Laos, the poorest country in East Asia and one of the few remaining communist states is revealed to be relatively safe to travel now. Though certain parts of the country are still off-limits to the travelers, Laos welcomes anyone to witness the spectacular natural sceneries and hospitality of Laotians.
In 2016 Barack Obama, the then president of the United States of America visited Laos to attend a South Asian Summit. He’s considered as the very 1st US president to visit Laos. During his 4-days visit, he addressed the people in the country and increased funding to clear unexplored bomb areas in the country.
‘Today, the eyes of the world are on Laos. And I know that that may be a little unusual, because Laos is a small nation next to larger neighbors and, as a result, too often, the richness of your culture has not been fully appreciated.’
Here’s the story behind the US/ Laos painful bond.
Before the US…
Long before the ‘Cold War’, Laos was interfered with by certain other nations. The 1st one being the Thai people who dominated a large part of Laos in the 1700s to the early 1800s. Then came the French who were eyeing the trade route of South East Asia. Around 1945, the Japanese withhold the country around the end of World War II while France let go of the authority in Laos. Nevertheless, with the atomic bomb attack on Japan, Laos was free from Japan but was under attack by France again.
In 1954, Laos became free under the rulership of communist Việt Minh leader Ho Chi Minh.
The Civil War…
The ‘Pathet Lao’, a communist group founded by Viet Minh headquarters during the French war was closely monitored by the US. The US witnessed that the newly independent Laos was taken up by the Pathet Lao. The leader of the communist group, Prince Souphanouvong, who’s is also referred to as the ‘Red Prince’ preferred a coalition government between the Pathet Lao and Northeast Vietnam. Souphanouvong proceeded with his plan with the intention of overthrowing his half-brother, Souvanna Phouma, the Prime Minister of Laos at that time. However, Phouma tried his best to suppressed the Pathet Lao but the two armies were clashing in the Northeast border near Vietnam soon enough.
The CIA Secret Army…
In 1960, the CIA requested Vang Pao, a major general in the Royal Lao Army to be the chief in charge to suppress the Pathet Lao army. With the help of the general, the CIA made a secret army to fight the Pathet Lao. A hill tribe found in the deep mountains of Laos was chosen to be the secret army. According to certain sources, it’s said that the hill tribe was forced to choose aside. Half of them ended up in the secret army and the rest dead.
The CIA took in command and trained the secret army deep within the mountains.
The US Bombing…
The ‘Bombing Laos’ wasn’t a part of the agenda. According to President John F. Kennedy’s statement in 1961, because of Laos geological location, it was slowly becoming a liability between the supply line between the Pathet Lao and Vietnam. Bombing Laos was the only remaining option.
The US air force dropped 2 million tons of bombs including 270 million cluster bombs on Laos. Laos is considered as the nation to undergo the heaviest bombing from the US.
By 1975, one-tenth of the Laos population was gone. Many were wounded and the rest ended up being refugees including Vang Pao. Americans were killed, Laotians were killed. 2 nations paid the price for something they never saw coming.
2 years after The US withdraw their army from Laos, in 1975 the Pathet Lao victoriously dominated the country with the North Vietnamese.
The Laos Royal Family was arrested and sent to camp and most members died in the camp. It’s said the CIA secret army (hill tribe) rebelled against the new government a few times though they were defeated and considered traitors.
Even today certain areas in Laos are off-limits as 30% of the US bombs were activated during wartime and still, people are facing exploding bombs from the long-ago war of Laos and the States.