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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.

Guerrilla 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.

Staggering Statistics
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.

Indiscriminate Bombing
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 – they liked.

Costly Devastation
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, and under-prepared.

Visible Remnants
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.

Further Reading
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 war concluded.

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


Comments (post your own below)

Very powerful and sobering.

Posted by: Danielle on December 16, 2002 10:26 AM

I'm very powerful when not sober.

-Peace Pughy Lewis.

Posted by: Matt J. on December 16, 2002 06:52 PM

Didn't I tell you Mueng Ngoi would be spot on chappy???

Posted by: Douglas on January 13, 2003 01:43 AM

"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." Thanks, we did not know about that ? and VN had bombs too? or just shells? and bullets?

Posted by: Do Trong Tan on February 26, 2003 08:03 PM

Was the 10 kilometer restriction in place in Laos?

Posted by: John Coffman on June 24, 2003 11:37 AM

One of the consequences of the war in Laos is that there are now thousands of Hmong tribespeople living in California and other places. I guess they were evacuated to the United States as part of a special deal.
I wonder if in the future there will be tens of thousands of Iraqi's living in America (now that Iraq is a colony of America, in a way.) There is always this kind of relationship between the occupier and the occupied. For example, Britain used to occupy India, but now Britain is awash with Indians and Indian restaurants (it is a good thing, I think.)
Maybe they should start handing out Green Cards to everybody in Iraq!

Posted by: robsul on February 24, 2004 10:34 AM

Ahem, "a secret and terrible war between the USA and Vietnam"?

No problem with the terribleness, but how about between the USA and NORTH Vietnam. There were two Vietnamese sides in that war, which is sort of forgotten nowadays. And both the US and NV forces were invaders in Laos. Washington and Hanoi took advantage of the weakness of the Laos state to carry their own war into that unfortunate country.

Posted by: Charles Seaman on March 26, 2004 12:48 AM

I've been researching several sites for my research on the Hmong people.

I'm part of the Stories of Service project and we're creating a documentary on the Hmong people. If is a non-profit educational project and we wanted to know if permission was okay to use some of the facts based from this site for our project.

Posted by: Suzanne Phengsy on July 26, 2004 11:32 AM

The documentary in discovery times about the RAVENS going back to Laos to meet the Hmong people was really really good for my father and all the people from his generation because all of them ran from the the Lao communist that i call laotion V.C. The lao guide in the show i think he gave false reports to the RAVENS about the danger zone because in the danger zone, all the hmong people who sided with the Ravens in Longchang are been exterminated by the Lao government. All i wanna say is that I want to tell the RAVEN members that right now this day, all their Hmong allies in the area around Longchang are still being hunted.

Posted by: HmongboyinCalifornia on August 5, 2004 12:02 AM

To have lived the past is an experience, to acknowledge this passing is a remembrance, to utilize our will is forever our hope.

Posted by: Daniel on November 23, 2004 02:05 PM

I just watched a sobering program on PBS about the aftermath of the bombings. As a doctor and retired Marine, I was shocked to learn of the terrible price the Laoians(?) are paying for our "way of doing things". I was planning to move to Sri Lanka to open a clinic for the poor, but will now visit to offer my help. Anyone have a good contact there? Thank you.

Posted by: Dr. Wonton on November 26, 2004 08:52 PM

i would like if you can send me more infomation about the secret war in laos with the hmong. i'm doing a history day project on this topic and i'm looking forward to know more about my people and the war. Even though my dad was also invovled with the war he only can tell me story little by little. It'll be my pleasure to get more information.
thank you,
mayce vang

Posted by: Mayce Vang on December 6, 2004 08:41 AM

Comments closed.


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