Laos and the Cold War Legacy: The country of Laos continues to combat the aftermath of cold war conflict

By: Lenora Kirkland

Laos is a small country in Southeast Asia, home to a population of just 7.4 million people. It’s also the most bombed country, per capita, in world history. 

The Cold War brought about numerous conflicts abroad, as the United States and its allies rallied around fierce anti-communist policies. One of these conflicts, having originated in Vietnam, spread to Laos and the surrounding areas as early as the 1960s. Estimates show that up to two million tons of cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Cold War era, despite the country’s declaration of neutrality. This number is greater than all the bombs dropped during World War II combined. 

Waltonian | The Waltonian Source: Smithsonian Magazine

The Johnson and Nixon administrations were at the forefront of these illegal missions, often bypassing congressional approval to execute their military advances. The American campaign in Laos was not revealed to the public until 1971, but by then it was already too late. The effects of American action in Laos would continue to have a monumental impact on the lives of the Laotian people for generations to come. 

Fearful of an uncertain war on the ground, the United States decided to fight communist forces in Southeast Asia from above. The country’s main aim was to destroy their enemy’s supply chain through the destruction of the Ho Chi Minh trail, which stretched through areas of Laos. As a result, Laos suffered significant military attacks in what would be known as the United States ‘secret war.’ 

Although many years have passed, the Laotian people continue to recover from the effects of the United States’ illegal bombing campaign. This is not exclusively because of the damages the country experienced during the war, but also because of the repercussions felt in the aftermath. 

Roughly one third of all the bombs dropped on Laos never exploded. Rather, they remained in the ground, posing a severe hazard to ordinary citizens today. The United States finally ended their attack on Laos in 1973. Since then it is estimated that 20,000 people have been killed or maimed by bombs that were left behind. Despite having played such a critical role in this tragedy, the United States has only recently begun making efforts to rectify these damages. During his presidency, Barack Obama pledged 90 million dollars to Laos for the purpose of rebuilding, while also becoming the first president, in 2016, to visit the country. Despite these efforts, lawmakers, and many American citizens, argue that more has yet to be done to remove the millions of leftover bombs from Laotian soil. 

Sources: CNN, History, New York Times, Legacies of War

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