*A Great Place to Have a War*

by on February 3, 2017 at 11:37 am in Books, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

The author is Joshua Kurlantzick and the subtitle is America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, here is one excerpt from a book I read through to the end:

It was, in fact, common knowledge among CIA clandestine officers, and surely in the embassy of Vientiane, that bombers sometimes dropped ordnance on Laos because they wanted to unload it on the way back from North Vietnam, or because they needed target practice, or because there were communists somewhere near villages in central and northern Laos, and destroying the towns might possibly kill some soldiers of Pathet Lao sympathizers.  Ronald Rickenbach, a former USAID official in Laos during the height of the bombing called it “an indiscriminate bombing of civilian population centers.”  A classified 1969 United States government survey of the effects of the bombing, the results of which were circulated among officials working in Laos, found that after interviewing people from villages across the kingdom, 97 percent of the Laotian civilians surveyed had witnessed a bombing attack, and most had witnessed more than one.  And 61 percent of the Laotian civilians interviewed for the survey had personally seen someone killed by the bombing.

By 1969, U.S. bombers were flying more missions to Laos than to Vietnam.  So, in this country, all sorts of outcomes are possible.

1 anon February 3, 2017 at 11:48 am

Pinker is right that the world has been getting better, but certainly not without bumps along the way.

“The Dissent Channel was established in the early 1970s, as a response to concerns that dissenting opinions and constructive criticism were suppressed or ignored during the Vietnam War. In February 1971, the right of foreign service officers to dissent was explicitly codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual.” – wikipedia

This Channel has been in the news in recent weeks, as Nearly 1,000 at State Department Officially Dissent on Immigration Order

Interesting that the second link comes from the Voice Of America. Now a part of a deep state Dissent Channel?

2 anon February 4, 2017 at 9:03 am

When a President tweets about a “so-called judge” who has stayed his Order, is that a genuine Constitutional crisis? Or just very near to one?

Speaking of checks and balances against all sorts of outcomes.

3 WC Varones February 3, 2017 at 11:57 am

Great place to visit. Take the slow boat from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang.

4 dearieme February 3, 2017 at 12:09 pm

A good reason not to fight unnecessary wars is because war coarsens the people who take part. Presumably most of the pilots who effected these murders would not have dreamt of murdering their neighbours at home. It reminds me of the story of the American officer in Normandy who resented the spirited German defence of one town. The Germans withdrew, and in a fit of pique the American commanded his troops to destroy the town, and therefore many of its French inhabitants.

Perhaps ‘coarsening’ is too mild?

5 Mike W February 3, 2017 at 12:17 pm

How do we identify “unnecessary wars” in advance of fighting them?

6 anon February 3, 2017 at 12:20 pm

The War Powers Act is another Vietnam vintage legislation aimed at this sort of question.

7 dearieme February 3, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Start by asking (i) Have we been attacked, or had war declared on us? (ii) Does this proposed war involve some vital national interest?

If you receive the reply ‘no’ twice, then the war is unnecessary.

8 So Much For Subtlety February 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Let’s see: Poland, 1939. Was Britain attacked? No. Did anyone declare war on Britain? No. Did the war involve some vital national interest? Well Poland didn’t – it was not worth fighting the Soviet Union over in 1945 so it wasn’t that vital.

So basically you are saying Britain should have stayed out of World War Two because Pomerania was not worth the bones of a single British grenadier? No matter what Germany did to its Jews – or Vietnam to its Kulaks or Cambodia to pretty much everyone – there was no need for Britain to intervene?

World War One I would agree with you about.

9 Michael February 3, 2017 at 10:44 pm

Britain only DECLARED war in 1939, it didn’t actually fight one. It also didn’t do anything to save the jews, and ended up helping the Soviet Union opress Eastern Europe. So WW2 has this in common with an unnecessary war: it helped cause and failed to prevent a lot of bads. It was also probably not strictly necessary (except for the battle of Britain) from the British point of view to prevent invasion, as long as the home fleet was “in being”

That’s not to argue that WW2 was — or would have been — a very necessary war. But your argument lends itself to facile counterattacks, as it denies vital UK interest in Central Europe. Fighting Germany and the Soviet Union was a very vital British interest. They bungled it and lost the status of a great power, but that’s poor execution of a correct cause

10 So Much For Subtlety February 4, 2017 at 1:17 am

I am guessing an American, probably from the North-East coast, recently a teenager, doing some sort of hard science? Am I close?

It is both irrelevant and wrong to say Britain declared war in 1939 but didn’t fight one. There was that whole battle of France thing and of course Dearieme did not specify whether wars actually had to be fought. The British in 1939 fought a whole lot harder than Obama has been in Syria lately. Or Iraq.

It did one thing to help Jews – it liberated a whole bunch of concentration camps.

My argument does not lend itself to facile counterattacks. Although you seem to have offered me one. Dearieme did not say that fighting a war for a vital interest was justified. So your counter is irrelevant. As it happens it is obvious there was no British vital interest in Central Europe. They did not fight the Soviets for it. They did not even help the Hungarians when there was a good chance. Churchill went and signed it all away. To him, Greece was vital. Poland was not.

11 dearieme February 4, 2017 at 4:03 am

Of course it made no sense to go to war over Poland in 1939. There was a case for going to war over Czechoslovakia in 1938, depending on whether you judged Hitler to be a Bismarck – in which case, don’t go to war – or a Napoleon, in which case go to war if you consider yourself ready to do so, if you consider that France is ready to do so, and if you consider that Czechoslovakia will make a useful military contribution.

But the poor old Poles: no. There’s was nothing Britain could do for Poland, because France wasn’t prepared to do anything much, the Poles could offer no substantial military contribution, Poland involved no vital British interest, and Poland, invaded by Germany and – you could reasonably assume (correctly) – about to be invaded by the USSR, was already doomed. It was the wrong war in the wrong time and the wrong place. It was a bloody miracle that it was won, needing three absurdly unlikely events to save the day. Wise statesman don’t bet on a single miracle, never mind three.

12 Rock Lobster February 3, 2017 at 12:24 pm

I mean…have you ever had, like, really bad neighbors though?

13 Ray Lopez February 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm

@dearieme – “Perhaps ‘coarsening’ is too mild?” – for an unnecessary war, the term is COASE-ening. As in Coase theorem. Because if the war is unnecessary, it makes no difference who wins, and the world can be safely at ease while the parties fight it out. Case in point: was WWII (or even WWI) “COASE-ening”? Did it really matter who won? I think, on balance, the answer for WWI is “NO” and for WWII “YES” but only because of what the Nazis planned for “Untermensch” and the Final Solution in the latter. After all, the USSR and the Nazis, in terms of economics, where largely the same (non-capitalism, not unlike what the USA itself adopted after WWI with the rise of statist economics), and you can argue for WWI, the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the overthrow of the unstable German ruler Wilhelm II were not worth fighting for. Is the Syrian war today COASE-ean? Why or why not? Keep in mind lots of minorities support the dictator Assad. What do they know that we don’t?

14 Li Zhi February 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm

You assume that WW1 and WW2 are separate conflicts. It could be (and is) argued that in Europe (your comments are restricted to the European war) that they were the same conflict.

15 Colonel Kurtz February 3, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Perhaps ‘coarsening’ is too mild?

Eh, just a hair.

16 Doug February 3, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Laos was invaded by North Vietnam, a hostile foreign power, with no prior provocation. The elected government of Laos asked the US to intervene to stop the invasion. If you’re going to paint the US as the baddies here, then they almost certainly were the baddies in the first Gulf War. The fact that the Pathet decided, in violation of the rules of war, to cowardly hide behind civilian women and children is an indictment of the communist indifference to innocent life. The rules of war are quite clear on this, bombing civilians is a war crime. But one who’s fault lies with the non-uniformed combatants who are hiding among them.

17 Thor February 3, 2017 at 12:22 pm

I agree. As it happens, I skimmed a review of this book elsewhere, and Tyler is cherrypicking. Laos was riven by an internal conflict and divided tribally because of the North Vietnamese invasion. This doesn’t excuse the behaviour of some actors including the CIA.

18 aMichael February 3, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Just because a country asks for your help doesn’t mean you should bomb it indiscriminately, even if that country’s leaders request that you take such an approach. So no, we weren’t necessarily the baddies in the first Gulf War.

Perhaps the U.S. approach was the best option. I doubt it. My disagreement is your point that an invitation to intervene absolves the U.S. from blame.

19 A Definite Beta Guy February 3, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Reading Kissinger’s “Diplomacy,” the fate of Laos comes up frequently during the Vietnam discussions. Kissinger laments not doing more to stop the NVA in Laos, rather than South Vietnam, as the NVA did not have popular support, absolutely needed Laos to secure Indochina, and had an uphill battle in difficult Laotian country.

He says Eisenhower mentioned to Kennedy that the actual fulcrum was not Vietnam at all, but tiny Laos (which Eisenhower refused to send troops to).

20 Ricardo February 3, 2017 at 3:11 pm

“The elected government of Laos asked the US to intervene to stop the invasion.”

Usually, the way to stop an invasion is with ground troops, as was done in the first Gulf War. Airstrikes in populated areas will kill lots of innocent civilians but will rarely dislodge a determined invader.

21 Sarcastic Tyler Fan February 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Yes, the isolationist president, who has already had a few kerfuffles with the quality of our intelligence agencies, is secret friend of the military-industrial complex and wants the CIA to lead us into clandestine wars. Anything is possible indeed.

22 aMichael February 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Who said he’s an isolationist? Sure, he doesn’t like some trade deals. Yeah, he said he was opposed to interventions in Iraq and Libya (though he really wasn’t). At the same time, he promises to get rid of ISIS and wouldn’t really commit to troops on the ground or not. And now he’s put Iran “on notice.” What does that involve?

Moreover, if trade leads to peace between countries and Trump (in what you call isolationism) ends some of those deals, he may also increase the likelihood of military interventions.

23 Mike W February 3, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Thomas Jefferson’s war with the Barbary pirates “changed American foreign policy forever” [from the book review]. So what? Do historical tell-all narratives…usually with cherry-picked “facts”…provide any benefit beyond entertainment?

24 rayward February 3, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Total deaths in the Vietnam War was about 1,350,000. Estimates of total deaths in the Iraq War vary widely, from about 500,000 (the consensus) to over 1 million. Likewise, the estimates of the number killed in the Syrian Civil War varies, from about 320,000 to about 470,000. That all sounds terrible, but compare it to this: Over 60 million people were killed in WWII, which was about 3% of the world’s population in 1940. That our civilized friends in Germany could cause such a calamity isn’t very reassuring.

25 Scott F February 3, 2017 at 12:52 pm

The lesson I take from WWII is NOT that Germans are such terrible people. It is that ANY country can fall into aggression by some and compliance among the others. That is what all citizens must be on guard against.

26 anon February 3, 2017 at 1:13 pm
27 The Other Jim February 3, 2017 at 1:23 pm

>It is that ANY country can fall into aggression by some and compliance among the others.

No kidding. Have you seen Berkeley lately?

28 ladderff February 3, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Unfortunately that is not the right lesson to take, and taking it serves some very particular interests–not a coincidence! Ah, history: what could be sadder?

29 ladderff February 3, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Also, rayward is a moron, a lot like msgkings. What’s a million more murders next to the deaths of the increasingly mythogized WWII, which, we’re told, is solely and entirely the fault of America’s vanquished enemies?

30 Thiago Ribeiro February 3, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Hitler and Tojo, those poor, misunderstood boys.

31 msgkings February 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Being called a moron by an apologist for Hitler is a win.

32 Jeff R February 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm

If I recall correctly, roughly half of those 60 million in casualties occurred in the Sino-Japanese wars of the 1930’s and early ’40’s. And I’m not even sure if that includes the Chinese civil war, also, which began before WWII ended. Mass murder and total war are certainly something the Germans excel at, but let’s give the East Asians their due, too, I guess is my point here.

33 Thiago Ribeiro February 3, 2017 at 4:48 pm

The Japanese savage regime tried to conquer Brazil through its fifth columnists.

34 So Much For Subtlety February 3, 2017 at 6:32 pm

rayward February 3, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Total deaths in the Vietnam War was about 1,350,000.

So what you’re saying Ray is that all the efforts of the US Air Force could not compare to the post-War efforts of the governments of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam who managed to kill many more people with primitive tools and little else?

The lesson of the 20th century is that fighting kills millions of people but it is often the lesser of two evils. The victory of socialism in either its international or national form is likely to result in vastly more deaths. Even in China where, allegedly, WW2 killed 20 million people, the Communists managed to kill three times that many after the war was over – even ignoring how many of those 20 million were killed by Communists.

The tragedy for the people of Laos is not that the US fought to keep the Communists out. It is that they lost.

35 jon livesey February 3, 2017 at 1:15 pm

At the time, it was referred to as the “Secret Bombing”, which led Doonsberry to imagine a Congressional Hearing in which a local witness retorted “Secret? That wasn’t a secret. I said to my wife – Look, here come the bombs.”

36 The Other Jim February 3, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Good old Doonesbury. Fiercely critical of war and Presidential abuses of power from 1968-76, 1980-92, 2001-2008 and 2017 onward!


37 Ray Lopez February 3, 2017 at 1:28 pm

The big deal in Laos and Cambodia now are unexploded ordinance in the way of cluster bomb bomblets, which grow into bamboo, are 40 years unexploded (ordinance often gets unstable over time, and more likely to explode rather than dissolve) and cause children to lose their limbs when they play with the bomblets.

38 Thiago Ribeiro February 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Angola suffers with the unexploded mines, heritage of their 30+ year war. Many times Brazil pleaded with them to give a chance to peace.

39 Turkey Vulture February 3, 2017 at 1:41 pm

This seems fine, assuming we didn’t place any immigration restrictions on them.

40 anon February 3, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Thank you Pastor Niemoller.

41 The Other Jim February 3, 2017 at 9:00 pm

+10, Turkey Vulture

Perhaps our Orange Overlord will learn that if he would just go the Obama Route and bomb the living f*** out of places like Yemen and Somalia and Sudan, no one would care.

A 90-day pause on visas though…. whoa, now you’re talking Hate Crime!

42 Li Zhi February 3, 2017 at 3:02 pm

The claim something was “an open secret”, “common knowledge” or “everyone knew” hardly qualifies as factual. Everybody knew (well, not everyone) the world was flat, and that we knew all that could be known about physics in 1890. In 1910, one of the “big ideas” was social determinism – your social state is determined by your genes. This led to both amplification of both racism and nationalism. In 1990, one of the “big ideas” was democracy is the optimum state for all societies. It could very well be that the future will view that in the same way we view the eugenics movement.

43 anon February 3, 2017 at 3:44 pm

You bury a very dangerous idea deep in that load of garbage.

No, democracy is not eugenics. In other news, love is not murder.

44 Thiago Ribeiro February 3, 2017 at 4:13 pm

But slavery is freedom and war is peace.

45 Sam Haysom February 3, 2017 at 5:23 pm

What does this even mean? I can’t believe I’m going to say this but you need to post in a less epigrammatic form you aren’t clear enough in your thinking too try and speak in epigrams or slogans. In other words bury your cancerous ideas in a little more verbal garbage that way people might actual get your meaning. I mean your meaning is always some hard left platitude, but there are so many of those that that doesn’t help much in understanding your posts. Also scoreboard!

46 anon February 3, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Li Zhi told a very weird history, focused on “bad ideas” of the past, but then dropped in “democracy” as an idea that “could very well be that the future will view that in the same way we view the eugenics.”

That’s not even an argument. It doesn’t say why democracy is bad. It just groups democracy with bad things.

Now sadly, contempt for democracy has become kind of a cool kids thing (looking at you Peter Thiel, Michael Anton). Some say this is because people have forgotten the terrors of other forms of government.

That is, democracy may be the worst, except for all the others – but please don’t forget the others.

In other news, another Russian opposition figure has turned up poisoned. Don’t forget the others.

47 Sam Haysom February 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

He made a good point we have no idea what ideas the future will discard. Certainly if the future is committed to science it will discard blank-slate fundementalist but who knows?

In other facts Russia is a democracy.

48 anon February 3, 2017 at 7:17 pm

That discards both reason and knowledge.

Superficial fallibilism is a special kind of idiocy.

49 msgkings February 3, 2017 at 7:41 pm

“In other facts Russia is a democracy.”


Oh man, thanks Sam.

Or when you said ‘other facts’ did you mean ‘alternative facts’?

50 Sam Haysom February 3, 2017 at 8:34 pm

Sick burn bro. Wink.

51 Ricardo February 3, 2017 at 4:01 pm

When someone quotes a single paragraph from a book, the default, charitable assumption is that there are primary and secondary sources referenced within the book. Have you investigated the sources and found they do not support the above point?

52 dearieme February 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm

“Everybody knew (well, not everyone) the world was flat”: the flat earth allegation was propaganda, spread above all in the US by Washington Irving, intended to denigrate the Roman Catholic church: a noble cause, no doubt, but a dastardly way to pursue it.

53 SweetPea February 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm

I think it made perfect sense to allow the NVA and Chinese communist to use Laos as a base of operation for them to war against South Vietnam. It was foolish for Kennedy and later Johnson to try to interfere in that. And once they (Kennedy and Johnson) commited to trying to protect South Vietnam it just didn’t seem right that they should try to actually try to beat the NVA by bombing them where they were. No! They should have fought the war in the little villages of South Vietnam like the NVA wanted too, right?

54 Theo Clifford February 4, 2017 at 4:07 am

There are some *scathing* Amazon reviews for this book from people who appear to know what they’re talking about.

55 rayward February 4, 2017 at 12:38 pm

China is building high speed rail to connect China through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos down to Malaysia and Singapore. Meanwhile, America is building a wall between America and Mexico, insulting its friends in Europe, China, Australia, and elsewhere, and threatening military action against Iran and other countries. I recall this quote from Isaac Asimov: Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

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