The peace activist and author Fred Branfman has died of ALS at the age of 72. Branfman exposed the covert U.S. bombing of Laos. In the 1960s and 1970s, in what became the largest bombing campaign in history, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs on the small Southeast Asian country. Branfman interviewed refugees and helped illuminate their plight for other journalists and activists, including world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, who traveled to Laos in 1970. Speaking at Harvard University last year, Chomsky praised Branfman’s work.
Noam Chomsky: “He’s the person who worked for years, with enormous courage and effort, to try to expose what were called the 'secret wars.' The secret wars were perfectly public wars which the media were keeping secret, government. And Fred — this was in Laos — he finally did succeed in breaking through, and a tremendous exposure of huge wars that were going on.”
Branfman also worked in U.S. domestic politics, including as research director to California Gov. Jerry Brown during Brown’s earlier stint as governor in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Later in life, Branfman committed himself to advocating a new “human movement” against climate change and to cultivating what he called a “life-affirming awareness” of death. Last month, in his final article for the website Alternet, Branfman wrote about Israel’s assault on Gaza by directly addressing Israel’s supporters, asking, “How do you justify your support for mass misery inflicted on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians?” He continued: “I answered such questions for myself 45 years ago, when I discovered that civilians were well over 90 percent of the victims of U.S. leaders’ mass bombing of northern Laos. I concluded then that there is never any moral or legal justification for mass bombing or shelling of civilians. Period.” Branfman died last Wednesday in Budapest, Hungary, where he shared a home with his wife Zsuzsa. He was 72.