I love Laos. I can’t say it enough. Walk into a cafe and forget you’re in Asia. Walk back out and the cafe latte you just drank seems a continent away. It’s a total mindtrip, but a good one. There’s only been one real downside to this country, and I have history to thank for that one. Everyone knows about the Vietnam War, about the Vietcong, the threat of communism, and a few people even know that we lost the war. But nobody knows about, or at least talks about, the “Secret War,” the American involvement in the Laos Civil War. For more than half a decade, American planes dropped bombs all over eastern and southeastern Laos in an attempt to stop communist forces from expanding into the country. Thousands died in the bombings, with many more losing limbs.

Forty years later, 30 percent of the bombs are unexploded, still buried in Lao soil. These UXOs still pose a deadly threat to the Laotians who live in the eastern provinces. Laos being an an agrarian society, farming is impossible unless the land has been completely cleared of mines, a taxing and lengthy process. Children run the risk of being maimed and killed just by playing in the mountains and fields outside their small villages. Meanwhile, American kids sit in their air-conditioned classrooms, learning about hippies, civil rights and ‘Nam, completely unaware of the bombings in Laos and the constant threat posed to kids their age here.

On the Plain of Jars tour, we walked single- or double-file down the dirt paths. To our left and right were brick markers, signifying the safe zone. The areas beyond the safe zone have yet to be cleared of UXOs. We walked past craters the size of backyard swimming pools, the results of bombs dropped decades ago. In the mountains between Luang Prabang and Phonsavan, brown patches and absent vegatation surrounded by lush grass reminded us of the constant attacks this country endured. It was only 12 years ago that the U.S. government even admitted to bombing Laos during the war.

I’m floored by this, and you should be too. It makes me wonder what Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be like in a half-century. When my children visit the Middle East someday, what will they learn? What won’t they have been taught in American schools? Most importantly, how will history look on today and on this generation?

I do love Laos, but I’m disheartened by the constant reminder of America’s arial bombardment. Restaurants and guesthouses all over Phonsavan use uncovered missiles as decoration, fencing and even as key-holders. Each tourism office has hundreds of missles and bombs, rusted with age, on display. I’m ready for tomorrow’s destination, Cambodia, where I can learn about the wrongs of the Khmer Rouge rather than the American government.

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