I first came to Thailand on a month-long teaching assignment. Surprised to find that I had four days off over the New Year, I decided to get out of Bangkok and see something of the countryside. After asking around, I decided on a bus to the border of Cambodia. There’s a casino there, as well as a huge market. Foreigners go there to check out and back into the country, thus prolonging their tourist visas.

At the Cambodian border I found a dumpy guest house near a strip of tourist-related bars and massage parlors, and since I don’t drink, retired before that tedious countdown to the new year that is the bane of anyone with a mental age older than thirteen. I managed to doze off for a few moments, but then with all the noise found myself unable to sleep. I noticed that I could hear multiple bar bands from the strip nearby. As the evening wore on, every band at each club played Hotel California by the Eagles, always with the same note-perfect copy of Joe Walsh’s signature guitar solo. In every rendition the singer was phonetically trying to copy the vocals, but without knowing what the words meant. As I lay there, I must have listened to eight different versions of the song, punctuated at midnight by fireworks being set off in a nearby field.

I suppose the Eagles are quite aware of the strange popularity of this song, and how it has become a staple of bar bands all over the world. Here in Indochina I thought it odd that I was forced to listen to a song that was popular back when I was in my twenties and living in California. At no time did I hear an original Eagles recording, but I did hear a variety of Cambodians singing “you can check out any time you like but you can’t never leave.”

Now that I live with a Thai woman and have made Thailand my home, I see more clearly the depth of the United States’ cultural domination of the globe. Wipa likes to watch action movies, and these are almost always made in the United States. The story is simple enough to understand even by reading subtitles, as explosions, gun battles and car chases don’t require translation. Living on the other side of the world, we watch America every day, on TV.

America has won the culture war, and dominates the world of entertainment, but when I was last home I saw an awful lot of angry, frightened and chronically frustrated people who were curious about my life in Northern Thailand. I spent three weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the average rent for a studio apartment is $3,000 a month. All I had to do was tell people that I rent a little house here for $110 a month. That gave them pause. Often people would exhale as if they had been kicked in the stomach.

I’ve heard that sound before. When I was in college, a few of us went to the cinema to see a new documentary film about the Vietnam War. Hearts and Minds included a scene so shocking that the audience around me made that same exhalation. Here’s Wikipedia’s entry:

A scene described as one of the film’s “most shocking and controversial sequences” shows the funeral of an North Vietnamese soldier and his grieving family, as a sobbing woman is restrained from climbing into the grave after the coffin.The funeral scene is juxtaposed with an interview with General William Westmoreland telling a stunned Davis that “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.”

There is another scene in the movie where a man in North Vietnam shows the camera where his house was before the American bomb hit. He had just lost his wife, son and daughter. He shows the camera where each family member was at the moment of impact, and then finds a scrap of fabric in the rubble. “Look,” he says “this is my youngest daughters shirt. She was feeding the pigs when the bomb hit. Now the pigs are alive but she is dead. Why don’t you take this and show it to Nixon, murderer of civilians? Throw this in his face!”

You can see the film on YouTube

Since I’ve been in Southeast Asia, I’ve journeyed to Vietnam and Laos, the places on which we dropped three times more bombs than were dropped in all of World War II by both sides, and I still don’t know what I can do to meaningfully react to this fact. Nobody wanted to kill me in those places, though I don’t know why.









America’s Love Affair with Bombing Others Into Submission


A resident of Wolmi Island, South Korea speaks, as quoted in the New York Times, August 3, 2008. “When the napalm hit our village, many people were still sleeping in their homes. Those who survived the flames ran to the tidal flats. We were trying to show the American pilots that we were civilians. But they strafed us, women and children.”

Americans have been bombing civilians for quite some time. In school we were told that the Rules of War impelled us, the good guys, to only deliberately target soldiers, and that any civilians causalities were “collateral damage” and accidental, but if this ever was the case it has not been so for some time. Napalm was developed as a way to most effectively burn down Japanese cities, causing huge fire storms as the paper and wood buildings caught fire. The canisters we dropped were designed to break through the roof of a house and detonate in the main living area. We were targeting civilians.

The firebombing of Tokyo, Dresden and Berlin were designed to force a surrender by demoralizing the populace. In Korea, we did the same, and seriously considered dropping nuclear weapons on the huge Chinese army that was massed along the Yala river border. It was only at the last-minute that President Truman stopped General MacArthur from doing so, for in fact the nuclear bombs had already been deployed.

During the Vietnam War, operations Rolling Thunder and Linebacker dropped four millions pounds of bombs on North Vietnam, mostly on Haiphong and Hanoi but we bombed neighboring Laos almost daily for eight years, dropping more explosives on that country than the allies dropped in all of World War II. Again, we were not targeting soldiers, but civilians. Laos had no army to speak of, but the population of that poor country was reduced to living in caves, because anything that moved became a target. We were trying to stop supplies moving along the area we dubbed the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” It wasn’t much of a trail at first, but that didn’t stop us from daily B-52 bombing runs and finally considering using nuclear weapons to take out convoys of wagons, bicycles and mules until someone had the sense to say that would be a very bad idea, possibly sparking Russian or Chinese retaliation in kind. Curtis Lemay, the U.S. Air Force General who had been responsible for the fire-bombing of so many Japanese cities, vowed that we would bomb Vietnam “back to the stone age.”

America is addicted to the idea that we can exercise persuasive military might without putting “boots on the ground,” by bombing people from plans that are so high up they can’t be shot down. Now in addition to bombers we have drones that can fire missiles, so the notion is even more attractive. Remote control bullying.

One thing we certainly accomplish by bombing people who don’t agree with us is that we make generations of these same people hate us. When fire rains down from the sky, the death toll is indiscriminate. Korea, Laos and Vietnam tell stories of villagers hiding in caves who were incinerated by napalm strikes.

North Korea’s hatred of the United States is so highly developed it would be funny if it weren’t grounded in a resentment that simply won’t die. They still blame us for everything bad that happens in their country. This resulted from a United Nations Police Action (as was the Vietnam War) where we had not formally declared war. There was no truce because there was so surrender. But there was and is hatred, lingering smoldering hatred that will take many years to extinguish.



conwaylazbom02Vietnam War (20)

I was born in 1950, five years after the end of the Second World War. My country has been at war somewhere in the world for as long as I’ve been alive, with brief time off in the mid to late fifties in order to re-group. Even then, we were engaged in a “cold war,” stockpiling nuclear weapons as fast as we could make them, and the rockets to carry them across the world at many times the speed of sound.

When I was a child, we were told that our country observed certain “rules of war,” because we were the good guys and always took the moral high ground. We didn’t target civilians and we took prisoners of war and treated them humanely. By the way, I’ve heard of German prisoners of war, but never Japanese. Did they all commit hari kari?

Maybe we observed the Geneva Convention sometime before World War II, but it certainly wasn’t our experience or intention after we invented napalm and firebombed many Japanese cities and a few German ones. They weren’t military targets. We were trying to kill as many civilians as possible, in order to demoralize our enemies so they’d surrender.

It worked, we won. Then we took the same strategy to Vietnam and it didn’t work. In case anyone still believes the bullshit that we spun and resulted in Kissinger being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the North Vietnamese finally won the right to live in a Communist country. After twenty years of fighting foreign invaders, they unified their nation. It cost them millions of lives but they won.

So we learned our lesson. No more boots on the ground. Air attacks are the way we prosecute war now, and we no longer pretend that civilian deaths are “collateral damage.”

We no longer carpet bomb countries from 30,000 feet, we engage in “precision bombing,” often using unmanned drones. The accuracy rate has improved dramatically. Sure, we still take out a funeral procession or wedding party by mistake, but in general it’s no longer a mass slaughter. But we’re still bombing people. We’re still telling other people what they can and cannot do with their own countries. This hasn’t changed.

Bombing is a lousy way to persuade other countries to change their ways. Even though there’s a good chance we bombed ourselves in 9/11, we certainly didn’t learn any lessons from the experience of being bombed. One delusional Muslim teenager fashioned a shoe bomb for himself on an airplane and the rest of us are still taking off our shoes in airports ten years later.

We have fashioned a police state so large it may be impossible to dismantle it. That seems to be the main lesson we learned from being bombed.

When General MacArthur was in charge of our forces in North Korea, he suggested we drop fifty nuclear weapons along the border of North Korea and China. Truman fired him, but the next year General Curtis LeMay was ready to drop even more nuclear weapons. Truman never gave the order to do so.


To this day the North Koreans hate us with an almost unimaginable intensity.

I spent some time in Nicaragua, which is a socialist verging on Communist country. They endured a civil war that lasted from the late seventies to the eighties, finally overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. The Sandanistas who emerged victorious were not to Reagan’s liking, so he and his cronies cooked up a scheme to sell arms to Iran in order to finance an illegal backing of contra-revolutionaires, or “Contras,” mostly the remnants of Somoza’s highly corrupt national guard. This prolonged the Nicaraguan civil war by several years, but the Contras were eventually defeated as well. When I traveled the country I half-expected the common folk to hate Americans, but most of them had no memory or experience of that time.

Their struggle for independence was fought by citizen soldiers, some women, committed to freedom from Somoza and the U.S. Here’s a picture of one of them nursing her baby while dutifully carrying her carbine.



hiding from bombs

I live in Thailand, a country with bombings going on, especially along the border with Malaysia. I suppose living in a country with bombings doesn’t make me unique, because bombings are going on in lots of places in the world, even America, though not routinely. Nobody knows who planted the bomb at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok a month ago. We do know who’s dropping the bombs on Syria, and who did the same to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was us. We still don’t really know who brought down the Twin Towers in New York City, but as time passes it becomes more and more apparent that it wasn’t our allies the Saudis under the direction of Osama bin Laden.

We’re looking at a long-term and maybe never-ending worldwide War On Terror, and maybe half the world’s population is affected by this war on a daily basis. That’s no small thing. There have been wars before, but they seemed more defined, with beginnings and ends, but this war is so amorphous and chronic that most people don’t seem to notice we’re even at war. Has it always been this way?

When I was a child I grew up terrorized by the Soviet Nuclear Threat. Such a threat had pre-dated by arrival on the planet, for I was born in 1950 and the Korean War was a direct result of our fears about the Soviets and their recently acquired H-bomb. General MacArthur was all for using nuclear weapons in Korea. Later, in Viet Nam we seriously considered their use in Laos on the Ho Chi Minh trail, but realized it would be largely ineffective because the terrain was no thinly populated. All we would have managed to do is contaminate a large portion of the country in order to kill a few thousand people.

But when I was a child and couldn’t get to sleep at night, I imagined scenarios of Red Chinese soldiers interrogating me about my belief in Jesus. Would I have the nerve to confess my allegiance to Christ under torture? Our neighbors had a fallout shelter in their backyard. Why didn’t we?

The most heavily bombed place on the planet is poor Laos. We conducted a bombing raid on that small, undeveloped country every eight minutes for eight years. They had the misfortune of being next door to Viet Nam, a country we also bombed, though not as extensively. We also dumped agent orange on large parts of that country, and there are still thousands of people suffering the after-effects of being doused with dioxin.

Here’s an interactive graph of our bombing of Laos.

Laos bombed by the U.S.

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• There were more than 580,000 bombing missions on Laos from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War.
• That’s equivalent to one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
• Over two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country, with up to 30 per cent failing to explode as designed.
• More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used; up to 80 million failed to detonate, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war.
• Approximately 25 per cent of the country’s villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).
• All 17 provinces suffer from UXO contamination.
• More than 50,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents from 1964 to 2008.
• From the end of the war in 1974 to 2008, more than 20,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents.
• There have been approximately 300 new casualties annually over the last decade.
• Over the last decade 40 per cent of total casualties were children.

When our carpet bombing of Laos was happening it was a secret war, and no one was authorized to talk about it. Later, after our defeat in Viet Nam, nobody wanted to think or hear about it.

I recently spent eight days in Northern Laos and was struck by the sweet nature and good cheer of the people I met. I’d like to go back and visit the most heavily bombed areas in the south of the country.

check out this animated map. It’s quite moving. The Vietnamese had an army and an air force of sorts that could fight back, but Laos was largely undefended. There are already NGO’s involved in the removal of UXO (un-exploded ordinance,) but the problem is so great that any attention brought to it would not be a bad thing.