Bomb Children

Life in the Former Battlefields of Laos

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: 17 illustrations Published: August 2019

Author: Leah Zani

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Half a century after the CIA's Secret War in Laos—the largest bombing campaign in history—explosive remnants of war continue to be part of people's everyday lives. In Bomb Children Leah Zani offers a perceptive analysis of the long-term, often subtle, and unintended effects of massive air warfare. Zani traces the sociocultural impact of cluster submunitions—known in Laos as “bomb children”—through stories of explosives clearance technicians and others living and working in these old air strike zones. Zani presents her ethnography alongside poetry written in the field, crafting a startlingly beautiful analysis of state terror, authoritarian revival, rapid development, and ecological contamination. In so doing, she proposes that postwar zones are their own cultural and area studies, offering new ways to understand the parallel relationship between ongoing war violence and postwar revival.


Bomb Children is a riveting and reflexive account of war remains, military waste, and ‘development’ in contemporary Laos. As a document it bears/bares the hazardous conditions of its making, poised on the edge of blasts in the margins of safety zones that are never safe, in the collision and convergence between social ecologies riddled with minefields, and between remains and (economic) revival. Tacking between these ‘paired conceptual frames’ and a set of parallelisms that collapse war and peace and life and death, Bomb Children labors in an ethnographic mode that eschews the pornography of detailing mutilated bodies and instead looks to the war damages that are not over and that remain viscerally present in the everyday of people's lives.” — Ann Laura Stoler, author of Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times

Bomb Children is nothing short of breathtaking. Leah Zani presents little-known and incredibly important material on the everyday aftermath of the Secret War for the people of Laos. Her topic is not only ethnographically underexplored, but has been deliberately concealed by the U.S. government for decades. In Zani's hands, fieldwork becomes a flexible toolkit, selectively and strategically deployed to grasp the object of military wasting in a revealing and ethically responsible way.” — Joshua O. Reno, author of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill

"A thoroughly original work, Bomb Children is likely to become a useful reference for students and scholars alike, and indeed anyone interested in the social consequences of airstrikes. It is also an arresting personal account of the hazards of fieldwork in a highly monitored and dangerous country." — Erin LIn, Pacific Affairs

"The book is a compelling study of the multifarious hazards haunting former war landscapes in Laos and a fascinating literary project. As an innovative and creative reflection of anthropological methods and epistemologies, the book is an excellent contribution to the discipline." — Oliver Tappe, Sojourn


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Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Leah Zani is a Junior Fellow in the Social Science Research Network at the University of California, Irvine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Note on the Lao Language  ix
Fieldpoem 30: Postwar  1
Introduction: The Fruit Eaters  3
Fieldpoem 11: The Fruit Eaters  36
1. The Dragon and the River  37
Fieldpoem 15: "The Rice Is More Delicious after Bomb Clearance"  64
2. Ghost Mine  65
Fieldpoem 23: Blast Radius  97
3. Blast Radius  98
Fieldpoem 26: House Blessings  130
Conclusion: Phaseout  131
Fieldpoem 18: Children  149
Appendix: Notes on Fieldpoems  151
References  155
Index  165

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0485-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0422-6