As I said (briefly) yesterday we’re in North East Laos now, close to the Plain of Jars. This region is well known for two reasons, the jars themselves and the so-called Hidden War.
The jars are the subject of much debate and truth is, no-one really knows their history. They range in size from 1m to over 2m high, with a diameter of between 50cm and 1m. The material appears to be limestone and each one has been hollowed out using (presumably) a harder stone. The age? Well, certainly thousands of years but no-one can say for sure. The first theory is that they were used for fermenting alcohol from rice, to be used for celebrations, That would tie in nicely with current day Laos. However in the 1930’s a French archaeologist found human ashes under a number of them, plus other evidence to suggest that they were part of a funeral ritual. Perhaps food and other offerings or belongings were left inside the jar to help the transition to “the other side”. I guess that would be along the same lines as the Egyptians. That last bit is my theory incidentally so if it turns out to be true, I’ll expect credit!!
The second reason is the Hidden War. When the USA was heavily mired in Vietnam back in the 1960s, it signed a treaty at the UN in Geneva which said that Laos was to be regarded as a neutral country along the same lines as Switzerland and would not be attacked. However that didn’t suit the CIA’s plans so they decided not to tell anyone but to ignore the directive and bomb the crap out of Laos. They didn’t tell Congress or the ‘merkin people and spent $2m a day out of the petty cash without anyone noticing. US aircraft dropped bombs on Laos every 3 minutes, 24 hours a day for 8 years. Just to rub it in even further, when LBJ announced that they would cease the bombardment of North Vietnam (basically, when he admitted defeat) they diverted all the bombers into Laos. You could almost call that spiteful but I’m sure the CIA didn’t see it like that. God only knows what they thought.
Most of the bombs were cluster bombs and a large percentage of these didn’t explode on impact. Obviously it was bad if they did explode although the bombing was pretty indiscriminate, hitting paddy fields and jungle. But the unexploded ones are still out there and at the present rate of clearance it will take three thousand years to clear them. There are UN funded initiatives to train locals and to provide experts but the schemes are only scratching the surface of a huge problem. In the meantime the population is growing and the villagers are forced to head back into the paddy fields to grow more rice to feed themselves. Hundreds are killed or maimed every year. An apology from the White House? Proper funding (maybe $2m per day would be a starting point?). Forget it.
On a lighter note I think we’re staying at the crappiest hotel in town. But that’s got to be for another day……… And it's actually COLD at night so I'm glad we're heading south tomorrow!
Excuse the random photo - it's near a village which has no electricity so the villagers set up little Chinese made dynamos in the river to power lights and satellite TV!
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