Remnants of a Secret War

by Mike Greenlar

The history of the Hmong in Laos is one of survival. Driven from China in the 1850’s, they settled in the isolated mountainous region in the northeast, near the famous archeological site called the Plain of Jars. After World War II, these nomadic slash and burn rice farmers were recruited first by the French and then the Americans to be the front line of defense against the invading North Vietnamese Communist Army.

The Hmong territory bordered North Viet Nam that included a southern passage for the Ho Chi Mingh Trail, making it the site of some of the fiercest fighting of the Viet Nam War. From 1964 to 1973 this Hmong territory became one of the most bombed areas in the history of warfare and virtually went unreported. Two million tons of bombs were dropped in Laos, much of it on the Plain of Jars area.

Today, the Hmong continue to farm this land despite a 10 to 30 percent dud rate of the unexploded ordinance. Burning fields, planting and harvesting rice can be a dangerous occupation with over 12,000 casualties since the end of the war.

Despite their diminished postwar population and an alarmingly high rate of mortality, the Hmong in Laos have and will continue to survive.
In my five trips over three years to these Hmong villages in Laos, I have gained a deep respect for their spirituality and resourcefulness, traits that have led to their survival. I have attempted to document funerals and annual ceremonies that show ancient customs and traditions.

Mike is photo-journalist from Syracuse. To see his photos from Laos (some of which accompany this article in the PNL), see his upcoming exhibit:

Remnants of a Secret War
August 25 - October 18, 2003
Gallery Reception:
September 4, 6-8 pm
Robert B. Menschel Media Center
316 Waverly Ave

The Lingering Effects of Cluster Bombs*

Because cluster bombs disperse widely and are difficult to target precisely, they are especially dangerous when used near civilian areas. In addition, they are prone to failure. With a high dud rate, estimated to be 10 to 30 percent, unexploded cluster bombs lay on the ground becoming, in effect, super landmines, and can explode at the slightest touch. They have proven to be a serious, long-lasting threat, especially to civilians, but also to soldiers, peacekeepers and bomb clearance experts. Children, who are sometimes attracted to the bomblets’ bright colors and interesting shapes, represent a high percentage of victims.

Cluster bomblets become less stable - and more dangerous - as time passes. In Laos, nearly every day people are still being killed from bombs dropped 30 years ago. With an estimated 10 million (or more) unexploded cluster bombs, it could be many decades - or even centuries - until the killing is over.

*From “Bombies” Independent Television Service <www.itvs.org/bombies/bombs.html>