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The Horrors of U.X.Os

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Published: Mon, 18 Sep 2017

Hannah Chartier

The Vietnam War is the second longest war in United States history. It began on August 7, 1964 when the U.S. congress passed a joint resolution to go to war against the Communist North Vietnamese. It ended on April 30, 1975 with the fall of Saigon. “The Vietnamese government estimates that around 14m tonnes of ordnance, nearly three times that used by the Allies in the second world war, was dropped on Vietnam between 1959 and 1975. Between 10% and 30% of it failed to detonate” (Cordall). No one really knows for sure how many undetonated bombs are still there because everyday more are discovered. Unfortunately, these undetonated bombs continue to maim and kill the inhabitants of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. “Unexploded Munitions pose a continuing obstacle to agriculture and a threat to children” (Black). On September 6, 2016, President Barack Obama pledged $90 million to help with the removal of unexploded ordnances dropped during the Vietnam War. For almost fifty years the U.S. ignored this problem. The United States military bombing tactics during the Vietnam War were unjust because these bombs continue to kill and injure ordinary people everyday.

Clearing the undetonated ordinances left behind from the Vietnam War has never been a priority of the United States government. The U.S. government evacuated its last citizens and allies as quickly as possible to avoid the risk of casualties. It was the largest helicopter evacuation in history. The U.S. had lost the war, so it was not responsible for rebuilding the nations involved. No fewer than 119 countries have banned the use of cluster bombs, but the U.S. government still utilizes them to this day.

Unexploded ordnances affect farmers the most in these post-war countries. The fields they farm are contaminated with cluster bomblets that were buried and forgotten. It is not unusual for a farmer to accidentally hit an unexploded ordnance with his/her shovel or hoe. The Guardian recently published a story about a Vietnamese farmer. “Nguyen Dinh Thu was hoeing the small piece of land his parents had given him [when] he struck the unexploded U.S. military bomb that had lain undisturbed there for fifteen years” (Cordall). When he awoke, he “came round to find both his hands had been blown off and his face and legs were riddled with shrapnel which will stay inside him permanently” (Cordall). His story is not unique Channapha Khamvongsa, the executive director of Legacies of War, has seen the horrors of the undetonated bombs in Laos. She was just a toddler when her parents left Laos for the United States. She has made it her mission to educate the world about the unexploded bombs in her home country of Laos. “Eighty percent of people rely on their land to grow food in Laos. So they still use their land even at the risk of their own lives” (Khamvongsa).

Laos is one of the poorest countries in Eastern Asia. “While most of the victims used to be farmers working their fields, these days, with more of the countryside cleared, those most at risk are scrap-metal scavengers, who cut up rusted bombs and shells in the hope of earning a few dollars” (Black). “About 40 percent of the accidents result in death and 60 percent of the victims are children. Also, (the bombies) are tennis ball sized weapons. The children often mistake the bombs for toys, and pick them up and throw them around. This is often the cause of an explosion” (Khamvongsa). A typical example is “A 13-year-old boy was killed in An My by an unexploded bomb four years ago as he played in his garden, and the shock waves still reverberate through this tiny community” (Cordall).

During the Vietnam War, the United States used bombs as a way of attacking the Vietnamese people and villages. It was a very poor decision because now, after the war, there are still bombs that continue to detonate every day, destroying the villages more and more. According to The New Yorker article written by George Black, “Since the end of the war in 1975, more than forty thousand Vietnamese have been killed by U.X.O.”


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