Movie Review: Bombies

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
BOMBIES is an hour-long educational documentary film about the estimated 10-30 million unexploded cluster bombs in Laos, leftover from the secret war America waged on the tiny Southeast Asian country. BOMBIES has won over 20 awards. It is written, directed and produced by notable documentary filmmaker, Jack Silberman who has won several awards for his nature, wildlife conservation and international development films, and is now working on one film about child soldiers and another about the so-called "Refuse-niks," the Israeli soldiers who refuse to oppress or use force with Palestinians.

In BOMBIES Silberman takes us to the beautiful serene-looking mountain villages in Laos showing us what happens on the other side of the gun. He uses archival footage of the original bombing raids, interviews with villagers, footage of child accident victims he saw while he was there filming, and interviews with humanitarian aid workers. He interviews Rae McGrath, co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace prize and founder of the British humanitarian organization Mines Advisory Group or MAG, that is conducting mine clearance in Laos.

Between 1964 and 1973 the United States conducted a secret war, dropping over two million tons of ordnance on Laos. American planes delivered the equivalent of a B-52 planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. This was in violation of the Geneva Accords, which the U.S. signed in 1962. Led by President Kennedy, the CIA, and the Air Force, it was conducted without the knowledge of the American people or the Congress. The stated purpose of the bombing was to deter communism in northeast Laos, and to block Vietnamese use of the Ho Chi Minh trail in the southeast.

Many bombs didn’t explode, especially the newly developed bomblets called "cluster bombs." A large bombshell holds about 670 of the bomblets; it opens in mid-air, and each of those contains 300 ball bearings. Unlike landmines that are meant to maim, cluster bombs are designed to kill. It is estimated that 90 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos. About 10 – 30% fail to explode, leaving millions of unexploded bombs scattered across the land, as treacherous as when they fell thirty years before. Since the secret war ended more than 12,000 people have been killed or injured by cluster bombs.

Called “bombies” by Laotians, cluster bombs litter schoolyards, rice paddies, fields, and are even found in the clefts of bamboo trees. Farmers, scrap metal collectors and children are the main victims of the deadly appealing- looking orbs. There are several types of cluster bombs; they are all about the size of tennis balls and sometimes look like a fruit or a toy.

BOMBIES is on my list of documentary films that American voters should see to be informed about what villagers are dealing with every day as a result of American activities, and also to be informed about the realities of what bombs do to civilians, as we continue to drop them in Iraq and Afghanistan. Former war correspondent for the "N.Y. Times," Chris Hedges says that in the kinds of wars we fight today, civilians are the primary victims, and that the only way to understand war is to understand it through the eyes of the victims. "Civilians are pawns that are seen as collateral." (From the documentary film “Voices in Wartime.”)

The U.S. is still dropping cluster bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 50 international organizations are calling for a moratorium on the use of cluster bombs. Many believe that their impact on civilians is unacceptable and a breach of international humanitarian law.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rae McGrath says about the Laos bombing, “There had been a crime perpetrated against those people that was comparable in my mind to some of the greatest war crimes of all time…This was a wrong against humanity.”

You can get more information about the film on the BOMBIES website, which you can google, or on Bullfrog Films where BOMBIES is available for rent or purchase.

In San Francisco this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
Documentary; Directed by Jack Silberman