Laos: The Not So Secret War

Map of bombing record in Laos (from organization UXO Lao)

Below is a clip of a 1970 CBS  exposé of the war in Laos, which had only become known to the American public  shortly before it was aired.

I had not seen most of this footage before, and find it pretty riveting. At the time this was shown, the war in Laos really was still pretty much a ‘secret war’ because of the 1962 Geneva Accords which declared Laos to be neutral and largely off-limits to foreign interference, specifically foreign troops. Of course, that wasn’t quite the way things played out. There are some really interesting tidbits of history in there that video conveys in a way that merely reading about history cannot, such as:

  • JFK’s pronunciation of Laos (rhymes with ‘chaos’).
  • Footage of refugees and of the Hmong general Vang Pao (probably at Long Chieng).
  • Hearing Hmong referred to by the anachronistic term ‘Meo.’
  • U.S. Ambassador C. McMurtrie Godley referring to the bombing of Laos as ‘armed reconnaisance.’
  • Laotian prime minister Souvanna Phouma giving an interview in French and acknowledging his reliance on American military support against North Vietnam, but refusing to comment on the CIA.

Laos has always been in the shadow of its larger neighbor, Vietnam, but it really was more than a sideshow in the Second Indochina War. To various American political figures, Laos meant different things in the global campaign against Communism. William Sullivan, one of the U.S. Ambassadors to Laos, referred to the war in northern Laos as the “other war,” separate from operations in Cambodia and South Vietnam (Branfman, 1972: 6), while Secretary of State Dean Rusk referred to Laos as “only the wart on the hog of Vietnam” (Stuart-Fox, 1997: 136). However, to President Dwight Eisenhower, Laos was the key “domino” in Southeast Asia because of its geographical position (Conboy, 1995). Eisenhower feared that were Laos to fall to communism, then South Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and possibly even Indonesia and India would soon follow. His outlook was inherited by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, translating into nearly two decades of American military intervention in Laos.

Of course, the effects of the war are still being felt to the present day.  (See here and here).

Related posts

(March 11, 2011) Reconciliation, Biology, and the Second Indochina War

(Nov 8, 2010) Meeting to Ban Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Laos

(April 30, 2010) Funding UXO Removal in Laos

(Feb 24, 2010) The Lingering Effects of the War in Laos


Branfman F. 1972. Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Conboy K. 1995.  Shadow War: the CIA’s Secret War in Laos. Boulder, Co: Paladin Press.

Stuart-Fox M. 1997. A History of Laos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3 thoughts on “Laos: The Not So Secret War

  1. Pingback: Meeting to Ban Cluster Munitions, Vientiane Laos « Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

  2. Hi Dr. Clarkin,

    I realize this was posted a couple years ago but I hope you will see my comment in the next couple days. My name is Sophia and I am a high school student, and I am doing a year long project on refugees in Minnesota (ending this May). As part of my project, I focused on the Hmong. Could I use the map you provided as part of my presentation? Also, would you mind if I printed your blog post out and provided it to other students? I think it is a great quick summary of what was going on at the time.


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