The University of Wisconsin Press

History / Politics / Vietnam War

Voices from the Plain of Jars
Life under an Air War
Second Edition

Edited by Fred Branfman with essays and drawings by Laotian villagers
Foreword by Alfred W. McCoy

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul,
and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

“A classic. . . . No American should be able to read [this book] without weeping at his country’s arrogance.”
—Anthony Lewis, New York Times

During the Vietnam War the United States government waged a massive, secret air war in neighboring Laos. Fred Branfman, an educational advisor living in Laos at the time, interviewed over 1,000 Laotian survivors. Shocked by what he heard and saw, he urged them to record their experiences in essays, poems, and pictures. Voices from the Plain of Jars was the result of that effort.

When first published in 1972, this book was instrumental in exposing the bombing. In this expanded edition, Branfman follows the story forward in time, describing the hardships that Laotians faced after the war when they returned to find their farm fields littered with cluster munitions—explosives that continue to maim and kill today.

“Today, the significance of this book’s message has, if anything, increased. As Fred Branfman predicted with uncommon prescience, the massive U.S. bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War marked the advent of a new kind of warfare—automated, aerial, and secret—that is just now emerging as the dominant means of projecting U.S. power worldwide.”
—Alfred W. McCoy, author of Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation

Fred Branfman
(1942–2014) was a writer and activist on issues of peace and climate change who lived in Santa Barbara, California, and in Budapest.

After his passing, the New York Times published an extended obituary reflecting upon the role of this book in his life's work as a peace activist.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Of Related Interest:
The cover of Viet Nam has the title in yellow gold on a field of red, under that, an old map of a part of Viet Nam.Viêt Nam
Borderless Histories
Edited by Nhung Tuyet Tran and Anthony Reid

"Vitally important not only for Vietnamese studies, but also for broader efforts in Southeast Asian studies to recover the pluralities and fluidities of the past. This volume makes a convincing case for the emergence of a real generational and analytical shift in the field."—Mark Philip Bradley, Northwestern University


May 2013
LC: 2012032677 DS
196 pp.   5 1/2 x 8 1/4  
34 b/w illus.

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ISBN 978-0-299-29224-9
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“[In Laos,] where a right-wing government installed by the CIA faced a rebellion, one of the most beautiful areas in the world, the Plain of Jars, was being destroyed by bombing. This was not reported by the government or the press, but an American who lived in Laos, Fred Branfman, told the story in his book Voices from the Plain of Jars.”
—Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

“In this small, shattering book we hear—as we are so rarely able to do—the voices of Asian peasants describing what we can barely begin to imagine.”
—Gloria Emerson,
New York Review of Books

Prior edition: Harper & Row USA, 1972, Paper ISBN 0-060-90300-7

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