A Great Place to have a War uncovers the biggest covert operation in U.S. history, which took place in the tiny Southeast Asian nation of Laos in the 1960s and early 1970s. The operation has, in its entirety, only recently been revealed. The book tells the story through the lives of four characters, including the CIA operative who masterminded the war, the ethnic Hmong general who managed the war and ultimately saw the battle end in disaster, the U.S. ambassador who expanded the conflict to include the biggest bombing program in American history, and the rogue CIA operative who turned into a kind of real-life version of Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now. That man, a CIA operative named Tony Poe, wound up living in a jungle fortress in northern Laos surrounded by a tribal army and taking no instructions from his bosses.Learn more about A Great Place to Have a War.
The book also shows how the Laos war remade the CIA from a small organization mostly devoting to spying into a massive player in U.S. foreign policy, and one with significant powers to wage war – war with little oversight. The CIA never really gave up these powers, and indeed in many ways the Laos war was the template for the post-9/11 global war on terror. Like in Laos, today’s global battle is a twilight war, led by the CIA, and fought with Americans, including the media and the U.S. Congress, knowing little about it. This twilight type of war has vast implications for the future of foreign policy and the American way of battle.
From page 99:In 1963, Laos already received more American aid, per capita, than South Vietnam or any other countries in Southeast Asia. Money was power: It meant that the CIA officers could at least claim they would be supported all the way up the chain of command. “The money for Laos was going up, that meant the operation had patrons at higher levels in CIA,” explained John Gunther Dean, a longtime diplomat in Southeast Asia.Indeed, the Laos war would rapidly expand throughout the 1960s, to include a training program for tens of thousands of Laotian forces and, in part, a massive bombing program designed to support the war and wipe up communist forces. The CIA, and the U.S. embassy in Laos, would try their best to keep U.S. military advisors, the ones who knew the most about actual war-planning, from having any oversight or impact on the battle at all; they kept the U.S. military advisor who was supposed to be co-managing the Laos war out of Laos itself. And so, the CIA gained more and more control over the battle, and the conflict strengthened the CIA enormously. A generation of paramilitary officers came through the CIA during the Laos war, and the Agency’s mission was forever changed. It became a war-fighting organization as much as a spying one, a legacy Laos left for today.
The Page 69 Test: Charm Offensive.