Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961

Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961

Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961

Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961

Excerpt

J. Graham Parsons, once a rising star among the career professionals in the US Department of State, was appointed ambassador to the kingdom of Laos in 1956 at the comparatively young age of forty-eight. Senior officials in the department considered him an “outstanding” diplomat whose assignment to the sparsely populated and newly independent Southeast Asian country would prepare him “for more important ambassadorships” in the future. After loyally serving the Eisenhower administration in Vientiane, a town he later called “the administrative capital of the kingdom that no one really administered,” Parsons returned to Washington in 1958 to become deputy assistant secretary of state for far eastern affairs, then assistant secretary of state for the region the following year.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency ended on January 20, 1961, Parsons was the administration official most closely identified with Laos, a country a colleague had characterized as being in a state of “perpetual crisis.” Compared to the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, and to the major cold war battlefields in Europe and Asia, Laos often seemed a small-scale skirmish in the fight against communism. In the last six months of Eisenhower’s second term, however, Laos became a priority after a coup d’état, led by an obscure UStrained paratroop captain, evolved into a superpower confrontation that threatened to become another Korean War or worse.

Parsons later acknowledged that his association with Laos had not only earned him professional advancement but also nearly ended his career. To the new officials of the Kennedy administration, he was a symbol of ineffectual anticommunist policies in Laos and other parts of the . . .

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