In the past one week, I dug out some pieces of information, which touched me so much.
I learned a lot firstly after talking with Laura around September 25th. She went to Vietnam in 2009 with Penny White Scholarship, and her topic was ‘After Impact: Bomb Crater Reclamation in Vietnam’. The goal of her visit to Vietnam was to observe and record bomb craters that have been adopted as aquaculture sites in Vietnam- an investigation of a landscape embedded with historical meaning and an example of ecological and social resilience. Bomb craters embody ideas of violent conflict, ecological devastation, oblivion, and waste places. Much is known today about the macro effects of the US bombing campaign in Vietnam, but the emergent ecosystems created in wake of the bombing have yet to be explored.
She told me, in Vietnam, most of the bomb craters had disappeared in the massive re-introduction of agriculture after the war. Post-war the North Vietnamese had a massive workforce, lots of people out of work, and a big need for food. So all the craters were mostly plowed over. The few remaining were sometimes paved at the bottom, sometimes combined with other craters, and sometimes reshaped, to make fishponds. Good source of protein, and fast growing. Laos is beautiful, and the poorest among Vietnam and Cambodia. Laura imagines the biggest issue there is still all the leftover landmines, but there are probably craters there too. So, it can be a touchy subject.
Related back to Landscape, as in all other modern wars, attacks on people involved a generalized attack on the landscape. For example, in Vietnam, huge forests fell victim to the US campaign to reduce cover for enemy forces. Crops were destroyed; some 55,000 tonnes of active herbicidal ingredients were dispensed. In South Vietnam alone, 59 per cent of forest cover was destroyed. A single spraying of herbicide was enough to defoliate virtually all non-bamboo trees, killing many outright, and gravely injuring a much larger population. The soils in tropical forests cannot retain the nutrients released by dead leaves, so deforestation resulted in the loss of nutrients to the whole ecosystem. Soil erosion increased. Left with significantly diminished natural resources, rural Vietnamese fled to urban areas. In 1955, 85 per cent of South Vietnam’s people had lived in the countryside. By1970, after 5 years of bombing and herbicidal spraying, only 40 per cent of the population did so. Quite shocked by this ‘specially urbanization’ (as I call it).
from the book ‘Warfare Ecology’, by Gary E. Machlis and Thor Hanson
The best material I came across during my research is this movie: BOMB HARVEST. A Lemur Films production, directed by Kim Mordaunt and produced by Sylvia Wilczynski.
I am deeply move when Laith said: ‘One thing you really notice when you are doing the evacuation is, the elder people you can see at the time, they are flashing back to the memories of the bomb’s being dropped through the war.’
As I wrote in my thesis statement: ‘Instead of using mine-clearance machines and violently re-bombing the ground to save life, this work envisions a regional landscape system lightly touching the ground which bearing the tension between life and death.’
Courtesy of Bomb Harvest
Courtesy of Bomb Harvest
Courtesy of Bomb Harvest
Courtesy of Bomb Harvest
Courtesy of Bomb Harvest
I will never forget the fear in her eyes during MAG’s UXO re-bombing.
Background / Site description
*A Secret War, A Dirty War
The war in Laos was in effect a clandestine operation, with very little information seeping back into the West. There were rules of engagement for Vietnam and Cambodia (for example, no bombing within half a kilometre of a temple or hospital), but in Laos these rules were not observed. The Hague Convention, ratified by the US, prohibits the bombardment of civilian populations in undefended villages, but this was disregarded. In 1962 the Geneva Accord forbade the presence of any foreign military in Laos. Fourteen nations signed this agreement, including the US and North Vietnam, both of whom broke it. US operations in Laos involved indiscriminate carpet-bombing, conducted without the approval of Congress or the knowledge of the American people. Laos was also used as a dumping ground for bombs, with pilots on instruction not to return back to base in Thailand from bombing missions in Vietnam with undelivered bombs.
During the Vietnam War, more than two million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos. This exceeds the number of bombs dropped by all the Allied forces during World War Two. With a population of only three million, there was almost half a tonne of bombs dropped for every man, woman and child living in Laos.
The country endured nine years of this heavy and relentless bombardment, with the US dropping a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, day and night, from 1964 to 1973. About a third of the population was killed, injured or rendered homeless by the air war. The statistics are horrifying, 580,000 bombing missions in nine years, with one mission, one B52, equating to more than one hundred bombs. From this background, it is all too clear that Laos deserves the terrible title of the ‘most heavily bombed country on the face of the planet’. But as Kim Mordaunt’s harrowing documentary Bomb Harvest reveals, the horror and suffering did not come to an end with the departure of the B52s. Thirty percent of the bombs failed to explode on impact and remain alive and deadly today. In excess of 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents since the end of the war, and people continue to die on a weekly basis from explosions.
Bombs litter the Lao landscape and have made it all but impossible to farm in some areas. It would seem the poor of Laos are left with two unpalatable choices: hunt for food in the jungle or hunt for metal to sell. Many of the villagers pick and scrape at their land, harvesting the new cash crop of scrap metal and feeding the dangerous industry of bomb scrap dealers. Bomb scrap trading is illegal, but one large bomb equates to food for two to three months for an entire family. As Laith says, ‘We’re fighting a losing battle’ to discourage the children from hunting for bombs. He notes the villagers have mixed feelings at the removal of a bomb: The bomb represents terrible danger, but also a source of potential income.
There are simply not enough trained people to remove all of the bombs in this scarred and damaged country. UXO are complex structures, with a huge variety of fuses and mechanisms, and as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technicians’ acknowledges, every situation is different: ‘The students want exact answers but this is not an exact science, there’s a lot of grey area.’
The bombs that litter this poor but beautiful country are a potent symbol for the enduring after-effects of war: thirty-five years since the end of the conflict, a generation who weren’t even alive at the time must risk their lives to deal with the deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance left behind. Their story deserves to be heard.
*Province of Xieng Khouang, is a mountainous region in the North-East of Laos. It ranks 2nd among the ten provinces severely impacted by UXO in Laos.
Xieng Khouang was always considered a strategically important geographic area. Fighting occurred in the area since the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, continuing after the French return, and on into the period when the US replaced the French in supporting the Royalist Government, and the beginning of the Second Indo-China conflict.
Unlike other UXO affected provinces, it appears that the war in Xieng Khuang involved nearly the whole territory of the province.
The Plain of Jars (PDJ) is a central plateau area overlooked by mountains and hills. Control of this was essential for the control of the province and the northern military theatre.
Of the 498 villages surveyed in 1996 and 1997, two-thirds reported the prescence of UXO. Of these, 129 villages are severely contaminated, with only 76 villages reporting never having had a problem with UXO. The most common type of UXO reported in the province are anti personnel BLUs (bombies), followed by mortars and projectiles. Unlike other affected provinces, Xieng Khuang has UXO in many locations and not just limited to a few areas around the villages. These include village centres, grazing lands, and lowland rice fields. In addition, significant numbers of villages report contamination in upland fields.”
These maps from NRA almost tell me everything I want to know...
Courtesy of NRA
On the 13th Oct, I am supposed to finish my first draft of a board for site description/representation. It is going to be a map probably. I am following Christina’s design methodology at the beginning of my thesis research. As she mentioned, the design work ‘takes inspiration from both intimate site experiences and detached mappings as an aerial observer.’ From fieldwork conducted on the site, the work ‘seeks an understanding of vernacular adaptive responses to the problems of resource scarcity and environmental change.’ As a cartographic exercise, the work ‘seeks to reveal and articulate regional conditions, patterns and flows that relate to these problems, but may not be otherwise evident at the local scale. Local and vernacular strategies will be examined and edited, then re-presented as an aggregated field of instances, with the designer as choreographer of these instances into larger regional networks.’
I have send out emails to varies people, institutions, organization, including USGS, MAG, IFAD, UXOLAOS, NRA, etc. trying to collect good data for my site. The restriction is, Lao PDR lacks up-to-date information on the location and impact of explosive remnants of war (ERW), and even the extent of land designated a priority for clearance.
However, I am happy to see there are a lot people trying to help with the problem of UXO. For example, the Anti-Bomb Groups including MAG, Mines Advisory Group; Cluster Munitions Coalition; Disarmco: Munitions Disposal; Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian De-mining; UXOLAOS, Laos National Unexploded Ordnance Program; HRW, Human Rights Watch on Cluster Bombs (includes Cluster Munitions Information Chart, among a great deal of other information); ICBL, International Campaign to Ban Landmines; Legacies of War; Mennonite Central Committee.
Besides requesting data for my site, I asked numerous questions to people and institutions… Hope I didn’t bother those poor people too much.
Q1 to MAG:
…in some documents, I read, ‘from January-March 2000, a total of 255 hectares of land were cleared’, but have no clue where those cleared areas are located.
Q2 to MAG:
…based on my research, some articles from 2009 states that ‘with less than one percent of the affected land area cleared, the UXO will remain a serious threat for decades to come’, is that piece of information true? Q3 to MAG:
I have been looking for aerial photos comparing the landscape of XiangKhouang province before and after the bomb, does that piece of information ever exist?
Q1 to IFAD:
…Post-war North Vietnamese had a massive workforce, lots of people out of work, and a big need for food. I heard all the craters were mostly plowed over. The few remaining were sometimes reshaped, to make fishponds. How is the situation in Laos, especially in Xiang Khouang province?
Q2 to IFAD:
Some books I have read or going to:
*Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under An Air War, New York, Harper and Row, 1972.
*Timothy Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: US Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955-1975, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993.
*Handicap International, Living With UXO: National Survey on the Socio-Economic Impact of UXO in Lao PDR, Vientiane, Laos, UXO Laos, 1997.
*Ralph Littauer and Norman Uphoff, The Air War in Indochina, Air War Study Group, Cornell University, 1972.
*Rae McGrath, Cluster Bombs: The Military Effectiveness and Impact on Civilians of Cluster Bombs, London, UK Working Group on Landmines, 2000.
*Titus Peachey and Virgil Wiebe, Cluster of Death, Akron, Mennonite Central Committee, 2000.
*Eric Prokosch, The Technology of Killing: A Military and Political History of Cluster Weapons, London, Zed Books, 1999.
*Roger Warner, Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos, South Royalton, Vermont, Steerforth Press, 1999.
*Campanella, Thomas J. (1995). Vietnam -- Bomb Crater Fish Ponds [Roots]. Places, 9(3), . Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0tp7h3pb
*Ecology, politics and violent conflict / edited by Mohamed Suliman. London ; New York : Zed Books, 1999.
*Living with environmental change : social vulnerability, adaptation and resilience in Vietnam / edited by W. Neil Adger, P. Mick Kelly and Nguyen Huu Ninh.
London; New York : Routledge, 2001.
*Machlis, GE, Force JE, Burch WR jr. 1997 The human ecosystem, part I: The human ecosystem as an organizing concept in ecosystem management. Society and Natural Resources 10: 347-367
*Warfare Ecology / Gary E. Machlis and Thor Hanson.
September 2008 / Vol. 58 No. 8 • BioScience 729-736
* 2009 UXO LAO Annual Report
* 2008 UXO LAO Annual Report
Also, I become ‘Facebook friend’ with Laith Stevens : ), who is at the heart of Bomb Harvest film. I am having so much fun working on my thesis, and feel really grateful to know hero like Laith who is full of warmth and good humor.
For tomorrow’s thesis prep, I am going to have the first session with the library staff and then go talk to Gareth. Really want to know more about creating good ‘annotated bibliography‘ and learn how to organize my materials in a better and more efficient way : )
P.S Today, news of Steve Jobs' death spread around the world. He is a great man.
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”