In This Review

Invasion of Laos, 1971: Lam Son 719
Invasion of Laos, 1971: Lam Son 719
By Robert D. Sander
University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, 304 pp

Sander was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot during a little-known battle of the Vietnam War, code-named Operation Lam Son 719, that took place in early 1971, in which South Vietnamese forces, back by U.S. airpower, attacked routes used by the North Vietnamese to infiltrate Laos. Sander has produced something better than a battlefield memoir: an accomplished history of the operation that explains why it failed. The U.S. Army had long wanted to destroy a North Vietnamese transportation hub in the Laotian village of Tchepone but had refrained because such a move would have presented political problems for the Nixon administration and would have required a great deal of military effort. By the end of 1970, however, the administration decided that an attack on Tchepone was worth the potential costs. But the mission was a disaster: the North Vietnamese pushed back, and the South Vietnamese ended up withdrawing under heavy fire. As it had done many times before, Washington overestimated the capabilities of the South Vietnamese forces and underestimated the strength of the North Vietnamese.