply lines, especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, were particularly targeted.
864,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on North Vietnam throughout Rolling Thunder, amounting to a larger sum of ordinance than any bombing mission that the US had previously been responsible for. Approximately 305,000 tonnes did not explode.
This unexploded ordnance embedded in the land of all targeted countries is responsible for the death of 42,000 people in Vietnam and 50,000 in Laos, since the withdrawal of US troops. Not only are lives being lost every day as a consequence of Operation Thunder, but a vast proportion of healthy farming land is inaccessible on account of unexploded ordnance, only further alienating and economically depriving those reliant on their land to live a hand-to-mouth existence. 40% of tragedies regarding unexploded bombs concern children who mistake them for toys. This is exemplified in an incident in early 2021, whereby four young children walking to school in Vientiane, Laos’s capital, mistook a cluster bomb for a ball, amounting to the death of two.
The Mine’s Advisory Group (MAG) have been clearing bombs for the past 20 years and, as of 2020, have released 30,952,585 square metres of land in Vietnam, detonated 12,813 bombs and held 203 education sessions regarding unexploded ordinance. MAG also aims to ‘build the capacity of national mine action authorities’ in an attempt to further local networks of mine clearing; one group that has come to be known as ‘Landmine Girls’ work in the Quang Tri Province in Vietnam, where 40-50 unexploded bombs are found every day.
In Laos, less than 1% of those that didn’t detonate have been cleared as of this year.
The collateral damage of America’s headless Carpet Bombing campaign grows persistently. They say generational trauma lasts seven generations, though I am afraid the trauma of Vietnam shows no signs of disseminating.
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