Today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a historic visit to Laos. It was the first visit there by a US Secretary of State since John Foster Dulles in 1955. It was interesting to me that last week Secretary Clinton was forced to apologize to Pakistan for killing scores of innocent civilians. This was the price of reopening less expensive supply routes into Afghanistan.
That should have been a mere warm-up for today’s visit! Today she had to confront 40 years of death and suffering in Laos at the hands of US bombers. During the Vietnam War there was a concern that neighboring Laos could fall to the communists so in order to contain North Vietnamese efforts, the US dropped a plane-load of bombs on Laos every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years. It is estimated that nearly a quarter of those bombs failed to explode. This “unexploded ordnance” continues to take lives and maim innocent Laotians today.
I recently had the great fortune to attend a fundraiser for an organization called Legacies of War. This group has worked tirelessly to raise awareness and money to clear these deadly threats from the countryside of Laos.
A friend of mine is on the Board of Directors and a couple weeks ago at his request I attended this fundraiser. It was a small gathering of maybe 50 people and the speakers included two congressmen, Mike Honda (CA) and Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa), two former Ambassadors to Laos Douglas Harwick and Patricia Haslach, and Senator Al Franken (MN).
I often joke that though I have lived in the Washington, DC area for almost 30 years, I have never met even a Congressional Page! That’s not completely true–my own congressman, Jim Moran of VA is often seen in Arlington–but it’s not exactly the east coast version of Hollywood here. In fact I only recognized Al Franken because he used to appear on Saturday Night Live!
I also met Channapha Khamvongsa, the Executive Director of Legacies of War. She was easily the most charming of the group!
It didn’t feel like a fundraiser because there was amazing Laotian food there, and their own beer, Beerlao! The food was fabulous! It was somewhat like Thai food, and something like Vietnamese food, but not exactly like either. There was a definite tropical component and it had the tell-tale Asian palate of hitting every taste bud at the same time, sweet, salty, sour, etc. One impressive fact about the food that evening was that it had been prepared by a favorite local restaurant of mine, Policy. They worked with some Laotian chefs to create this gorgeous and delicious feast!
After the speakers there was music and traditional Laotian dancing.
It was a departure from my normal suburban life. Though I live 5 miles from the US Capitol, the world of Capitol Hill is as remote to me as it would be for someone living in California. This, however, was a worthwhile cause and an enjoyable evening.
I applaud Secretary Clinton for her visit and her suggestion that the United States must do more to help this poor nation. I urge you to support this modest charity. Visit their website, “like” them on Facebook, and help spread awareness through your own social media outlets. You can influence your congressmen and senators. Everyday innocent children are being harmed and your awareness and help can make a difference!