US war in SE Asia remembered by Laos-Aussies

3 Nov 2013 – 7:08pm

US war in SE Asia remembered by Laos-Aussies

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By Julia Calixto

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the US bombing campaign in Laos, where more than 270 million cluster bombs were dropped during the Vietnam War.
But some young Laotians living in Australia fear their history will be lost, and are making efforts to find out more about America’s so-called ‘secret war’.
Laos is – per capita – the most heavily bombed country in the world. During America’s ‘Secret War’ from 1964 to 1973, the United States dropped hundreds of millions of cluster munitions on Laos in a covert mission to destroy North Vietnamese supply lines.
More bombs were dropped on Laos than all over Europe in World War Two.
But Australian NGO, Corner Link, says Laos is less known for its unexploded ordnances than its neighbour Cambodia.
An open forum was held by the organization to help raise public awareness of Laos and drew members from the Australian-Laos community.
“It was actually quite embarrassing that I didn’t know about this stuff a lot more than I should have”, said forum attendee, Danny Manich.
“Because it is my culture, it’s where I was born.’
Danny’s family migrated from Laos to Australia during the 1970s because of the Vietnam War, an experience he says many older Laotians still find it difficult to discuss.
That’s one of the reasons Laos-born Vicki Rattanavong and Parry Sanixay founded a young Laotian community group, Laos-Oz Foundation.
“For us it’s important, even though it’s happened in the past, to remind people that it has happened, to acknowledge it and move on” said Mr Sanixay.
Around 80 million bombs failed to detonate in Laos and about 50 million have not been found – posing a constant threat to farmers and children.
“For so many people, those wars are past history and they don’t understand what it’s like to be continuing to be a part of them as so many Laotian people are”, said Mike Sprang from NGO SafeGround.
Mr Sprang says he’d like to see a stronger push from the Australian government to stop the manufacturing of cluster bombs.
“It’s unfortunate that probably quite a large proportion of people who have a superannuation fund in Australia probably unwittingly supporting some of the companies that are still manufacturing those weapons.It’s disappointing to me that the cluster munitions treaty ratified by Australia doesn’t go nearly far enough to cover the matter of disinvestment”, said Mr Sprang.
And with yesterday’s closure of the Australian Agency for International Development, or AusAID, Parry Sanixay says they’re happy taking it upon themselves to help boost awareness.
“It’s all about sharing, it’s about letting people know what’s going on in Laos and definitely today’s topic it’s something we are keen to help share and promote.”











Thanks to Lai Saeng

Ho Chi Minh Trail

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail was not just one trail but a series of trails. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was used by the North Vietnamese as a route for its troops to get into the South. They also used the trail as a supply route – for weapons, food and equipment. The Ho Chin Minh Trail ran along the Laos/Cambodia and Vietnam borders and was dominated by jungles. In total the ‘trail’ was about 1,000 kilometres in length and consisted of many parts.


“There were thousands of trails, thousands of rest spots along the way where enemy troops could seek refuge and build up.” (M Maclear)


The ‘trail’ consisted of dummy routes that served the only purpose of confusing the Americans but was, in places, 80 kilometres (50 miles) wide. It is thought that up to 40,000 people were used to keep the route open. The natural environment gave the trail excellent cover as the jungle could provide as much as three canopies of tree cover, which disguised what was going on at ground level. The American response to this was to use defoliants – the most famous being Agent Orange – to kill off the greenery that gave cover to those using the trail. However, while large areas of jungle were effectively killed off, the task was too great and the Ho Chi Minh Trail was used for the duration of the war against the Americans in South Vietnam.


One way for the Americans to counter the Ho Chi Minh Trail was to build large bases near to it – Khe Sanh was one of these. From these large bases patrols were sent out in an effort to intercept anyone using the route. Regardless of this, it does seem that the task was simply too great for the Americans. Whereas the trail was based on deception and fluidity, the military bases built by the US were static. Therefore, once patrols left these bases they were by themselves. While they could be supported by air, there would always be a time delay between combat on the ground and the arrival of air support. By the very nature of guerrilla warfare, this gave the North Vietnamese the advantage as they had the ability to disappear into the jungle.


4 Comments to “US war in SE Asia remembered by Laos-Aussies”

  1. Ho-chi-minh-trail, “Drop Tank” , Along road 12 Southern Laos, discarded during the Vietnam war.

  2. The HCMT twists and turns below. To stay hidden from aerial observation, the North Vietnamese trailbuilders tied the tops of the trees together along both sides of the road. They also moved most of their supplies down the HCMT at night and ran their trucks without headlights.

  3. As fighting escalated, widespread aerial and artillery bombardment all over North Vietnam by the U.S. Air Force and Navy begin with Operation Rolling Thunder . In July 1967, Ho and most of the Politburo of Workers Party of Vietnam met in a high profile conference where they all concluded the war had fallen into a stalemate, since the United States Army presence forced the People’s Army of Vietnam to expend the majority of their resources maintaining the Hochiminh Trail instead of reinforcing their comrade’s ranks in the South. With Ho’s permission, the Viet Cong planned to execute the Tet Offensive to begin on 31 January 1968, gambling on taking the South by force and defeating the U.S. military. The offensive came at great cost and with heavy casualties on NLF’s political branches and armed forces. It appeared to Ho and to the rest of his government that the scope of the action had shocked the world, which had up until then been assured that the Communists were “on the ropes”. The overly positive spin that the U.S. military had been attempting to achieve for years came crashing down. The bombing of Northern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh trail was halted, and U.S and Vietnamese negotiators began to discuss how to end the war. From then on, Ho and his government’s strategy, based on the idea of “avoiding conventional warfare and facing the might of the U.S. Army, which would wear them down eventually, while merely prolonging the conflict would lead to eventual acceptance of Hanoi’s terms” materialized.

  4. Ho-chi-minh-trail, “Drop Tank” , Along road 12 Southern Laos, discarded during the Vietnam war.

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