Academic journal article Military Review

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

Academic journal article Military Review

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

Article excerpt

SO MUCH TO LOSE: John F. Kennedy and American Policy in Laos

William Rust, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 2014, 376 pages

In his inaugural address, John Kennedy promised to "... bear any burden ... in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty" Historians of his administration regularly cite Cuba, Berlin, and Vietnam as the defining fronts in this, Kennedy's self-proclaimed "long twilight struggle" William Rust, in his history So Much to Lose: John F'? Kennedy and American Policy in Laos does a great service in shedding light on the less well-known, but highly contentious, Cold War struggle for the small, landlocked nation.

The challenges of describing the Laotian situation in the early 1960s are daunting. A panoply of actors appears: a trifurcated Lao population (neutral, pro-Western, and Communist), the Kennedy administration and the U.S. military establishment, and other entities ranging from the Soviet Union to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.

Initially, Rust superbly sets, and then continues to track, the all-important context in which the crisis in Laos played out. His weaving of the situation in Berlin and Cuba into the narrative is not distracting; it gives the reader a deep understanding of how the lens of the Cold War could magnify even such a small, strategically insignificant country.

Working chronologically, Rust details the Laotian morass that would dog Kennedy for his entire presidency. He begins with an excellent basic history of what was then a kingdom, culminating in his succinct exposition on the positions of the three main Lao factions and their relations to the United States and the Communist world. With this solid foundation, Rust traces the arduous yearlong negotiations that resulted in the 1962 Geneva Treaty neutralizing Laos. …

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