The forgotten dead of an unforgotten war

If Laos (91,429 sq mi) was a 51st state, its land area would make it the 12th largest, between Michigan (96,714) and Minnesota (86,936).

Imagine if you will a 9-year campaign during which 580,000 bombing missions were flown over Michigan. A campaign during which the total bombs exceeded that dropped on Germany in World War 2 (and that would include the fire-bombing of Dresden). More than 270 million bombs. According to one source, this represents 210 million more bombs than were dropped on Iraq in 1991, 1998 and 2006 combined. (One should take into consideration the technological advances in the intervening years means less ordnance was required to reach objectives.)

Fatima Bhojani provides the math:

The nearly 600,000 bombing runs delivered a staggering amount of explosives: The equivalent of a planeload of bombs every eight minutes for nine years, or a ton of bombs for every person in the country—more than what American planes unloaded on Germany and Japan combined during World War II.

How so many bombs? Cluster bombs. George Black explains:

A cluster bomb is made up of as many as six hundred individual bombs, each about the size of a baseball, which are packed into a mother pod. The pod is designed to open several feet above the ground, unloading the bomblets in all directions and shredding anything in their path.

For whatever reason, not all the bombs dropped on Laos and Vietnam exploded. In fact, thousands upon thousands (approximately 1/3 of all dropped bombs) did not. Black continues:

Because cluster bombs were dropped by aircraft on fixed flight paths, sometimes clearing the way for Agent Orange spraying runs, unexploded bombs tend to be found in groups. If you find one, you’re likely to find more. After so many years, they are usually heavily pitted with rust and highly unstable.

Bomb shells left over from the US secret bombing during the Vietnam War, lined up in a village outside Phonsavan. [Credit]

Bomb shells left over from the US secret bombing during the Vietnam War, lined up in a village outside Phonsavan. [Credit]

What has been the result? Maiming and death. The numbers vary significantly.

The New York times reported in 2015:

Since the war’s end, more than 8,000 people have been killed and about 12,000 wounded in Laos by cluster bombs and other live, leftover ordnance.

The Guardian puts the figure at 20,000 or 500 people per year. Writing in The Fern, George Black notes:

No one really knows how many people have been injured or killed by unexploded ordnance in Vietnam since the war ended…but the best estimates are at least 105,000, including about 40,000 deaths.

Black places deaths at 40,000 in his parallel New Yorker article above. The higher number likely includes Laos and Vietnam.

To further put it into perspective, more people have been killed in Laos and Vietnam since the end of the war by unexploded bombs we dropped during the war than U.S. military men and women have been killed in all wars and military actions since the Vietnam War ended (7,600+ and counting).

For the follower of Jesus

While politicians and military strategists can mull over the relative effectiveness of Kissenger’s Secret War, what we do know is this: hundreds of people will die in 2016 from bombs paid for with taxes of a previous American generation, and dropped without their knowledge.

Children will die in 2017 from bombs dropped before their parents were born. And in 2018. And in 2019. And, if something is not done soon, the phrase can be changed to “their grandparents” before all the bombs are cleared.

This is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Even the best military strategies are not fool-proof, or guaranteed not to become lost in the Fog of War.

Far from the ultra-nationalism that says “Bomb them until the sand glows,” it is required of Christ’s followers that we ask,”Who are all the people living on that sand?” There is no room in the Kingdom for an shoulder-shrugging “wrong place, wrong time” ethic.

How many years of post-war casualties are enough? What about the aftermath of the next war?

God asked Jonah, who sat under his shaded-seat, awaiting the celestial nukes to rain down on Nineveh: “What about 120,000 people who lack understanding? Aren’t they worth something? And hey, prophet, and don’t forget the cows.”

This writing should not be taken as a call to pacifism; military use can be justified, I believe. However, followers of Jesus should not fall into the sin of Jonah, so hoping for the destruction of earthly enemies we forget those living among them, or escaping from them, who are not.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Scott G. North

    War is a racket…

  • johnfernandez

    Powerful, ghastly, and heart breaking. More than I wanted to know, but had to know. You delivered.