War Criminal Talk


There’s been much talk lately about ‘war criminals’ – with the latest accusation coming from the United States accusing Vladimir Putin of Russia of war crimes in the ongoing war in Ukraine, now in its sixth week. The rhetoric climbed to the highest levels in early April 2022 when for just the second time in history – a state was suspended from the UN Human Rights Council. In the UN’s 77 years, Russia joins Libya in this dubious distinction. This, highlighting not only US hypocrisy but that of all nations who supported the US-led vote because there is no other member country that has left behind greater humanitarian crises in its wake than the United States of America.

Take for instance Laos. The tiny, landlocked, Southeast Asian country was the staging ground for the first proxy war between the United States and Russia (then the Soviet Union). Many today, can compare the events unfolding in Ukraine to those of 1960s Laos – caught in the crosshairs of the American invasion of Vietnam, to the lesser-known Secret War in Laos that spanned four consecutive US presidents: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. 

It’s called “The Secret War” because after Geneva II was executed in 1962 as a trilateral agreement for Laos’ neutrality from the Vietnam war, to form a coalition government, between the US-backed, Soviet-backed, and neutralist parties – this left America no overt option to overthrow Communist-aligned factions. So the CIA did what they always do: wage Congressionally unapproved wars. 

secret war - Laos and US Soldiers
US Soldiers in Vietnam 1964

Peace Accords be damned when the US has its eyes on the prize – in this case, the Dwight D. Eisenhower doctrine that if Laos fell to Communists, then the whole of Asia would follow. John F. Kennedy, his successor in the White House would continue those ambitions in Asia, as he attempted to stave off Soviet influence in Cuba. After JFK’s untimely death in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson’s CIA unleashed a bombing campaign that would alter Laos’ future for easily the next 150 years, according to UXO Laos and other munitions experts. 

secret war - Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy (in rocking chair) meets with Prime Minister of Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma; U.S. State Department interpreter, Edmund S. Glenn, stands in center. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. 27 July 1962 – courtesy JFK Presidential Library

How you ask? Because from 1964 to 1973, the CIA dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos, day and night, averaging a flyover of this neutral country every eight minutes. Eight minutes. Can you take a shower in 8-minutes? Can you get your Starbucks order in 8-minutes? Can you drive to your local Walmart in 8-minutes? Let those eight minutes sink in. Two million tons of ordnance makes Laos the most heavily bombed nation on Earth. The bombs that rained down on the Lao people for nearly a decade straight outnumbers that of the whole used during World War II. 

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American B-52 drops bombs over Laos 1967 Courtesy Smithsonian Institute

For nearly a decade, the US Air Force buzzed Lao skies with B-52s and AC-130s filled to the brim with now UN-banned cluster bombs. Hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians were killed during that time, 98% of those killed were innocent civilians, to be exact. My own family were among the dead. My father’s youngest brother, just 7-years old at the time, was a victim of one of the eight-minute drops, while his dad died from an unexploded ordnance as he went to the well to get water for his family. This is how the US lived up to the Geneva Peace Accords of 1962. This is how four consecutive US presidents were complicit in war crimes. Yet, has anybody pressed the United Nations to label the American presidents ‘war criminals’? No. Never. 

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Laos bomb recovery; Courtesy and date unknown

The United States has never faced such dubious titles or designations, never faced sanctions by the global community, and never gone back to Laos to clean up the mess it has left for generations of Lao people and still – those generations to come. It’s estimated that about one-third of all those cluster bombs dropped on Laos are still unexploded, buried in the fertile land of my forefathers, who still largely rely on farming to feed their families. The Secret War has left nearly 40% of agricultural Laos – hazardous and littered with munitions that still explode today, killing at least one Lao citizen per day – and maiming mostly children who mistake the cluster bombs as balls when they play in the fields. This is the legacy the US has left behind in Laos, all in an effort to “stamp out Communism.” 

secret war - Laos Bombies
A Lao boy holds a UXO cluster bomb

But today, President Joe Biden has the gall to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal when the men who sat in the Oval Office before him undoubtedly earned that designation. Will Biden do what’s right by the Lao people and posthumously denounce his predecessors? Is America not guilty of war crimes in Laos and actions worthy of being suspended from the UNHRC? Will Biden pay attention to the ravages of The Secret War that continues in 2022 and make things right by sending as much aid to Laos as he’s done for Ukraine? This is 60+ years on from the US intervention in Laos. Biden has three more years left in office to do so. 

Manila Chan

Manila Chan is the founder of Slanted Media and an internationally recognized TV news anchor. Her work spans across all platforms; print, radio, television, streaming, and podcasting. She is passionate about US foreign policy and the Asian-American experience. Manila’s career has taken her around the globe, interviewing world and industry leaders, and sharing one-of-a-kind stories from the ground.

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