Wow, what a surprise to see my local paper, The Sacramento Bee, publish the editorial at the bottom of this post about banning cluster bombs! The editorial ran April 2, but I feel it's still important to post and comment on. They even mention Laos! Which they should, since the US dropped more bombs on Laos than were dropped in all of WW II. The photo of the man with his three young daughters I’m including here, because my summer 2003 educators group met him six days after his wife was killed by a bombie, one of the most common kinds of cluster bombs. Let me tell you the story of Bounpheng before reading the editorial.
Bounpheng is a medical assistant in the Lao army earning about $15 (150,000 kip) a month. Life had been a constant struggle for him and his wife and three daughters, ages 5, 3, and 1, and finally after five years he and his wife saved enough money to buy a small plot of land which they then planned to develop into a rice paddy. One morning in early June 2003 he, his wife and children all walked to their newly acquired land where he and his wife then began the arduous work of preparing it for rice planting. In the middle of the land, there was a pile of dirt that looked like a termite hill. He and his wife tried to flatten the termite hill and as noon time approached his wife told him to leave early to take care of the baby so she could continue to work a little bit more. As soon as Bounpheng turned away, he heard a loud explosion and saw his wife laying on the ground covered in blood.
There was no one near he could call for help and so he picked up his wife’s limp and lifeless body and carried it back to his home. His five year daughter carried the baby and all were crying, wondering what had happened to their mother.
Back at his home other villagers came and saw there was nothing they could do for his wife, but saw that he too had been injured and was taken to the hospital. The village helped him out with the funeral of his wife, but he was not provided any compensation by the government and his army unit only gave him 25,000 kip, about $2.50
He and his wife had thought the land was safe, as it had been farmed before, and the termite hill was small, but as his wife had been chopping at some roots there must have been a bombie lodged unseen.
Where life had been a struggle before his wife had died, but with the hope that together they could work together at improving their life, no life seems overwhelming, with little hope. Bounpheng is an orphan and so doesn’t have any relatives to help him with taking care of his children and often has to take his children to work.
I’ve gone back several times and have given him a couple of hundred dollars and this last December when we were driving from Sam Neua to Phonsavan we stopped by and I was glad to see that he recently got married and all his children looked healthy. We gave him copies of all the books Big Brother Mouse has published for children in Laos for his daughters and he seemed to be in good spirits. We will continue to visit him whenever we are driving between Sam Neua and Phonsavan, which may be fairly often as they have now canceled flights from Vientiane to Sam Neua so the best way to get to Sam Neua is to fly to Phonsavan and rent a vehicle to drive (all day) to Sam Neua.
The editorial from the Sacramento Bee is below
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, April 2, 2007
Anyone traveling through Laos, Cambodia or other recovering war zones is likely to come across children and adults who have lost limbs or eyesight after stumbling across a long-buried bomb.
Every few days, a civilian somewhere is killed or maimed because of remnants of past wars. It could be a farmer in Afghanistan running his plow across a field or a child in Kosovo who picks up what seems to be a harmless chunk of metal.
Over the last decade, more than 150 countries have unsuccessfully pressed the United States and other countries to sign a treaty banning the use of land mines. Yet even as they crusade on that unfinished task, widespread use of another indiscriminate weapon of war -- cluster bombs -- has increased the threat to civilians.
"Cluster bombs" are a catchall term for munitions that armies have stockpiled all over the world. They can be dropped from planes or fired from artillery. Once in the air, these munitions disperse smaller "bomblets." These bomblets are designed to explode in the air or when hitting their targets, and can be effective in taking out an area of infantry and armor. Yet many of these bomblets prove to be duds and fail to detonate. This results in hundreds or even thousands of tiny bomblets left behind, later exploding when someone disturbs them.
Although not alone in deploying these weapons, the United States has been a major user and supplier of cluster bombs.
During the war in Indochina, U.S. forces dropped thousands of cluster bombs in Laos. These leftover bomblets have killed or injured 11,000 people in Laos since the war ended, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Cluster bombs have also caused high civilian casualties in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Lebanon.
No law or treaty will ever ensure that wars are carried out cleanly, with no cost to civilians. But there are steps that nations can take to limit the after-effects of war. In the U.S. Senate, Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy are now urging their counterparts to take one of those steps.
For the second year, Feinstein and Leahy have introduced a measure to ban the sale, use and transfer of cluster bombs that have a dud rate of 1 percent or more. To win over reluctant senators, the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007 doesn't call for an absolute phaseout of these weapons. Instead, it bans their use where civilians are known to be present.
Even with such concessions, this bill faces an uphill fight. The Pentagon has long defended its use of cluster bombs, describing them in a 2004 report as "a versatile weapon ideally suited to attack time-sensitive area targets in a fluid battlefield experience."
According to the Pentagon, restrictions on cluster bombs would force commanders to deploy increased numbers of other missiles or bombs -- the same argument that was once made against banning land mines.
Misguided arguments against the Feinstein-Leahy bill have also come from some pro-Israeli activists, who claim the bill is targeted against Israel. This is a red herring. While Israel's use of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon last year has certainly focused attention on their indiscriminate use, Feinstein says she first became alarmed about cluster bombs after learning about their legacy in Southeast Asia.
More than 40 countries have joined in the campaign to end or widely restrict the use of cluster bombs. The United States needs to participate in this effort. If pro-Israeli groups were to recognize the moral imperative of this cause and its true origins, it could turn the tide.