Chairman Eni Faleomavaega Statement

Legacies of War: Unexploded Ordnance in Laos

Eni Faleomavaega
Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment

Statement Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee
on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment

Washington, DC — April 22, 2010


Ironically, 39 years ago to the day in 1971, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and Escapees, held a hearing on April 21 and April 22 to address war-related civilian problems in Indochina, including Laos.

Testifying before the Subcommittee was the Honorable Paul N. McCloskey, Jr., a representative in Congress from the State of California who had just recently returned from a visit to Laos where he and Congressman Waldie, also of California, had obtained certain facts that contradicted testimony that had been submitted to the subcommittee by the Departments of State and Defense on May 7 of the previous year.

At issue was the causation of refugees and the impact of U.S. Air Force bombing operations in Laos. The Departments of State and Defense suggested that U.S. bombing operations had been carefully directed and that very few inhabited villages were susceptible to being hit by U.S. airpower.

But as Senator Kennedy learned that day and as we now know, the Departments of State and Defense submitted testimony that was incorrect and misleading, The truth is widespread bombing had taken place and Laos refugees were succinct in describing the destruction of their homes as well as the use of CBU cluster bombs and white phosphorous.

How extensive were U.S. bombing raids? According to the Congressional Research Service, “Laos has been characterized as the most heavily bombed country in history, on a per capita basis. From 1964 through 1973, the United States flew 580,000 bombing runs over Laos and dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on the countryside, double the amount dropped on Germany during World War IL Estimates of the number of unexploded submunitions from cluster bombs range from 8 million to 80 million, with less than one half of one percent destroyed, and less than 1% of contaminated lands cleared.”

To be clear about what this means, I want to display a map of U.S. Air Force Bombing Data that I obtained from our U.S. Embassy while I was in Laos in 2008. This map shows and tells it all. Looking at this map, can anyone honestly believe that there was no impact on the civilian population?

What makes this so sickening is that “cluster bombs and white phosphorous were used against the civilian population of a country against whom the United States [was] not at war,” as Congressman McCloskey stated, and “the bombing was done under the direction and control of the State Department, not the U.S. Air Force.”

In fact, the bombing was directed and controlled by the U.S. Ambassador to Laos. “Both the extent of the bombing and its impact on the civilian population of Laos have been deliberately concealed by the State Department,” Congressman McCloskey stated and, for _historical purposes, I am submitting the complete text of the 1971 hearing record to be made a part of this record some 39 years later.

Some 39 years later, it is shameful that the U.S..State Department has not taken a more active role in making things right for the people of Laos but, for the first time in 39 years, I am hopeful that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be willing to champion their cause.

However, I am deeply disturbed that the State Department is planning to request lower amounts for UXO removal in Laos in FY11 than it spent in FY10. In my opinion, this is an unacceptable course of action.

During the Vietnam War, I served at the height of the Tet Offensive and, for as long as I live, I will continue to do all I can to help the victims of Agent Orange as well as those Who are and were affected by U.S. bombing operations in Laos. Calling for an official public hearing is one way to draw more attention to the matter but Vietnam and Laos deserve more than a hearing. These countries deserve a concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government to help them rebuild, especially since their civilian populations were wrongly targeted.

Yes, we know that U.S. bombing campaign in Laos was designed to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines that ran through Laos but, no, the American public was not aware that the U.S. had undertaken “the most protracted bombing of civilian targets in history,” as Fred Branfman put it in a statement which was included in the 1971 hearing record.
To this day, America does not support the bombing of civilian targets. And, after every war, America has always helped countries rebuild. Even after Japan attacked the U.S., U.S. assistance to Japan for 1946-1952 was about $15.2 billion in 2005 dollars, of which 77% was grants and 23% was loans,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

Also, according to the Congressional Research Service, from 2003 to 2006, the U.S. appropriated $35.7 billion for Iraq reconstruction. For Germany, “in constant 2005 dollars, the United States provided a total of $29.3 billion in assistance from 1946-1952 with 60% in economic grants and nearly 30% in economic loans, and the remainder in military aid.”

What have we done for Laos? For now, the U.S. has been contributing about $3 million per year since 1994 for UXO clearance operations. As every single one of us knows, this pittance is as disgraceful as the compensation we paid when the U.S. accidently bombed the Ban Long village in Laos in January 1968 which resulted in 54 persons killed. At the time, we compensated the village $55 for every person who had been killed. Senator Kennedy found that to be distressing. I do, too.

Enough is enough. Justice demands that these wrongs be set right. Yet our own State Department is planning to request. lower amounts for UXO removal in Laos in FY11 than the meager amount it barely spent in FY10. This is unconscionable. Laos is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and one of the smallest recipients of U.S. assistance. As a country founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we can and should do better.

I visited Laos again last year and, I tell you, I will not rest until the U.S. government begins to take action and accepts moral and financial responsibility for the mess we left behind. Children in Laos are counting on us and I want to especially recognize those who are being cared for at the COPE Center and applaud the good work of non-government organizations (NGO) from around the world who are making a difference.

I thank our witnesses from Legacies of War, the Humpty Dumpty Institute, and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) for their leadership and I assure them that they have the full support of this Subcommittee as we work together to make this right.

I also want to commend His Excellency Phiane Philakone, Ambassador of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), for the service he has rendered on behalf of his country. It is because of him that I was able to gain a firsthand understanding of how catastrophic U.S. Air Force bombing operations really were and are. To this very day, Thursday, April 22, 2010, these deadly, unexploded ordnances continue to claim the lives of a people who are not and never were at war with us, and unless we rectify this now, the loss of life will go on and on, tomorrow, the next day, and every day thereafter.

As a matter of record, I am including a statement prepared by Minister Counselor and Deputy Chief of Mission Mai Sayavongs of the Lao PDR to the United States. I recognize the historic nature of this statement and I pledge to do all I can to provide assistance for UXO clearance, mine awareness and victim’s assistance programs which is “an investment in the future of the lives of millions of Lao people,” as the DCM has so eloquently stated.

Joining us today is the Honorable Scott Marciel, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs, of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Hopefully, Ambassador Marciel can explain to us why the Bureau is seeking to cut funding for UXO removal in Laos but similar cuts are not being proposed in other areas of the world.

Finally, I welcome my good friend, Congressman Mike Honda of California, Congressman Honda traveled with me to Laos and I appreciate that he is joining us on the panel today. Congressman Honda is a Member of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and his presence at this hearing sends a strong signal that we are serious about holding the State Department accountable and setting this matter right for the Laotian people.

I now recognize Congressman Honda for any opening statement he may have.


Speaker & Film Screening in Boston Area

“The Bombing of Laos and the Continuing Tragedy of Cluster Bombs”

Forbush Memorial Library Westminster, MA January 20, 2010, 6-8PM

Walt Haney, Forbush Library Trustee and longtime resident of Westminster, will give a talk on “The Bombing of Laos and the Continuing Tragedy of Cluster Bombs.”

Haney spent more than three years in Laos, 1968-71 and 1975. In 1970 and 1971, he carried out two surveys of Lao refugees that helped document the widespread bombing of civilians in Laos. Reports on these surveys were both published in reports by the U.S. Senate.

Haney is also author of an analysis of U.S. involvement in Laos from 1950 to 1970. This analysis was published in Chomsky, N. and H. Zinn (Eds.) The Gravel Edition, The Pentagon Papers, Vol. V: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972, pp. 248-293). Finally, Haney will describe his involvement with Legacies of War (http://legaciesofwar.org), a group organized to bring attention to the continuing tragedy of cluster bombs, not just in Laos but also in other war-torn countries around the world.

Following Haney’s remarks, there will be a showing of the award-winning film “Bombies” and a discussion. Light refreshments will be served. The lecture and film-showing are open to the public at no charge, but seating is limited.

National Traveling Exhibition Midwest Premiere in Minneapolis

Lao Assistance Center, Pangea World Theater and Intermedia Arts present

Legacies of War: National Traveling Exhibition and Community Programs

Curated by local artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, Bush Artist Fellow

Presented in conjunction with the Refugee Nation Touring Performance.

The Legacies of War National Traveling Exhibition tells the story of the U.S. secret bombing in Laos- a forgotten chapter in U.S. history – through the voices of villagers from Laos and the Lao diaspora at large.

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Opening Night Reception – September 30, 2010

In the 1960s and 1970s, when due to the bombing, Lao civilians became refugees of “The Secret War,” and had no language or tools to communicate with the outside world about their experiences except through a series of crude, hand-drawn sketches shown to visiting foreigners. But this art was enough to provoke questions that ultimately led to a global awareness of what was happening during the CIA’s covert war in Laos, and these sketches contributed to shaping the destiny of over 400,000 Laotians and Hmong in the United States today.

The National Traveling Exhibition has traveled to ten U.S. cities and to Dublin, Ireland. Its Midwest debut will take place at Intermedia Arts on September 30, 2010 (Special Opening Reception at 6:30pm) and run through October 24 with film screenings, community workshops and discussions throughout the month.

Artwork: Malichansouk Kouanchao

Legacies of War is presented in conjunction with the Refugee Nation National Traveling Performance, a collection of oral histories that reveals connections between American and Southeast Asian history, and the unique challenges faced by political refugees and their American children. It gives voice to the Lao Diaspora – often excluded from the American experience. Refugee Nation is about a young generation struggling to understand their history and the silence of an elder generation still healing from the traumas of war.

This project is made possible in part by support from Arts Midwest, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Asian Pacific Endowment. Refugee Nation is a part of Intermedia Arts’ Catalyst Series.

Intermedia Arts is located at 2822 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (map)


Events

» Exhibition

National Traveling Exhibition
September 30, 2010 – October 24, 2010
Daily 12pm-5pm
$3 suggested donation

Opening Reception
September 30, 2010 @ 6:30pm-8:30pm – FREE
Reception will include a blessing ceremony, guest speakers and community gathering.

» Performances

Refugee Nation
October 8-10, Friday – Sunday @ 7:30pm
October 14-17, Thursday – Sunday @ 7:30pm
*Post performance discussions October 9, 15 & 16
Tickets: $10 (advance, students, seniors); $12 (door)
Click here to purchase tickets.

» Workshops & Discussions

Community Art Workshop – Express Yourself
October 2, 2010 @ 1pm-4pm – FREE
Student Day
Two-part workshop: In Tapestry of Hope: Weaving a Bomb Free Future, participants will create art pieces to include in an international art exhibition to debut in Vientiane, Laos in November. In the Refugee Nation workshop, participants will engage in discussions and exercises about identity and community.

Community Discussion – Gen X, Gen Y and Gen G (as in RefuGee)
October 13, 2010 @ 12:30pm – FREE
Bring your lunch for this roundtable intergenerational discussion following the Refugee Nation matinee.

» Film Screenings

Bomb Harvest
October 12, 2010 @ 7pm
$5 suggested donation
Laos: The most bombed country, per capita, on the planet. A bomb disposal specialist has to train a new young “big bomb” team to deal with bombs left from the US “Secret War”, but meanwhile, the local children are out hunting for bomb scrap metal. Post screening discussion with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and community members.

Bombies
October 19, 2010 @ 7pm
$5 suggested donation
Award-winning film portrays the aftermath of the carpet bombing of Laos with made-in-Minnesota cluster bombs and includes local footage of demonstrations at Honeywell and Alliant Techsystems (ATK).
Special guest speaker Marv Davidov, featured in the film as the founder of the MN-based Honeywell Project to end weapons manufacturing during the Vietnam War.

All events held at:
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55408 (map)

For more information, visit www.intermediaarts.org or call (612) 871-4444.


Media Contact

Theresa Sweetland
Executive/Artistic Director, Intermedia Arts
(612) 874-2813
theresa@intermediaarts.org

Photo/Interview Opportunities

Digital photos, audio, video, interview and photo opportunities are available upon request.


About the Presenters

  • Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota

    Minnesota has the third largest Laotian community in the US with 25,000 residents, many living in Hennepin County and particularly North Minneapolis. Many first arrived in the US as refugees in the early 1980s to rebuild to their lives. Many Lao in Minnesota received international recognition and awards for their art and community activism, and recently convened the first national Lao American Writers Summit. The Lao Assistance Center was established in 1983 with a mission to help Lao families meet their basic needs and to preserve their culture and traditions.

  • Pangea World Theater

    Pangea World Theater begins from the fundamental paradigm of diversity in the world. Our work expresses this reality and our organization advances this possibility consciously. Since its inception in 1995, Pangea’s goals have included creating a new literature with stories from different communities for theater, changing our methods of auditioning in order to include artists from diverse communities who are not trained in the traditional western methods of the audition process, and creating new possibilities and new aesthetic realities for a more diverse audience. As the community of the Twin Cities has become increasingly diverse with the influx of new immigrants, Pangea has actively sought individuals from these communities to be part of our artistic and advisory team.

  • Intermedia Arts

    As Minnesota’s premier multidisciplinary, multicultural arts center, Intermedia Arts builds understanding among people by catalyzing and inspiring artists and audiences to make changes in their lives and communities. We are a nationally recognized leader in empowering artists and community leaders to use arts-based approaches to solve community issues. From graffiti art to digital technology to performance art to spoken word, we work from the community up to unearth and enliven new and emerging artists and art forms while challenging and exploring the role of art in our lives. By stimulating civic dialogue and giving voice to the issues and experiences of underrepresented communities locally, nationally and internationally, we contribute to a stronger, healthier society.

  • The Catalyst Series

    Intermedia Arts’ Catalyst Series is a new program dedicated to collaborating with and providing support for artists, arts groups and organizations working as catalysts for change in their communities. The Catalyst Series is designed to engage audiences by provoking new performing, visual, literary, multimedia and film presentations that spark dialogue and inspire social change. Our goal is to provide artists, arts groups and arts organizations with the resources necessary to focus on their creative process, connect with their communities, advance their career, market their work, and develop new audiences.

First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (1MSP)

Legacies of War is attending the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (1MSP) in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Leading up to the meeting, we will be traveling around Laos and attending other events. We will be documenting our entire trip and experiences with a microsite: Legacies of War @ 1MSP. Check it for daily updates.

For more information on this historic meeting, visit http://www.clusterconvention.org/1msp/.

Legacies of War Exhibit in Brooklyn Center, MN

Check out the Legacies of War Exhibit at the Brookdale Library in Brooklyn Center, MN. The exhibit will be there until June 1st.

Association of Asian American Studies Conference, New Orleans

Legacies of War will present Undigested War: Purging Official Narratives of U.S. Wars in Asia with Still Present Past at the Association of Asian American Studies Conference in New Orleans, May 18-21. Click here for more information on the conference.