Half a century after the CIA's Secret War in Laos—the largest bombing campaign in history—explosive remnants of war continue to be part of people's everyday lives. In Bomb Children Leah Zani offers a perceptive analysis of the long-term, often subtle, and unintended effects of massive air warfare. Zani traces the sociocultural impact of cluster submunitions—known in Laos as “bomb children”—through stories of explosives clearance technicians and others living and working in these old air strike zones. Zani presents her ethnography alongside poetry written in the field, crafting a startlingly beautiful analysis of state terror, authoritarian revival, rapid development, and ecological contamination. In so doing, she proposes that postwar zones are their own cultural and area studies, offering new ways to understand the parallel relationship between ongoing war violence and postwar revival.
For decades, large dam projects have been undertaken by both nations and international agencies with the aim of doing good: preventing floods, bringing electricity to rural populations, producing revenues for poor countries, and more. But time after time, the social, economic, and environmental costs have outweighed the benefits of the dams, sometimes to a disastrous degree. In this volume, a diverse group of experts—involved for years with the Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos—issue an urgent call for critical reassessment of the approach to, and rationale for, these kinds of large infrastructure projects in developing countries.
In the 2000s, as the World Bank was reeling from revelations of past hydropower failures, it nonetheless promoted the enormous Nam Theun 2 project. NT2, the Bank believed, offered a new, wiser model of dam development that would alleviate poverty, protect the environment, engage locally affected people in a transparent fashion, and stimulate political transformation. This was a tall order. For the first time, this book shows in detail why, despite assertions of success from the World Bank and other agencies involved in the project, the dam's true story has been one of substantial loss for affected villagers and the regional environment. Nam Theun 2 is an important case study that illustrates much broader problems of global development policy.
In this important new book, High argues that poverty reduction policies are formulated and implemented in fields of desire. Drawing on psychoanalytic understandings of desire, she shows that such programs circulate around the question of what is lacking. Far from rational responses to measures of need, then, the politics of poverty are unconscious, culturally expressed, mutually contradictory, and sometimes contrary to self-interest.
Based on long-term fieldwork in a Lao village that has been the subject of multiple poverty reduction and development programs, High’s account looks at implementation on the ground. While these efforts were laudable in their aims of reducing poverty, they often failed to achieve their objectives. Local people received them with suspicion and disillusionment. Nevertheless, poverty reduction policies continued to be renewed by planners and even desired locally. High relates this to the force of aspirations among rural Lao, ambivalent understandings of power and the “post-rebellious” moment in contemporary Laos.
This collection of evocative personal testimonies by three generations of Hmong refugees is the first to describe their lives in Laos as slash-and-burn farmers, as refugees after a Communist government came to power in 1975, and as immigrants in the United States. Reflecting on the homes left behind, their narratives chronicle the difficulties of forging a new identity.
From Jou Yee Xiong's Life Story: "I stopped teaching my sons many of the Hmong ways because I felt my ancestors and I had suffered enough already. I thought that teaching my children the old ways would only place a burden on them."
From Ka Pao Xiong's (Jou Yee Xiong's son) Life Story: "It has been very difficult for us to adapt because we had no professions or trades and we suffered from culture shock. Here in America, both the husband and wife must work simultaneously to earn enough money to live on. Many of our children are ignorant of the Hmong way of life…. Even the old people are forgetting about their life in Laos, as they enjoy the prosperity and good life in America."
From Xang Mao Xiong's Life Story: "When the Communists took over Laos and General Vang Pao fled with his family, we, too, decided to leave. Not only my family, but thousands of Hmong tried to flee. I rented a car for thirty thousand Laotian dollars, and it took us to Nasu…. We felt compelled to leave because many of us had been connected to the CIA…. Thousands of Hmong were traveling on foot. Along the way, many of them were shot and killed by Communist soldiers. We witnessed a bloody massacre of civilians."
From Vue Vang's Life Story: "Life was so hard in the [Thai refugee] camp that when we found out we could go to the United States, we did not hesitate to grasp the chance. We knew that were we to remain in the camp, there would be no hope for a better future. We would not be able to offer our children anything better than a life of perpetual poverty and anguish."
During the Vietnam War the United States government waged a massive, secret air war in neighboring Laos. Two million tons of bombs were dropped on one million people. Fred Branfman, an educational advisor living in Laos at the time, interviewed over 1,000 Laotian survivors. Shocked by what he heard and saw, he urged them to record their experiences in essays, poems, and pictures. Voices from the Plain of Jars was the result of that effort.
When first published in 1972, this book was instrumental in exposing the bombing. In this expanded edition, Branfman follows the story forward in time, describing the hardships that Laotians faced after the war when they returned to find their farm fields littered with cluster munitions—explosives that continue to maim and kill today.