March 2010 • Back in the 1960s and '70s, the U.S. dropped about 2 million tons of bombs on Laos in what is now known as the Secret War. The goal: to prevent the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. The result: Laos has been a communist state for 35 years. The area around Vieng Xai took a particularly hard pounding, forcing the party leadership and 20,000 people to hide for 9 years in a network of limestone caves. The caves had schools, a large theater, and an army barracks, and the people did their farming at night to avoid air assaults. Visiting Vieng Xai was a sobering experience, not least because nobody held it against me that I'm an American. I did some volunteer teaching at a local ESL school, and roped in some girls from Surrey, England, to help out.
Civil defense, circa 1965
Cave printing press
Cave air filtration system for gas attack
Pheth, Make, and Noy
Surrey Girls plus friends