43. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1

1714. 1. As I leave Laos, I wish I could say that I am leaving it in much better condition than I found it in 1964. Unfortunately, that is far from true. There have been some improvements—in political stability, in the spread of economic benefits, and in the provision of social services. But the fundamental, overriding problem of the war has not been [Page 128] resolved. Until it is, the survival of Laos as a sovereign and independent nation remains in peril.

2. The war is a vicious cycle. So long as it continues, the country must maintain a large military establishment. So long as the country must maintain a large military establishment, the budget will remain hopelessly out of balance and revenues will never suffice to permit economic independence or progressive development.

3. While this same military establishment is the prime instrument for defending the country and has done better than we expected, it has also built up institutionalized privilege, corruption, and law-evasion, which, in turn, alienate the villagers from the government which the military represent. Therefore, while intended to defend the central government and advance its interests, the military end by corrupting its rule and corroding its prestige. Thus the enemy, merely by posing a threat to the government, succeeds in weakening the authority of that government.

4. The Lao had genuinely hoped, when the Paris negotiations began, that peace would be restored in Southeast Asia before the current dry season. They felt grievously deceived when this hope was dashed and had little stomach for the fight this year. Hence, they gave up more terrain this season than was truly taken from them by force of arms. It remains to be seen how much more will be lost in the six or seven weeks which remain in the dry season.

5. But, no matter what situation we find when the rains come, I think we should be under no illusions as to the future. The Lao have suffered enormously under all these years of war. Among the Meo, for example, practically an entire generation of fighting men has been wiped out.2 It is pitiful to see their units so heavily manned by young boys of 14 and 15 years of age.

6. In fact, it is, in my judgment, a miracle that the Lao have fought so sturdily for so long and that the fabric of their primitive society has not totally collapsed prior to this time. They have been held together by spit and straw, aid, encouragement, and hope.

7. But all this is drawing to a close. If the North Vietnamese push as heavily next dry season as they have this year, and if they abandon [Page 129] their political restraints, I doubt that Laos could successfully weather another offensive without losing some vital areas of its territory and without severe strain on the stability of the current political leadership. Therefore, in my view, the period between now and next November is critical.

8. There obviously are conclusions to be drawn from this evaluation. As I understand it, my new responsibilities in Washington will, in part, concern those conclusions. In view of that fact, I will refrain from stating any of them in this message. When I reach the clear, safe atmosphere on the Potomac, I will not wish to have my vision impaired by any myopic observations which I might have written from the miasma of the Mekong.

9. Ave atque vale.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 3, President’s Daily Briefs. Secret. Repeated to Bangkok, Moscow, Saigon, and Paris for Lodge.
  2. CIA officers drew a similar picture in a weekly meeting of March 13 between representatives of EAP of State and DDP of CIA. According to a March 18 memorandum by Trueheart to Hughes: “CIA drew a rather bleak picture of the outlook for friendly forces during the remainder of the dry season and stressed that there is no possibility of further strengthening Laotian ground forces, conventional or guerrilla, from indigenous resources.” While tactical air support had blunted and delayed the North Vietnamese offensive, CIA officers were convinced that only better and more ground troops could halt the advance. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, EAP General CA, Country Files, EA Weekly Meetings, 1969)