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.

This Ex-Patriate Life Teaches You Something

I’ve been abroad for over a year now, and it’s a fundamentally different experience than I enjoyed coming and going on two or three-week vacations. After this long away from America, I finally get the fact that these funny-talking foreigners are just as smart as we are. I’ve been able to feel their mixed appreciation and resentment of how we Americans have conducted ourselves. And I realize that everybody knows it’s only a matter of time before China becomes the major power in the world.

Western Europe seems to have grown out of its tendency to wage war. For seventy years now, they have lived in peace. We Americans are getting awfully tired of bombing the countries that displease us. We realize that there are no “surgical strikes,” that there is no quick and easy in and out when it comes to invading sovereign nations. So maybe we’re done with war, too.

But what can be done about the rest of the world? That was the question that brought about the creation of the United Nations. We Americans don’t much care for or respect the UN, even though it’s headquartered right here, in Manhattan. The Love It Or Leave It crowd are the main critics of the UN, because Internationalism is the opposite of American Exceptionalism.  But what if the relative peace much of the world has enjoyed can somehow be credited to the existence of the UN?  Could it be that the UN deserves our respect and attention? Maybe we need to take a leading role in reorganizing it, so that it provides a true democratic voice for all nations.

The window of opportunity for us to take this leadership role in supporting and fixing the UN is closing fast. In twenty years, we will no longer be the biggest gorilla, the one who sits down wherever he pleases. We will be overshadowed by India and China, who will set the agenda as they please. So maybe now is the time for us to act in true leadership and humility and fix somewhat broken but nevertheless enduring United Nations while we still can.