National Geographic Explorer
Just back from the experience of a lifetime. Nat Geo filmed me (and Me and My Mirror) as the central character in a 1 hour documentary on the tragic impact of UXO (unexploded ordnance ie: cluster bombs etc). Cluster bombs are among the ‘dirtiest’ munitions in the world; they fall out of the sky at random, are meant to explode on impact, are often filled with shrapnel and are designed to kill, or at least maim. In Lao almost 100% of the victims were innocent civilians.
Some Stats on America’s bombing of Lao:
- It was a ‘secret war’; most Americans, certainly the general public, were unaware of what their government was doing
- They carried out this atrocity for a full 9 years, from ’64 thru to ‘73
- In over 580,000 bombing missions they dropped over 2 million tons of munitions on a fundamentally neutral country that was also essentially uninvolved in the Vietnam aggression
- The bombing was the equivalent of one B-52-load of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hrs/day, for 9 years. More bombs than they dropped in Germany and Japan combined during WWII
- Over ½ of the victims of cluster munitions worldwide are Lao.
It goes on and on. An important fact too, and something I only really realized (this was my 2nd work-trip there) is that cluster munitions (the Lao call them ‘Bombies’) were nowhere near the only thing they dropped. Everywhere in the countryside you find de-fused (one hopes) collections of: 500, 750, even 2000 pound bombs, and tons of other aerial military hardware fell from the sky. There is also a horrifying variety of ground munitions too, some of which is still live: rockets and mortars, landmines, hand-grenades etc. The US, in their wisdom conducted a proxy ground war by hiring mercenary Mong Lao soldiers to fight the communist ‘Pathet Lao’.
So all this evil stuff is still out there – some estimate that up to 1/3rd of the explosives did NOT detonate at the time. People still find it the hard way every year; very often children because they play with it; the bombies come in all shapes and sizes but nefariously look like toys. Lao has come a long way but is still one of the poorest countries on Earth, so other victims -the poor – include scrap-metal hunters and villages trying to re-use the ordnance for ‘dynamite fishing’.
Many, many of the victims – usually people on the perimeter of a detonation, the central figures get wasted – become amputees; they lose limbs.
Enter Me and My Mirror and enter National Geographic Explorer; it was a perfect marriage. I was keen to treat some people and draw attention to my work and its validity and Nat Geo wanted to draw America and the rest of the world’s attention to the terror of what was done and what continues to happen; the ‘Legacy of the Secret War’, so-to-speak.
I’ll post many more photos and anecdotes but I gotta hop just now and before that I need to thank – over and over – the fine people from Nat Geo: the producers (thanks Lucy and Leila!), the head camera dude (thanks Dane), the #2 camera (thanks Joe!), and the sound-guy, Mike the guy with the mike: Thanks. These guys are, after all, the best in the business and I am sure that the end result will be both beautiful and thought-provoking. There were an awful lot of locals who provided indispensable help too; both Lao guys (+ 1 super-beautiful girl) and ‘falangs’ or white dudes too. Thanks so very much to you all.
It really was the experience of a lifetime and I don’t expect an outfit of this caliber to call again anytime soon.
Lots more to come, including an air-date for the film.
Yours as ever, stephen