The One Missed Aspect of the Vietnam War

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

The famed TV documentary series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick has tried to cover just about every aspect of the still controversial war from the viewpoint of all those Americans who were a part of that era as well as the Vietnamese who fought with and against the Americans. But one country and people seem to have been forgotten in all of this—Laos and the Lao people. At the same time that the anti-communist and Communist Vietnamese were fighting each other, the Royal Lao government forces were fighting the Pathet Lao (Lao for “Lao Nation”), or the Lao Communists. This was during the time when the United States secretly dropped more bombs on Laos than in the entire Second World War.

Here is what happened; the Pathet Lao had essentially worked hand-in-hand with the Vietnamese Communists under Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. During the Vietnam War, the Pathet Lao received arms and weapons as well as training from the Vietnamese Communists as well as the Russians and the Chinese. The supreme leader of the Pathet Lao, Prince Souphanouvong, fought in the jungles of Laos until he managed to destroy the anti-communist Royal Lao forces in 1975 (the same year the North Vietnamese and Vietcong overran South Vietnam’s capital Saigon). When the Pathet Lao took power, they abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic which exists today. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the newly formed Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (the successor to the Pathet Lao), worked very closely with the Vietnamese as well as the Chinese and the Russians.

However, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Vietnamese and Russian influence in Laos declined and at present has no status in Laos. Chinese influence on the other hand is virtually dominant in Laos, and Laos has become the target of huge investments from China as well as Chinese tourists flocking to Laos. Border trade between China and Laos is huge, and the Chinese government will be building a high speed rail between China and Laos’ capital Vientiane in the year 2020. The crazy thing is that while the Communist Party of Vietnam may have won the war back in 1975, Vietnam is the odd-man-out in the Communist world and is a virtual pariah to just about every other Communist country (to the point that now Vietnam needs its former enemy the United States to help with its protection). Laos, on the other hand, is now very much in the pro-China camp and may even be a puppet of China. The war made China, Laos and Vietnam allies but the peace has made China and Laos on the one hand and Vietnam on the other blood enemies. Never has the Vietnam War produced such an incredible irony!

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