Land where the earth is wait­ing to ex­plode

Bomb Har­vest 8.35pm, ABC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

LAOS was smashed by an al­most in­ces­sant hail of bombs dur­ing the Viet­nam War. Amer­i­can B52s and other air­craft flew 580,000 bomb­ing mis­sions into Laos to dis­rupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, which stretched from North Viet­nam through Laos into South Viet­nam.

Each of th­ese sor­ties un­loaded an av­er­age of 100 bombs on the farms and vil­lages of Laos. At a con­ser­va­tive guess, 58 mil­lion bombs were dropped, mak­ing it eas­ily the most bombed coun­try on earth. Roughly one- third of the bombs failed to ex­plode, leav­ing un­told tonnes of live ord­nance sit­ting in Lao­tian soil, ready to blow off the limbs of farm­ers and in­quis­i­tive chil­dren.

An un­flap­pable Aus­tralian Army­trained bomb dis­posal ex­pert, Laith Stevens, has set up shop in Laos, where he works de­fus­ing bombs and train­ing a corps of young Lao­tians in the tech­niques of bomb dis­posal.

This ABC doc­u­men­tary fea­tures Stevens ex­plain­ing that a sin­gle wrong move with the an­cient but still deadly bombs could re­duce him to ‘‘ red mist’’. Even so, he ap­par­ently hopes to stay in Laos clear­ing ord­nance for the rest of his life, lux­u­ri­at­ing in the de­lights of lizard and bat for din­ner, and cold- wa­ter ( and re­mark­ably pub­lic) ablu­tions.

One of three brothers from the NSW cen­tral coast ( all bomb dis­posal ex­perts in one way or an­other; pity their poor mother), Stevens is an or­di­nary bloke, apart from his affin­ity for high ex­plo­sives and his de­sire to live in In­dochina.

In this doc­u­men­tary, he helps train a band of young Lao to dis­man­tle a se­ries of bombs near the Viet­nam border. A huge rust­ing rocket is stuck in the dirt, its fins clearly vis­i­ble. What to do? It is pos­si­bly live? Can it po­ten­tially de­stroy much of the sur­round­ing area?

Stevens and his team ex­am­ine var­i­ous meth­ods, in­clud­ing de­fus­ing the bomb be­fore tak­ing it to a range to be blown up, and det­o­nat­ing it on site. How­ever it’s done, the process is one of inch­ing ter­ror; a false move and the long dor­mant bomb could ex­plode, tak­ing the team with it.

As an ef­fec­tive jux­ta­po­si­tion, the doc­u­men­tary uses re­mark­able his­tor­i­cal footage of an eerie prayer meet­ing be­fore a Viet­nam War bomb­ing foray, with clean- cut young Amer­i­can pi­lots ask­ing God for suc­cess.

There is also footage of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon talk­ing about Laos and the war, mis­pro­nounc­ing the name and blus­ter­ing. Stevens points out that be­cause the bomb­ing of Laos was covert, the rules didn’t ap­ply.

In Viet­nam, for in­stance, the pi­lots could not bomb within a cer­tain dis­tance of a tem­ple. In Laos, it was a free- for- all of death and de­struc­tion.

Sian Pow­ell

De­fus­ing dan­ger: Laith Stevens with two of his trainees

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.