Laos' Terrible Legacy
Although officially a neutral country, Laos was host to a secret and terrible
war between the USA and Vietnam. As a result, Laos earned the distinction of
being the most bombed country in the history of modern warfare.
The Secret War
The war in Laos was so secret that the country's name was never included in
any of the original US records; it was referred to as "the other theater".
Neutral Laos was off limits according to the Geneva agreement. As a workaround,
the US sent CIA agents and soldiers in under the guise of civilians; the air
raid missions were fought by men in cutoff shorts and cowboy hats.
The Vietnamese didn't bother to disguise their soldiers.
Armies, Opium Payrolls
The USA recruited 60,000 Hmong hill tribe villagers to fight in the war. These
soldiers were paid with special funds earned through CIA-supported opium trafficking.
The USA conducted over 10,000 missions during the nine-year war and dropped
over 1,000,000 bombs. This equated to one ton of explosives dropped for every
man, woman, and child living in Laos at the time.
Specific guidelines had to be adhered to during the Vietnam War. Called Rules
of Engagement (ROEs), these guidelines prohibited bombing within a certain distance
of temples and established policies toward civilians. In Laos, the ROEs went
out the window, and both sides were free to bomb whatever and whoever
The secret war in Laos remains the most costly operation ever conducted by
the USA. US taxpayers funded the nine-year war at a cost of $2 million per day!
A Strategic Loss
Despite their superior and plentiful firepower, the US-Hmong forces won few
victories in the nine-year war. They were outnumbered, out of their element,
There are huge swatches of North-Eastern Laos that are still bare from the defoliants
and herbicides used during the war. Parts of the countryside are so dimpled
and scarred from bombs that they resemble a lunar landscape.
There are also a vast number of US bombs and shells lying around the countryside.
The industrious Lao people have put many of these shells and casings to good
use as landscaping, building materials - even flower pots.
I'm not sensationalizing this history or jumping on any conspiratorial bandwagon.
The secret war is well documented. Nixon admitted to the operations once the
If you'd like to learn more about the secret war, try one of these books:
The Ravens: The Men Who Flew in America's Secret War in Laos by Christopher Robbins
Shadow War : The CIA's Secret War In Laos by Kenneth Conboy
Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos by Roger Warner
Posted on December
16, 2002 08:41 AM