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So Much to Lose: John F. Kennedy and American Policy in Laos

So Much to Lose: John F. Kennedy and American Policy in Laos

by William J. Rust


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Before U.S. combat units were deployed to Vietnam, presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy strove to defeat a communist-led insurgency in Laos. This impoverished, landlocked Southeast Asian kingdom was geopolitically significant because it bordered more powerful communist and anticommunist nations. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, which traversed the country, was also a critical route for North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam.

In So Much to Lose: John F. Kennedy and American Policy in Laos, William J. Rust continues his definitive examination of U.S.-Lao relations during the Cold War, providing an extensive analysis of their impact on US policy decisions in Vietnam. He discusses the diplomacy, intelligence operations, and military actions that led to the Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, signed in Geneva in 1962, which met President John F. Kennedy's immediate goal of preventing a communist victory in the country without committing American combat troops. Rust also examines the rapid breakdown of these accords, the U.S. administration's response to their collapse, and the consequences of that response.

At the time of Kennedy's assassination in 1963, U.S. policy in Laos was confused and contradictory, and Lyndon B. Johnson inherited not only an incoherent strategy, but also military plans for taking the war to North Vietnam. By assessing the complex political landscape of Laos within the larger context of the Cold War, this book offers fresh insights into American foreign policy decisions that still resonate today.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813144764
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Series: Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace
Pages: 376
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

William J. Rust, a former journalist and communications consultant, is the author of Kennedy in Vietnam: American Vietnam Policy, 1960–1963 and Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954–1961.

Table of Contents

Maps vii

List of Abbreviations xi

Introduction: We've Got So Much to Lose if That Thing Goes Sour 1

1 We Cannot Enforce What We Would Like 15

2 A Wide Measure of Discretion 37

3 Less Precise Language Than We Desire 53

4 A Disagreeable, Hard, and Dangerous Fact 73

5 A Severe Loss of Face 91

6 A Very Hazardous Course 111

7 A Colossal Booby Trap 131

8 We Do Not Have the Power of Decision 151

9 Tenuous at Best 173

10 A Piece of War 197

11 We're Going to Have to Take Some Action 217

Epilogue: An Awful Mess 239

Acknowledgments 251


1 Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, July 23, 1962 253

2 Protocol to the Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, July 23, 1962 259

3 Memorandum for the President, June 17, 1963 267

Notes 277

Bibliography 311

Index 323

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