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Prior to the Paris agreement, the official position of the Nixon administration,
repeatedly asserted, was that the sole purpose of bombing Cambodia was to protect
American lives in Vietnam. Yet now, the US not only did not cease the bombing, it
increased it, in a last desperate attempt to keep the Khmer Rouge from coming to
power. During March, April and May, the tonnage of bombs unloosed over Cambodia
was more than double that of the entire previous year. The society's traditional economy
had vanished. The old Cambodia was being destroyed forever.
Under increasing pressure from Congress, the Nixon administration finally
ended the bombing in August. More than two million Cambodians had been made

It does appear rather ludicrous, in the light of this application of brute force, that
the CIA was at the same time carrying out the most subtle of psychological tactics. To

spread dissatisfaction about the exiled Sihanouk amongst the Cambodian peasantry who
revered him, a CIA sound engineer, using sophisticated electronics, fashioned an
excellent counterfeit of the Prince's distinctive voice and manner of speaking”
breathless, high-pitched, and full of giggles. This voice was beamed from a clandestine
radio station in Laos with messages artfully designed to offend any good Cambodian. In
one of the broadcasts, "Sihanouk" exhorted young women to aid the cause by sleeping
with the valiant Vietcong.34

In a farewell press conference in September 1973, the American Ambassador to
Cambodia, Emory Swank, called what had taken place there "Indochina's most useless
Later, California Congressman Pete McClosky, following a visit to Cambodia,
had harsher words. He was moved to declare that what the United States had "done to
the country is greater evil than we have done to any country in the world, and wholly
without reason, except for our own benefit to fight against the Vietnamese."36

On 17 April 197S, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in victory. Two
weeks later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. Incredibly, the
Khmer Rouge were to inflict even greater misery upon this unhappy land. And to add to
the irony”or to multiply it”the United States supported the Khmer Rouge after their
subsequent defeat by the Vietnamese, both by defending their right to the United
Nations Cambodian seat, and in their military struggle against the Cambodian
government and its Vietnamese allies. In November 1980, Ray Cline, former Deputy
Director of the CIA, visited a Khmer Rouge enclave in Cambodia in his capacity as
senior foreign policy adviser to President-elect Ronald Reagan. A Khmer Rouge press
release spoke of the visit in warm terms.37 This was in keeping with the Reagan
administration's subsequent opposition to the Vietnamese-supported Phnom Penh
government. A lingering bitter hatred of Vietnam by unreconstructed American cold
warriors appears to be the only explanation for this policy.

21. Laos 1957-1973
L'Armee Clandestine
For the past two years the US has carried out one of the most sustained
bombing campaigns in history against essentially civilian targets in northeastern
Laos.... Operating from Thai bases and from aircraft carriers, American jets have
destroyed the great majority of villages and towns in the northeast. Severe
casualties have been inflicted upon the inhabitants ... Refugees from the Plain of
Jars report they were bombed almost daily by American jets last year. They say
they spent most of the past two years living in caves or holes.
Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong, 19701

[The Laos operation] is something of which we can be proud as Americans. It has
involved virtually no American casualties. What we are getting for our money
there ... is, I think, to use the old phrase, very cost effective.
U. Alexis Johnson, US Under Secretary of State, 19712

The United Stales undertook the bombing campaign because its ground war
against the Pathet Lao had failed.
The ground war had been carried out because the Pathet Lao were led by people
whom the State Department categorized as "communist", no more, no less.
The Pathet Lao (re)turned to warfare because of their experiences in "working
within the system".
In 1957 the Pathet Lao ("Lao nation") held two ministerial posts in the coalition
"government of national union". This was during John Foster Dulles's era, and if there
was anything the fanatic Secretary of State hated more than neutralism it was a coalition
with communists. This government featured both. There could be little other reason for
the development of the major American intervention into this impoverished and
primitive land of peasants. The American ambassador to Laos at the time, J. Graham
Parsons, was to admit later: "I struggled for sixteen months to prevent a coalition."3
In addition to its demand for inclusion in the coalition government, the Pathet
Lao had called for diplomatic relations with the countries of the Soviet bloc and the
acceptance of aid from them, as was already the case with Western nations. "Agreement
to these conditions," said Washington, "would have given the Communists their most
significant gains in Southeast Asia since the partition of Indochina."4 Others would say
that the Pathet Lao's conditions were simply what neutralism is all about.
In May 1958, the Pathet Lao and other leftists, running a campaign based on
government corruption and indifference, won 13 of 21 contested seats for the National
Assembly and wound up controlling more than one-third of the new legislature.5 Two
months later, however, Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, a man universally
categorized as a neutralist, "resigned" to form a new government which would exclude
the Pathet Lao ministers.6 (He subsequently claimed that he was forced to resign due to
continued American opposition to Laotian neutrality; as it happened, one Phoui
Sananikone, backed by the US, became premier in the reorganized government.)7 Then,
in January 1959, the non-left majority in the National Assembly voted, in effect, to
dissolve the Assembly in order "to counteract communist influence and subversion".
The left was now altogether excluded from the government, and the elections scheduled
for December were canceled.8
If this wasn't enough to disenchant the Pathet Lao or anyone else with the
Laotian political process, there was, in the late 1950s and eariy 1960s, the spectacle of a
continuous parade of coups and counter-coups, of men overthrown winding up in the
new government, and regimes headed by men who had sided with the French in their
war against Indochinese independence, while the Pathet Lao had fought against the
colonialists.9 There were as well government-rigged elections, with the CIA stuffing
ballot boxes;10 different regimes-cum-warlords governing simultaneously from different
"capitals", their armies fighting each other, switching allies and enemies when it suited
them; hundreds of millions of US dollars pouring into a tiny kingdom which was 99
percent agricultural, with an economy based more on barter than money, the result
being "unimaginable bribery, graft, currency manipulation and waste".11
The CIA and the State Department alone could take credit for engineering
coups, through force, bribery or other pressures, at least once in each of the years 1958,
1959 and 1960, if not in others.12 "By merely withholding the monthly payment to the
troops," wrote Roger Hilsman (whose career encompassed both agencies, perhaps
covertly simultaneously), "the United States could create the conditions for toppling any
Lao government whose policies it opposed. As it turned out, in fact, the United States
used this weapon twice”to bring down the government of one Lao leader and to break
the will of another."13

The American wheeling and dealing centered around giving power to the CIA's
hand-picked rightist strongman Phoumi Nosavan, ousting Souvanna Phouma and other
neutralists, and jailing Pathet Lao leaders, including the movement's head,
Souphanouvong (the half-brother of Souvanna Phouma, both being princes of the royal
family). Souphanouvong insisted that neither he nor the Pathet Lao were communist,
but were rather "ultra-nationalist".14 Crucial to understanding his statements, of course,
is the question of exactly what he meant by the term "communist". This is not clear, but
neither is it clear what the Stare Department meant when it referred to him as such. The
Pathet Lao were the only sizable group in the country serious about social change, a
characteristic which of course tends to induce Washington officials to apply the
communist label.
In August 1960, Kong Le, a military officer with his own troop following,
staged a coup and set up a neutralist government under Souvanna Phouma, rejecting
Pathet Lao help.15 But when this government became a casualty of a CIA coup in
December, Kong Le allied himself with the Pathet Lao; later he turned to the United
States for aid and fought against the Pathet Lao. Such was the way of the Laotian circus.
No study of Laos of this period appears to have had notable success in
untangling the muddle of who exactly replaced whom, and when, and how, and why.
After returning from Laos, writer Norman Cousins stated in 1961 that "if you want to
get a sense of the universe unraveling, come to Laos. Complexity such as this has to be
One thing that came through unambiguously, however, was the determination of
the United States to save Laos from communism and neutralism. To this end, the CIA
set about creating its now-famous Arme© Clandestine., a process begun by the US Army
in the mid-1950s when it organized Meo hill tribesmen (the same ethnic group
organized in Vietnam|. Over the years, other peoples of Laos were added, reaching at
least 30,000 in the mid-1960s, half of them more or less full-time soldiers ... many
thousands more from Thailand ... hundreds of other Asians came on board, South
Vietnamese, Filipinos, Taiwanese, South Koreans, men who had received expert
training from their American mentors in their home countries for other wars, now being
recycled ... an army, said the New York Times, "armed, equipped, fed, paid, guided,
strategically and tactically, and often transported into and out of action by the United
States" ... trained and augmented by the CIA, and by men
of every branch of the US military with their multiple specialties, the many
pilots of the CIA's Air America, altogether some 2,000 Americans in and over Laos, and
thousands more in Asia helping with the logistics. A Secret Array, secret, that is, from
the American people and Congress”US military personnel were there under various
covers, some as civilians in mufti, having "resigned" from the service for the occasion
and been hired by a private company created by the CIA; others served as embassy
attaches; CIA pilots were officially under contract to the Agency for International
Development (AID); Americans who were killed in Laos were reported to have died in
Vietnam17 ... all this in addition to the "official" government forces, the Royal Laotian
Army, greatly expanded and totally paid for by the United States ...18
Laos was an American plantation, a CIA playground. During the 1960s, the
Agency roamed over much of the land at will, building an airstrip, a hangar, or a base
here, a warehouse, barracks, or a radar site there;19 relocating thousands of people,
entire villages, whole tribes, to suit strategic military needs; recruiting warriors "through
money and/or the threat or use of force and/or promises of independent kingdoms which
it had no intention of fulfilling, and then keeping them fighting long beyond the point
when they wished to stop;"20 while the "legendary" pilots of Air America roamed far

and wide as well, hard drinking, daredevil flying, death defying, great stories to tell the
guys back home, if you survived.21
Some of the stories had to do with drugs. Flying opium and heroin all over
Indochina to serve the personal and entrepreneurial needs of the CIA's various military
and political allies, ultimately turning numerous GIs in Vietnam into addicts. The
operation was not a paragon of discretion. Heroin was refined in a laboratory located on
the site of CIA headquarters in northern Laos. After a decade of American military
intervention, Southeast Asia had become the source of 70 percent of the world's illicit
opium and the major supplier of raw materials for America's booming heroin market.22
At the same time, the hearts and minds of the Laotian people, at least of those
who could read, were not overlooked. The US Information Agency was there to put out
a magazine with a circulation of 43,000; this, in a country where the circulation of the
largest newspaper was 3,300; there were as well USIA wall newspapers, films, leaflet
drops, and radio programs.23
In the face of it all, the Pathet Lao more than held their own. The CIA was over-
extended, and, unlike the motley band of Asians assembled by the Agency, the soldiers
of the Pathet Lao had some idea of what they were fighting for. The Soviet Union,
aware of what the United States was doing in Laos, even if the American public was
not, was alarmed by the establishment of a pro-American government in the country,
and acceded to a cold-war knee-reflex by sending military supplies to the Pathet Lao,
though nothing remotely on the order of the US commitment.24
Beginning in the early 1960s, the North Vietnamese were aiding them as well.
Hanoi's overriding interest in Laos was not necessarily the creation of a Communist
state, but the prevention of a belligerent government on its border. In January 1961, the
New York Times reported that "Many Western diplomats in Vientiane [capital of Laos]
... feel the Communists would have been content to leave Laos alone provided she
remained neutral and outside the United States sphere of influence."25

Hanoi was concerned not only by the American political and military operations
in Laos, but by the actions of US Special Forces teams which were entering North
Vietnam to engage in espionage, sabotage, and assassination,26 and by the bombings of
the country being carried out by the US Air Force27 at a time when the war in South
Vietnam was still but a shadow of what was to come. Later, as the wars in Vietnam and
Laos became intertwined, Laos formed part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the principal
route by which Hanoi supplied its comrades in South Vietnam, and the North
Vietnamese fought to protect it as well as attacking American radar installations in Laos
used to aid US bombing of North Vietnam.
The nature and extent of North Vietnam's aid to the Pathet Lao before this
period is difficult to ascertain from Western sources, because such charges typically
emanated from the Laotian government or the State Department. On a number of
occasions, their report of a North Vietnamese military operation in Laos turned out to be
a fabrication. William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, in A Nation of Sheep, summarized
one of these non-events from the summer of 1959:

The people of the United States were led to believe that Laos physically had been
invaded by foreign Communist troops from across its northern border. Our
Secretary of State called the situation grave; our ambassador to the U.N. called for
world action; our press carried scare headlines; our senior naval officer implied
armed intervention and was seconded by ranking Congressmen ... The entire
affair was a fraud. No military invasion of Laos had taken place ... There seemed
no doubt that a war embracing thousands of troops, tanks, planes, and mass
battles, was raging.

Regardless of how the accounts were worded, this was the picture given the

It had all been a ploy to induce Congress not to reduce aid for Laos, something
seriously being considered because of the pervasive corruption which had been exposed
concerning the aid program.29 The Laotian government and the large American
establishment in Laos, each for their own reasons, were not about to let the golden
goose slip away that easily.
On the East day of 1960, the Laotian government announced to the world that
seven battalions of North Vietnamese troops had invaded the country. By all accounts,
and by the utter lack of evidence, this claim as well cannot be taken seriously.30
And in 1962, reported Bernard Fall, the renowned French scholar on Indochina:
After a battle between government forces and the Pathet Lao, in spite of the fact that
Col. Edwin Elder, the American commander in the area of the battle, immediately stated
that there was
"no evidence to show that Chinese or [North] Vietnamese had participated in the
attack", the Laotians”and much of the U.S. press, and official Washington with
them”immediately claimed that they were again faced with a large-scale
"foreign invasion".31

Shortly after Kennedy became president in January 1961, he made a sustained
diplomatic effort to establish a coalition government in Laos, precisely what the
Eisenhower administration and the CIA had done their best to sabotage. Although he
sometimes fell back on conventional cold-war rhetoric when speaking of Laos, one part
of John F. Kennedy realized the absurdity of fighting for the backward country, a land
he considered not "worthy of engaging the attention of great powers".32 Soviet Premier
Khrushchev, for his part, was reportedly "bored" with the question of Laos, and irritably
asked Kennedy's emissary why Washington bothered so much about the country.33
Eventually, in July 1962, a multi-nation conference in Geneva signed an
agreement for a coalition government in Laos. But in the mountains and the plains of
the country, this was no longer a viable option. The CIA had too much time, effort,
material and emotion invested in its Secret Army; it was the best war the Agency had
going anywhere; it was great adventure. And the Pathet Lao were much stronger now
than a few years earlier. They were not about to buy such shopworn, suspect goods
again, although everyone went through the motions.
Both sides regularly accused each other of violating the agreement, and not
without justification. The North Vietnamese, for example, did not withdraw all of their
troops from Laos, while the US left behind all manner of military personnel, American
and Asian, who remained under AID and other civilian cover, but this was nonetheless a
violation of the agreement. Moreover, Christopher Robbins, in his study of Air


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