Laos and the CIA

JCA editor Kevin Hewison has a new review at JCA (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2017.1319643) that  looks at Joshua Kurlantzick’s A Great Place to Have a War. America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, published by Simon and Schuster.

Hewison says that Kurlantzick “provides a lively account of the period,” but adds that he makes relatively little use of the vast amount of recently released archival material. The contribution of the book is in conducting a series of interviews with several of the key figures such as Bill Lair, Tony Poe, Vang Pao and Willis Bird Jr., all on the CIA’s payroll, and in “making an argument that the CIA’s operations in Laos were precursors for decades of covert actions.”

Kurlantzick argues that the CIA’s operations in Laos were the “first such secret, CIA-run war in American history” (12). In making this point, Kurlantzick shows that many in the CIA did not consider Laos as a “loss.” Directors Richard Helms and William Colby decided that Laos was a “superb job” and a “war we won” (245). Kurlantzick shows how agents with experience in Laos eventually occupied influential positions that saw covert and para-military operations rejuvenated under the Reagan administration (248).

That contribution is useful. However, Hewison concludes:

For those who don’t know a lot about the “secret war” in Laos, Kurlantzick’s account is a readable introduction. For those who are familiar with the CIA’s intervention, the book covers much familiar ground.

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