What's the most heavily bombed country per capita in history? If you answered Laos, you probably also know those bombs came from US planes as part of the CIA's Secret War on the country. From 1964 to 1973, during the Vietnam war, the US rained more than 270 million bombs down on this tiny country in a failed attempt to keep communism at bay. That's a plane-load of bombs every eight minutes for nine full years. Today, Laotian villagers are still trying to clean up the mess.
Photo by Mark Watson / Highlux Photo.
During an extended bicycle trip through the country, 40 years after the bombing campaign ended, photographer Mark Watson noticed something unusual. Everywhere he looked, he began to see scrap from the war being used in extraordinary ways.
These metallic reminders of a horrific period have become a commodity in Laos that is gathered, sold, and reworked for use in everyday life. “Scrap from such widespread bombing has been utilized in people’s homes and villages,” Watson said, “for everything from house foundations to planter boxes to buckets, cups and cowbells.”
Gathering bomb scrap is a dangerous occupation. More than 80 million bombs didn’t detonate when they were dropped and Laotians still experience an average of two casualties per week from live bombs and mines. There are several NGOs working to clear the bombs, but at the current rate it will take more than 100 years to find and remove all of them. While most Americans don’t know this war ever happened, the people of Laos are unable to escape the physical reminders, which have become a permanent part of their lives and their landscape.
Images via Mark Watson / Highlux Photo