I’ve been on the road recently to Laos, a neighbouring country, albeit not a close one, whether geographically, culturally or economically.
I was in its capital Vientiane, just across the Mekong River from Thailand. It’s a sleepy town, much reminiscent of the Hatyai of 30 years ago, minus the… err… shopping for which Hatyai was famous!
At the risk of offending many Laotians, I’d have to say that if excitement is your game, the Thai town of Nong Khai directly across the Mekong River is a better bet. Nong Khai knows it too, and its bars and karaoke joints blast their music at maximum volume across the river right into the heart of Vientiane.
I didn’t avail myself of these entertainment services. Being the boring person that I am, I did something a bit more sedate, even downright emotional – I visited one of the centres that rehabilitate victims of landmines. Laos has a disproportionate share of such victims.
Some backstory: once, there were two Vietnams – a South one, and a North one, even if each called itself by something fancier than mere compass points. One was a communist nation, and the other was – not a communist one though not quite the democratic one that its boosters wanted many to believe either.
The two Vietnams had a go at each other, aided and abetted and goaded by their respective sponsors, all of whom believed in the then prevailing conventional wisdom that if one country falls to communism, others around it would too.
It was called the domino effect, which carried great weight back then, and was powerful enough to encourage much expenditure of men and material towards either causing it to happen, or preventing it from happening.
In this case it was called the Vietnam War. The US was a major participant on the south’s side, and Russia and China on the north’s side. Technically though, as far as the US was concerned, it wasn’t a war, as none was ever declared by its Congress as required by its own laws.
This technicality is important, as many nations in the West insist on proper paperwork being served before animosities commence – as is to be expected from civilized nations as opposed to the banana or bamboo or coconut republics found elsewhere.
Laos wasn’t in the war. However, being a neighbour of both Vietnams, it was a convenient place to carry out many war-related activities, including efforts to carry weapons and war supplies, and, alternatively, bombing the said efforts to kingdom come.
Said bombings, principally by the Americans, resulting in over two million tons of explosives being dropped on Laotian soil. This made Laos the most bombed country on earth on a per capita basis, though I believe Gaza, even if not a nation, may soon take over that title.
Apart from explosives, thousands of tons of Agent Orange, a herbicide and defoliant that makes trees shed their leaves so they can’t provide cover from the air, were also dropped on Laos. Apart from environmental damage that’s been called ecocide, it also caused untold misery to millions of those touched by it.
Incidentally, Agent Orange was first used in Malaya by the British in the Emergency, another non-war, in the 1950s. There doesn’t seem to be a third-world country anywhere where nasty stuff can’t be used even without pieces of paper declaring wars. The only thing required is to brand the enemies as terrorists, and it’s all systems go.
Dumping unused explosives
Countless thousands of Laotians were killed or maimed by many of the unexploded bombs and landmines still lurking in its soil over the past 50 years. Scores of people are still being killed or maimed even today. It’ll take decades before this abomination can be totally eradicated.
Much of the explosives and nasty chemicals poured on to Laotian soil were part of deliberate attacks against the enemies, but a lot was also casually dumped there when the American warplanes couldn’t be bothered with returning to base fully laden with bombs, something deemed too dangerous.
Imagine that: a fleet of aircraft took off with hundreds if not thousands of tons of bombs, somehow couldn’t find the targets because of weather or enemy action, and rather than bringing the bombs back home, they just detoured into Laos and dumped them there.
In some circles, that would be deemed barbaric. But as you’ve seen lately, barbaric is usually a term that is reserved for those of the world’s population who didn’t sign pieces of paper or cite legitimate defence of borders as a justification.
Barbarism by any name
Is it barbaric if you kidnap civilians or butcher them? Of course it is, and it must be called out as such. But is it barbaric when young soldiers sitting in air-conditioned comfort far away steer a missile into a building and kill 100 civilians?
That, in my book, is a hundred times more barbaric. Just because it’s bloodless, sterile and clean, and such soldiers get to go home and have supper with their families, doesn’t make it any less barbaric. Perhaps, that makes it even more barbaric.
Is it barbaric for a nation – say, Japan – to drop bombs on warships in Pearl Harbour and kill 3,000 people, mostly servicemen? It certainly is, according to many people, especially as Japan served their war paperwork a little late. But is it also barbaric to drop incendiary bombs because you know they will burn down Tokyo’s wooden buildings and kill 100,000 civilians in just one night?
That, by the way, is not a mere hypothetical issue, but is a historical fact. And I’m not even talking about the atomic bombs yet.
Blood-letting in Gaza
What’s happening in Gaza is nothing short of monstrous. The bloodlust seeking revenge, the desire to annihilate the territory and people (nuclear bombs have been mentioned), the collective punishment of a people who’ve been dehumanised, is nothing short of barbarism to me.
I also see more and more people who would not be typically described as being rabidly anti-West, expressing revulsion about the wanton killing going on in Gaza, and especially at the complicit silence if not actual support by the West. These people are not unsympathetic to what happened to Israel, but have reached a position where they can no longer stomach the cruelties and hypocrisies of the matter.
But it seems that the West, in particular the United States, can’t quite see it that way.
A turning point
Unfortunately, I believe this current conflict will later turn out to be a turning point in history – one when many non-Americans or Westerners finally say enough is enough, and you can take your civilisation and rules-based world order and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine.
Thousands of children have been killed, and more will be killed before this is over – and yet the attackers couldn’t find it in their heart to ask for at least a ceasefire? That these deaths, of humans who carry absolutely no blame for what had happened, seems acceptable collateral damage in what they deem is a just war on the part of the Israelis?
It’s almost funny to see how America and other Western nations squirm in trying to explain away their ridiculous positions, especially given there’s an easy comparison with Ukraine. I find it heartening that many of their citizens see through all this and make efforts to demand for peace, or at least some efforts to provide humanitarian solutions.
What has happened will be a gift for those who want to see chaos in the world, and will cause even more bloodshed down the road. The West will see, if they haven’t already, that Israel is no longer the plucky underdog in the Middle East, but rather, a bully of the highest order – long shorn of any moral scruples, and guilty for preferring land grabs rather than a lasting peace.
The western powers will see their power and influence waning as much of the world turns away from such a disgusting display of hypocrisy. They’ll be the victims of their own barbarism.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.