France began its colonization of southeast Asia (SEA) in the mid 1800s and by 1890 had control of all Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
They gave way in this area to the Japanese in WW II, but in 1945, at war’s end, tried to re-establish absolute control.
The French had fought WW II and in SEA for 7 years thereafter trying to quell the popular communist insurrection – at considerable cost in resources and French lives - they were tired of war. By 1952 the French military was just reacting to communist Viet Minh guerrilla initiatives in the Vietnam countryside.
In 1953 the Viet Minh invaded Laos and established a communist strong hold in Sam Neua, the largest Hmong hills tribe settlement in the mountainous far NE corner of landlocked Laos (see http://www.muleorations.com/blog/-27-1953-laos for details on this invasion.)
In 1954 in an effort to prevent another invasion of Laos, the French military built a series of outposts in the remote Dien Bien Phu valley on the Lao/Vietnam border. The Viet Minh brought in siege material from China and in March 1954 began attacks which led to the defeat of the French on 7 May. As a result, back in Paris a new government was formed which gave up all rights to France’s claims in SEA.
Eisenhower was just coming into office as the US President and followed subsequent events closely as they played out with the Geneva Accords of 1954, which a group of nations (heavily influenced by the communist majority) had established as a way ahead for SEA without the French.
Because of its significant geographical location – it had contiguous borders with all nations in the region - Eisenhower considered Laos critical terrain. He looked at all options to prevent the communist from taking over there, even though the North Vietnamese had certain inherent overt advantages as spelled out in the Geneva Accords.
Plus the communist were exploiting every covert option available to increase its influence there. The communist saw the same advantages Eisenhower had to control of that country.
Events were brought to a head in December 1960, shortly before Eisenhower left office, when the Kong Le's “neutralist” faction (with close ties to the communist) attempted to take control of the Lao government. They were not successful and fell back to the Plain of Jars in the rugged mountains almost half way between the communist strong hold in Sam Neua and the official pro-US gov’t capital in Vientiane.
The CIA followed up on established contact with the local hills tribe war lord in the Plain of Jars area – the charismatic Vang Pao – who volunteered to join the US in the fight against Kong Le and the communist forces newly arrived in his midst.
The idea of covert CIA support to the local anti-communist was put to Eisenhower and in one of his last acts as President, he signed authorization for the CIA to clandestinely raise an army of Asian fighters, under Vang Pao’s command, to prevent the communist from establishing themselves on the Plain, so near the nation’s capital.
On 19 January 1961, incoming President Kennedy meet with outgoing President Eisenhower in the White House for a briefing on the SEA situation. In a subsequent effort to establish a neutral Laos, Kennedy sent Averill Harriman to Geneva to work with the Soviets in a policed diplomatic agreement to keep foreign armies out of Laos.
This agreement, signed in 1962, did not stop the CIA’s support of an irregular local army under command of Vang Pao as authorized by President Eisenhower. It did however, because of political sensitivities, put this field work into the classification of “Top Secret.”
Vang Pao’s forces were successful beyond most everyone in Washington’s expectation. His was a small secret battlefield in what would be the hugely publicized Vietnam War, though because of the "Top Secret" nature of the project, Vang Pao's and the CIA's successes were almost entirely unknown to the American public.
The Vietnam War came to an end in 1975, and now 42 years after the act, there is still limited real knowledge of the "Secret" war.
And part of this limited reporting is wrong.
I offer the following three examples as the worst.
A Great Place to Have a War, by Joshua Kurlantzick. Reviews of this awful book are found in # 351 of these Rants and Yarns.
The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. Alfred McCoy. This famous piece of nonsense has gotten much publicity over the years because it’s what some academics and liberal contrarians want to believe… though it is not based on facts. An insider’s critical look at this pernicious piece of slander is the subject of # 352 in these Rants and Yarns.
Tragic Mountains. Jane Hamilton-Merritt. Read my comments at:
http://www.muleorations.com/blog/-225-stolen-valor It is # 225 in these Rants and Yarns. 225-stolen-valor.html
By contrast, following holdings are generally considered as accurate. In alphabetic order:
A Look Over My Shoulder Richard Helms
A Man named Dhep Rueng Chantrakiri
Across the Mekong Charlie Davis
Air America Christopher Robbins
Air Commando One Warren Trest
At War in the Shadow of Vietnam Tim Castle
Battle for Skyline Ridge Jim Parker
Circles in the Sky Ray Roddy
Codename Mule (aka Covert Ops) Jim Parker
Hog Gayle Morrison
Honor Denied Allen Cates
In a Little Kingdom Perry Stieglitz
Laughter in the Shadows Stu Methven
Meeting Steve Canyon Karl L. Polifka
One Day Too Long Tim Castle
Perilous Missions Bill Leary
Shadow Wars Ken Conboy
Shooting at the Moon Roger Warner
The Ravens Christopher Robbins
The Third Option Theodore Shackley
The Vietnam War Its Ownself Jim Parker
Ahern, Thomas A. “Undercover Armies,” Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, DC 20505 (heavily redacted by the CIA’s Publication and Review Board)
Air Facility Data Pamphlet for Laos Listing of all Lima Sites and Lima positions in Laos. Revision No. 6, June 1, 1972
Air and Space Magazine "The Ravens of Long Tieng" by Ralph Wetterhahn, November 1998
Boyne, Walter J. “The Plain of Jars,” Air Force Magazine.com
Doolittle, Jerome “My Genital Strategy” Penthouse Magazine July 1973
“AIR AMERICA AND THE WAR IN LAOS, 1959-1974,” Thesis, presented to the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History, The University of Texas at Dallas, May 2010
Genovese, Lia "The Plain of Jars: Mysterious and Imperiled" PhD dissertation, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. February 2012
Greenstein and Immerman “What Did Eisenhower Tell Kennedy about Indochina?” The Journal of American History September 1992
Leary, William M. Interview with Richard Helms, 16 September 1981, Oral History Program, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, TX
Leary, William M. “The CIA and the ‘Secret War’ in Laos: The Battle for Skyline Ridge, 1971, 1972,” 34 p.
Leary, William M. “CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974: Supporting the Secret War" 21p.
Leary, William M. Typed notes from interviews, newspaper articles on Secret War activities 200 p. approx.
Leary, William M. “Air America: Myth and Reality”
Leeker, Joe F “Air America in Laos III – in combat, 23 August 2010”
Marek, Edward "LS-36 , 'The Alamo' in Laos”
http://www.talkingproud.us/Military/Military/LS36Alamo.html 18 November 2012
Newspaper Bangkok Post "Long Cheng attack by N-VN troops." December 22, 1971
Newspaper Bangkok Post "Fate of Key Lao Base Uncertain" January 14, 1972
Newspaper UPI "Laos Retakes Ridge Near Beefed Up Long Cheng" January 17, 1972
Newspaper The Nation (Bangkok) "New Strategy will Secure Long Cheng" January 17, 1972
Newspaper Dispatch News Service International "U.S. Bombing in Laos: An Inside Story" Michael Morrow, January 1972
Newspaper AP "Intense Fighting on Ridge" January 22, 1972
Newspaper Washington Post "The Question is How to Get Off the Tiger" by Stacy Lloyd, February 6, 1972
Newspaper Washington Star "Mountain War in Laos Grim" Tammy Arbuckle, February 27, 1972
Newspaper Washington Post "CIA-Backed Laotians Face Hanoi's Best at Long Chieng," Laurence Stern, March 1, 1972
Newspaper Bangkok Business Leader "Some Meo Tribesmen would rather resettle than fight," April 30, 1972
“Cover Story on Lt General Withun Yasawat,” pp 11-86. February 1988
Polifka, Karl "An Account of my time in South East Asia, First Tour Forward Air Controller, Walt 21 in Vietnam, Raven 45 in Laos”
Rand Corporation for Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense "Organizing and Managing Unconventional War in Laos, 1962-1970" Douglas Blaufarb. January 1972.
Rand Corporation for Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense "Revolution in Laos: The North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao." Memorandum RM-5935-ARPA, September 1969
The Vietnam Archive, Oral History Project, Texas Tech U. Interview with Bill Lair conducted by Steve Maxner, December 11, 2001
Tovar, Hugh B International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, "Chronicle of a Secret War" review of Jane Hamilton-Merritt: Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret War for Laos, 1942-1992, Summer 1995
Tovar, Hugh B. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, "Managing the Secret War in Laos," review of Timothy N. Castle: At War in the Shadow of Vietnam, U.S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955-1975, Fall 1995
Tovar, Hugh B. International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, "Chronicle of a Secret War (III) Laos: The CIA's Biggest Venture," review of Kenneth Conboy, with James Morrison: Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos, Winter 1995
University of Texas at Dallas Air America collection Daily Air America air ops log, drafted by air ops officers Tom Sullivan and Jerry Connors. 141 days, from 9 December 1971 to 29 April 1972. (approximately 250 pages)
Pls comment if you disagree with this list, or advise if you knows books/articles that should be considered for inclusion.