Vietnam-War Cluster Bomb Warranties – On Bombs Dropped In Laos?
Above Photo: Vietnam War Cluster Bomb Warranty still attached to a bomb casing in Pa-Am Village, Attapeu, Laos.
Being a lawyer, the idea of a warranty on a Vietnam War-era cluster bomb seems preposterous, yet that’s what I discovered on a cluster bomb casing in the village of Pa-Am on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Attapeu Province, where part of my novel, BACK, is set.
There I found a cluster bomb casing fence surrounding a Russian-built Surface to Air missile which had originally protected an important section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail which ran past a nearby village. During the Vietnam War the whole area had been dense jungle, but while the jungle has vanished, the missile remains a thankfully-unscrapped piece of Laos’ war history.
On one of the cluster bomb casings, I saw a warranty from the manufacturer. It reads, “WARRANTY. This item warranted for 120 days. Warranty terminates 9/71.”
So let me get this straight. These cluster bombs, which contained hundreds of cluster bomblets, designed to be showered over enemy soldiers, killing as many of them as possible, were warranted, but for what exactly?
Presumably that the weapons would do what they were supposed to do, namely deliver the bomblets, which would then explode on impact? That was the whole reason for buying them, surely? To kill the enemy in battle, at the time they were dropped.
Given an estimated 30% of these things didn’t explode on impact, but still litter the Laotian countryside, killing and maiming farmers and children, does the expiry of the warranty preclude any other form of legal redress against the manufacturers, given they clearly saw themselves as entering into some kind of legal relationship with somebody in the manufacture and supply of these cluster bombs.
There’s a serious point to this.
Ignoring the other ordnance dumped by the North Vietnamese Army and the US’s allies in Laos, if every cluster bomblet and every aeroplane bomb dropped on Laos had exploded on impact during the war, as they were presumably designed and intended to do, when they were purchased from their manufacturers, there wouldn’t be any modern-day issues regarding the killing and maiming of civilians in Laos from still-unexploded plane-dropped munitions.
Surely the manufacturers of these munitions should be held accountable? Given the nature of the cluster bomb beast, shouldn’t the manufacturers be held under a strict duty of care to non-combatants, decades later, if their products are still killing people? They shouldn’t have been negligently and defectively manufactured in the first place.
In litigation-loving America, where product liability is such a big issue, the fact that manufacturers of weapons can sell the army such badly defective products and get away with it seems unacceptable to me, especially given the ongoing bad publicity the US gets from modern-day deaths and injuries caused by UXO in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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