Podcast: A Great Place to Have a War

Podcast: A Great Place to Have a War

A Buddhist monk poses next to unexploded bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force planes during the Vietnam War, in Xieng Khouang in Laos September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
from Asia Unbound

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While Vietnam and Cambodia loom large in American memories of the Vietnam War, neighboring Laos recedes into the background. But during the 1960s and 1970s, the tiny, landlocked nation was the site of the CIA’s transformation from a loosely organized spy agency to a powerful paramilitary organization. On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, delves into the untold story of the war in Laos. In his popular new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, Kurlantzick relates the story of how the spread of communism in Laos became seen as a major national security threat in the Eisenhower administration. Through the tales of four individuals, he describes how a group of ethnic Hmong soldiers and American pilots were mobilized to combat the Pathet Lao. Despite the operation’s scale—the United States dropped over two million tons’ worth of bombs on the country—it was largely kept secret from both the American public and Congress. How was the government able to keep the fighting in Laos hidden for so long and why did the war become so deadly? Listen below to hear Kurlantzick’s account of the ways the war in Laos altered the CIA and how the United States should approach relations with the nation today.

Elizabeth C. Economy

C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies

Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia