Christine Boyle’s store, Queen Design Lao, offers rings, necklaces and pendants to shoppers along Luang Prabang’s quaint peninsula. Most of the trinkets resemble normal jewelry, but the miniature cluster bombs on some chains in the friendly Aussie’s shop are less subtle.
Known as “peace jewelry,” the necklaces sport metal harvested from unexploded bombs, a reminder of how nearly a half-century ago, Laos became the most-bombed country in history during a “secret war” that lasted more than a decade. The American public was kept in the dark as the U.S. Air Force and CIA fought in Vietnam’s neighbor, where reverberations are still felt today in the quiet countryside.
This September, Barack Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit Laos, now that America has started to commit more money to cleaning up the bombs that make large swaths of the 7-million-strong landlocked country dangerous to tread.
Several decades ago, another young president took office with Laos on his mind. The day before John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration, the outgoing president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, urged him to focus on Laos as a way to stop communism’s spread, telling him “Laos [was] the key to the entire area of Southeast Asia.”
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