Laos: The Story Nixon Won’t Tell

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon; drawing by David Levine

President Nixon cannot expect peace in Vietnam while escalating the war in Laos. His Key Biscayne statement on Laos of March 6 itself draws attention to the connection between the two conflicts, which has since been underlined by Vice President Agnew. In reality the so-called “Vietnamization” in 1969 of the ground war in South Vietnam was balanced by a sharp escalation of the US air war in Laos, beyond the range of inquisitive TV camera teams. This escalation is now rationalized (though not admitted) by the President’s statement on Laos, which puts forth a grossly misleading history of North Vietnamese “persistent subversion” and “invasion.”

This story was put together long before the present administration. Many of its allegations were supplied years ago by US intelligence sources, who had a stake in misrepresenting the Laotian war which they had themselves largely helped to create. The statement must however be answered, since it is at least as misleading as the intelligence reports of North Vietnamese and Chinese aggression in South Vietnam, which preceded our air war in that country. Of course, the escalation in the long run will involve two sides, and some day historians can analyze the whole involvement in Laos of Thailand, the Philippines, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the United States, Taiwan, and China.

It is important, however, to see that it has been not North Vietnam but the United States, and more particularly its apparatus of civil and military intelligence agencies, which has been consistently guilty of the initial subversion of whatever order has been established in Laos through international agreements. Thus the President’s statement should be examined in the light of indubitable CIA and US air force activities that he wholly leaves out.

Although the present war in Laos dates back to 1959, the President’s statement is totally silent about the 1959-61 period. This is understandable, since virtually every independent observer has condemned the subversive activities in Laos of the CIA and other US agencies during the period when Mr. Nixon was Vice President. A RAND Corporation report on Laos concluded, for example, that in 1959 it was not the pro-Communist Pathet Lao but the right-wing Sananikone government (which had been installed by US intrigue and was counseled by US advisers) that “precipitated the final crisis which led to war in Laos.”

This “final crisis” followed a probe by a government patrol into the small but sensitive disputed area of Huong Lap on the North Vietnamese border, which had been governed as part of Vietnam in the days of the French. When the patrol was, predictably, fired upon, the government charged the North Vietnamese with frontier incursions and claimed that this was related to a planned insurrection by the Pathet Lao. It then obtained a vote of emergency powers from the Assembly, and soon ordered the two remaining battalions of the Pathet Lao to be integrated forthwith into theā€¦

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