the original version

This is the original version of what I wrote after visiting at COPE in Laos. It became the basis for my newspaper column of a week or so ago.

I spent part of this morning at a facility called COPE here in Vientiane, Laos. If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember Laos as the place Nixon told us Americans had no ground troops. He neglected to mention the daily bombings. Here in Laos, the war hasn’t really ended. There are over 100 million unexploded bombs still on the ground… bombs that children dig up for the money they will get for the scrap metal. Except when that metal is part of a still live bomb. Then they get blown up. The luckier ones just lose limbs. COPE is a program that offers free prosthetics to children and adults still being blown up by the bombs that we dropped. But these are not slick prosthetics that you can put on and run a marathon. These are heavy wooden limbs. They are hanging all over the visitors’ center, left there by children who outgrew them and needed replacements. We watched a short movie of an Australian EOD expert teaching classes where local people could learn to safely defuse, detonate or remove the bombs, including unexploded cluster bombs that children dig up because they look like small fruits or nuts or just something to play with. These brave people do not use any protective equipment because they have none. They have only their courage and the desire to make their villages safe again. Given that we put all those bombs in their land, I have to wonder why America feels no responsibility to help make this land safe again. At times like this, I wonder how these people can still smile and treat us with kindness. And I am more proud than ever to have been part of the anti-war movement of the sixties.