How one feels about what one is reading can differ depending on where and when. Reading these essays while boarding a flight from Tokyo, transiting Hanoi and then arriving in Laos — all places that have been subjected to extensive U.S. bombing — is to feel the long arm of history tug at one’s conscience.

Some monks I met in Luang Prabang (Laos) recounted a recent journey to the Plain of Jars, a World Heritage sight. They said there are carefully marked paths with signs warning not to wander off because of unexploded ordnance in the area — cluster bombs dropped by the United States on a neutral country in a secret war that never happened. Estimates suggest that this insidious legacy of the bombings, which ended in the 1970s, has resulted in more than 20,000 Laotian casualties including many maimed children.

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