During the Vietnam war, the US military dropped more than 1.6 million tons of bombs on Laos. This was part of a failed attempt to keep communism at bay, and made Laos the most heavily bombed country in the world on a per capita basis.
To put that number into perspective, that’s a plane-load of bombs every eight minutes for nine full years. The US military dropped more bombs on Laos than it dropped on all of Europe during World War II. The really scary part is that around 30 percent of all that ammunition did not detonate, and they continue to detonate at unexpected places and times to this day.
With such a surplus of bombs laying around, the people of Laos decided to put the weapons of mass destruction to good use, turning them into things that could help the community.
The empty bomb casings that once contained deadly explosives are visible across the country in new forms. Some have been turned into hollowed out canoes and containers, while others prop up houses to avoid floods.
Photographer Mark Watson took a bicycle trip across the country, and was surprised to see the lethal devices being reused in extraordinary ways. Mark is quoted as saying “I became curious about the secret war legacy that was here. Scrap from such widespread bombing has been utilized in people’s homes and villages for everything from house foundations to planter boxes to buckets, cups and cowbells.”
“This photo is of local canoes that had been fabricated from war scrap. I spotted them as we cycled over a bridge above and decided to go down and investigate. I recognized them to have been the scattered long-range fuel tanks from American bombers. We started to see war scrap everywhere: shrapnel, bomb casings, cylinders from cluster bombs, and the fuel canisters”.
Mark saw many creative uses for these leftover reminders of the dark Vietnam war. The images he captured show all sorts of uses for the re-purposed shells, fuel tanks and shrapnel.
The bombs have been re-used as planters, water catchers, and even garden decorations.
They’ve even been re-purposed into cowbells.
As extraordinary as this display of re-purposing is, it’s also a sad reminder of how war has affected this region of the world. Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War, and up to 80 million did not detonate. To this day, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed. Each year, there are just under 50 casualties in Laos from these munitions. Close to 60% of the accidents caused by these bombs result in death, and 40% of the victims are children.
Laos may have re-purposed these weapons in incredible ways, but I hope to see a future where munitions aren’t used as everyday items; a world where weapons of mass destruction are no longer necessary.
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