American helicopters land at Khe Sanh base, on the Laos border on February 1, 1971.
“If you work at it, you can make a case that Americans fought on the right side in Vietnam. There is an argument — not conclusive, but defensible — that with all its faults, the anti-Communist side offered South Vietnam’s people a freer and more prosperous future than they would face if the Communists won. That didn’t mean war was a wise choice or that its goal justified the death and destruction it caused. But Americans looking for some moral comfort could at least tell themselves that they were fighting for a better outcome for the Vietnamese. By contrast, it is harder to find anything morally defensible in American actions in Laos and Cambodia. U.S. operations in those countries, including among the heaviest bombing in military history, were conducted to support American objectives in Vietnam rather than for any achievable benefit for its smaller, weaker neighbors. That was also the reason for U.S. air support and military aid that kept weak, ineptly led local Laotian and Cambodian ground forces in the field long after it was clear they had no chance of winning against their stronger North Vietnamese enemies. Exactly the same can be said about the Vietnamese Communists, who intervened in Laos and Cambodia for the identical purpose: to support their war in Vietnam. In those ‘sideshow’ conflicts (as the British writer William Shawcross called the Cambodian war) Americans and Vietnamese both pursued their own goals with little regard for the grievous price being paid by the Laotian and Cambodian people. In A Great Place to Have a War, a new history of the largely clandestine American effort in Laos, Joshua Kurlantzick quotes from a passage that starkly captures the moral blindness of U.S. policy in that war. It’s from a now-declassified retrospective written by CIA historians years after the war ended. Kurlantzick only used part of the quote, but the full version makes the issue even clearer. … Think about that. A war that was won by the enemy, leaving America’s principal allies to flee or live under a particularly harsh Communist dictatorship, was… successful? A low cost in dollars and personnel? …”
WAR ON THE ROCKS
BBC: My father fought the CIA’s secret war in Laos
The CIA’s ‘Secret War’
NY Times – The Not-So-Secret War: Revisiting American Intervention in Laos
YouTube: The CIA, the Hmong, and the Secret War (Video)
PBS: The Hmong and the Secret War (Video) 56:52