Photo: Jan Folsom
Legacies Library is a collection of books, films, articles, and oral histories vetted by Legacies of War that tells the story of the American bombing of Laos (1964-1973) and its neighbors in Vietnam and Cambodia. Legacies Library offers original programming including film screenings and author interviews that tell the living story of The American Secret War in Laos–ensuring it’s no longer a footnote in American history.
The works below have been selected by the staff and trustees of Legacies of War. We are Lao-Americans, American veterans, diplomats, and members of the diaspora from the Secret War. Though we come from diverse backgrounds, we share a commitment to providing accurate and insightful resources on the legacy of The American Secret War in Laos.
History of The American Secret War in Laos
From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2.5M tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing sorties—equal to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. The bombings were part of the American Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Laotian civilians during the nine-year period.
Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Over 25,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing ceased. The wounds of war are not only felt in Laos. When the Americans withdrew from Laos in 1973, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country, and many of them ultimately resettled in the United States.
Here are some other startling facts about the U.S. bombing of Laos and its tragic aftermath:
Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the American Secret War in Laos ; up to 80 million did not detonate.
Over 5 decades on, less than 10% of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos.
Each year there are now just under 50 new casualties in Laos, down from 310 in 2008. Close to 60% of the accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children.
Between 1993 and 2016, the U.S. contributed on average $4.9M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $16M per day (in 2023 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.
In just ten days of bombing Laos, the U.S. spent $130M (in 2013 dollars), or more than it has spent in clean up over the past 24 years ($118M).