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“A Lake of Blood and Destruction” – The Voices We Never Hear From America's Wars

Branfman's book "Voices From The Plain Of Jars: Life Under An Air War" brings us face to face with the almost unimaginable atrocities committed by the U.S. Military.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Harper & Row

 
 
 
 

Voices From The Plain Of Jars: Life Under An Air War, “arguably the most important single book to emerge from the Vietnam war” according to historian Alfred McCoy, has just been  reissued by University of Wisconsin press. The book is the only one of 30,000 Vietnam-era books written by Indochinese villagers, who comprised most of the population, suffered most, and were heard from least. But though unique, these voices also speak today for the countless unseen civilian victims of U.S. war-making in the Muslim World and beyond, and graphically describe the human consequences of U.S. Executive Secret war-making executed by  Henry Kissinger from 1969 until 1975, and the dominant mode of U.S. warfare today.

Below please find excerpts from writings by Lao villagers from the Plain of Jars in northern Laos, who were bombed for 5 years from 1964 to 1969. The bombing,  which eradicated the 700 year old civilization and turned the survivors into penniless refugees, was quadrupled after a November 1968 U.S. bombing halt over North Vietnam. It leveled every village and burned, buried alive, maimed and drove underground tens of thousands of civilians, where they lived like animals until evacuated to refugee camps in the capital city of Vientiane where they wrote this material.

When asked to explain the U.S. bombing escalation, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do." (1)

N.Y. Times columnist Anthony Lewis has written, “the most appalling episode of lawless cruelty in American history (is) the bombing of Laos (and is) described without rancor—almost unbearably so—in a small book that will go down as a classic. It is "Voices From the Plain of Jars," ... in which the villagers of Laos themselves describe what the bombers did to their civilization. No American should be able to read that book without weeping at his country's arrogance.” (2)

The following are excerpts from the book The Plain of Jars: Life Under An Air War. This material was  collected by Fred Branfman, who lived in Laos from 1967-71, and adds an Afterword to the villagers’ writings below.  (Harper & Row, 1972).

1. "A Life Whose Only Value Was Death,” by a Thirty-three-year-old Woman

A life whose only value was death. I saw this in the village of my birth, as every day and every night the planes came to drop bombs on us. We lived in holes to protect our lives. There were bombs of many kinds, as in this picture I have drawn. It is not beautiful but it shows the shooting and death from the planes, and the destruction of the bombs. This kind of bomb would explode in the air and was much more dangerous than other ones. I saw my cousin die in the field of death. My heart was most disturbed and my voice called out loudly as I ran to the houses. Thus, I saw life and death for the people on account of the war of many airplanes in the region of Xieng Khouang. Until there were no houses at all. And the cows and buffalo were dead. Until everything was leveled and you could see only the red, red ground. I think of this time and still I am afraid.

2. "Have Pity On The Victims Of The War!" by a thirty-year-old woman

There was danger as the war came closer, like the sound of bombs or shells or the airplanes which constantly made a terrible noise in the sky and led me to be terribly, terribly afraid of dying. At that time, our lives became like those of animals desperately trying to escape their hunters. Our lives were confided to the Lord Buddha. No matter when, all we did was to pray to the Lord to save our lives. We didn't know how long we would stay alive. When looking at the faces of my children who were losing the so very precious happiness of childhood, as each and every day we would seek escape somewhere in the forest, I would grow in creasingly miserable because of the war and hate it more and more.