For almost twenty years, the fighting between the Western-supported Royal Lao government and the communist-supported Pathet Lao would rage across the plains, jungles, and mountaintops largely unseen by most of the world in this so-called “secret war.” Thousands on each side would die and many more would be displaced as the conflict on the ground ebbed and flowed from season to season and year to year. And in the skies above, American and Royal Laotian aircraft would rain down their deadly payloads, decimating large swaths of the countryside in pursuit of victory. Nearly 3 million tons of bombs would be dropped on Laotian territory between 1965 and 1973, leaving a deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance that lingers to this day. Thus, the battle for Laos is the story of entire communities and generations caught up in a war seemingly without end, one that pitted competing foreign interests and their proxies against each other, and one that was forever tied to Washington’s pursuit of victory in Vietnam.
BATTLE FOR LAOS Vietnam’s Proxy War 1955-1975
By 1959 the newly independent Kingdom of Laos was being transformed into a Cold War battleground for global superpower competition, having been born out of the chaos following the French military defeat and withdrawal from Indochina in 1954. The country was soon engulfed in a rapidly evolving civil war as rival forces jockeyed for power and swelling foreign intervention further fuelled the fighting. Adding even more fuel to the fire, “neutral” Laos’s geographic entanglement in the intensifying war in neighbouring South Vietnam deepened in the early 1960s as Hanoi’s reliance on the Ho Chi Minh Trail for moving men and material through the southern Laotian panhandle grew exponentially and became a priority target of American interdiction efforts.
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