“The United States dropped more bombs on Laos than on Germany and Japan in World War II.” The BBC newsman uttered that sentence yesterday as I was driving along thinking of nothing in particular. He had one of those professional British voices that lull you into a half-listening sense of a world in order – “I say, Jeeves, will you pack the soup-and-fish, and we’ll jump into the two-seater and toodle on down to Blandings.”
Then it sunk in: more bombs on Laos than on Germany and Japan. We dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, and over just three days in 1945, waves of US and RAF bombers made 15 square miles of downtown Dresden disappear.
We weren’t even at war with Laos. Yet an average of one B-52 bombed the country every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. When we were finished, we had delivered 260 million bombs – a ton for each Laotian – making them the most heavily bombed people, per capita, in the history of the world.
About a third of the bombs failed to explode, and they have killed an estimated 20,000 people since. Hilary Clinton returned to Laos yesterday, the first official American visit since we left Southeast Asia in 1975, and one of those who greeted her was a young man who had lost both hands and his eyesight on his 16th birthday.
He is what we now call collateral damage. If it happened here, we’d undoubtedly find another name for it.