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A Distant Echo From the Secret Bombing Campaign Over Laos

A segment aired on the PBS News Hour on November 25, 2016 about a company named Article 22. “This company is turning Laos’ unexploded bombs into jewelry,” recounted the story of Article 22, a jewelry design and manufacturing company that “aims to convert unexploded bombs in Laos, left over from the Vietnam War into jewelry. Proceeds fund the cleanup of these dangerous legacies of conflict.”

The company sells online, but I was drawn to the New Hours’ coverage of a kiosk that Article 22  operates in Union Square in New York City since I had been there just one week before the segment aired, as Union Square was the staging area for a protest march up Fifth Avenue to Donald Trump’s lavish penthouse apartment. I hadn’t been deep into the park at Union Square, which also hosts a farmer’s market on Saturdays, because there were so many people getting ready to march and the crowd made walking inside the park at Union Square quite difficult.

The same PBS News Hour segment also highlighted Giving Tuesday, a “movement” to give things during the holiday season that are “unique or meaningful… exotic.”

Article 22 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” Exploding spent bombs have caused an enormous number of deaths since the end of the Vietnam War, with farmers and children being among the bombs frequent victims and certainly can be viewed as an egregious violation of a person’s security, rights, and dignity.

There are about “80 million undetonated explosives” from the so-called secret U.S. bombing war in Laos that was carried out from 1964 to 1973 according to another story about the Article 22 Peace Bomb jewelry collection. (“This Jewelry Is Made From Bombs Dropped During America’s ‘Secret War,’” Huffington Post, November 14, 2016). Prices of the Peace Bomb collection range from $20. to $2,000.

The company’s founders fund experts in Laos who procure the unexploded bombs. One group of these experts is the Mines Advisory Group. Article 22 artisans “then purchase the materials from the foundries that melt down the bomb material in Laos. About 20,000 people have been killed in Laos by unexploded bombs since the end of the war.”

Article 22 calls its operation a kind of philanthropy. The Huffington Post article reports that “Ten percent of its proceeds go to the Village Development Fund… The company did not specify how it determines its giving to the latter.”  Article 22 reports that it “pays its employees in Laos at least five times the local market rate.”

In September 2016, President Obama visited Laos and spoke about the U.S. secret war there in which more than two million bombs were dropped over that nation, making it the most bombed nation in U.S. history. It was not uncommon during the Vietnam War, when conditions were not “ideal” for dropping bombs over Vietnam, that bomber crews would modify their bombing missions, change their course, and drop those bombs over Laos. While Obama would not apologize for the bombing, the President did call for “reconciliation” and pledged to double the annual $30 million it gives Laos for bomb removal. He pledged that amount for the next three years (“Obama Acknowledges Scars of America’s Shadow War in Laos,” New York Times, September 6, 2016).

I attempted to have a representative from Veterans For Peace comment about Article 22’s jewelry and its work in Laos for this article, but was unsuccessful. Veterans For Peace, one of the few antiwar groups that has remained active and vital during the Obama presidency, has a program that supports both U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese people who were victims of the defoliant Agent Orange that was used during the Vietnam War to strip the tropical leaf canopy from forests in Vietnam. The dioxin in this defoliant sickens and causes birth defects.

With endless wars in the tradition of the dystopian novel by George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), a collapsed peace movement in the wake of Barack Obama’s first presidential term, and a host of countries with which the U.S. has been at war with since September 2001, can it possibly come as a shock to anyone that even the basic laws of war such as Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Article 48, that speaks to the protection of civilians in time of war has been made a total mockery? It seems that in contemporary warfare, all sides are responsible in varying degrees for the lack of protection of noncombatant civilians. In Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, there was precious little protection of civilian noncombatants!

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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