"They will beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
Nor will they train for war anymore"
While visiting Vang Vieng, Laos, I had the opportunity to visit Elephant Cave, and I was blessed with a lesson of peace. All of my Catholic/Jesuit/Karios Community friends are well familiar with the verse above, and this could not be a more beautiful example of peacemaking and turning "swords into plowshares" - or in this case - bombs into bells.
I would dare to say that 99% of Americans could not point to Laos on a map. (Admittedly, I probably couldn't have either a year ago). Probably even fewer know that we decimated this country with our bombs thirty years ago. During our secret bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, we dropped over 2 million tonnes of bombs on this tiny country - more than all of the bombs dropped during World War II altogether!!! making Laos
the most bombed country in the world.
(More bombed than Germany? Iraq? Vietnam? Yes. yes. yes.)
As if that wasn't enough horror, an estimated 30% of these bombs never exploded, and still lay silent in fields, awaiting a plow, farmer, or playing child to come along and knock them into explosion. Thousands of people die every year in Laos from "bombies" - unexploded bombs left from American raids. Farmers and families are starving to death because they cannot plant their fields out of fear of coming across a de-facto land mine and blowing up.
I don't feel like getting into the million other ways that we destroyed this country, because I never needed more reasons to be ashamed of American history to begin with. What did little Laos ever do to big America? (Nothing.) Why did we even do this in the first place? (Still not sure.) What are we doing now to fix these atrocities?? (Not much).
But this BELL - this beautiful bell. It's amazing to me how a community can come across such a symbol of American oppression and death to their own country and turn in into a musical instrument for their local temple. It is rung every morning and evening to call the monks to temple and prayer. This shell, just like the millions of other ones that kill children and farmers every day in Laos, was polished and painted and turned into something made for meditation, enlightenment, and peace. This sword that is now a plowshare sends a message of hope for the reconciliation of my own country's injustices on this small nation. A transformation from violence to harmony, and a lesson to be learned for everyone.
works cited/ read for yourself: