The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy In Cold War Laos by Seth JacobsThe Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy In Cold War Laos by Seth Jacobs

The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy In Cold War Laos

bySeth Jacobs

Hardcover | May 8, 2012

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During the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Laos was positioned to become a major front in the Cold War. Yet American policymakers ultimately chose to resist communism in neighboring South Vietnam instead. Two generations of historians have explained this decision by citing logistical considerations. Laos's landlocked, mountainous terrain, they hold, made the kingdom an unpropitious place to fight, while South Vietnam—possessing a long coastline, navigable rivers, and all-weather roads—better accommodated America's military forces. The Universe Unraveling is a provocative reinterpretation of U.S.-Laos relations in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Seth Jacobs argues that Laos boasted several advantages over South Vietnam as a battlefield, notably its thousand-mile border with Thailand, whose leader was willing to allow Washington to use his nation as a base from which to attack the communist Pathet Lao.

More significant in determining U.S. policy in Southeast Asia than strategic appraisals of the Laotian landscape were cultural perceptions of the Lao people. Jacobs contends that U.S. policy toward Laos under Eisenhower and Kennedy cannot be understood apart from the traits Americans ascribed to their Lao allies. Drawing on diplomatic correspondence and the work of iconic figures like "celebrity saint" Tom Dooley, Jacobs finds that the characteristics American statesmen and the American media attributed to the Lao—laziness, immaturity, and cowardice—differed from the traits assigned the South Vietnamese, making Lao chances of withstanding communist aggression appear dubious. The Universe Unraveling combines diplomatic, cultural, and military history to provide a new perspective on how prejudice can shape policy decisions and even the course of history.

Seth Jacobs is Associate Professor of History at Boston College. He is the author of Cold War Mandarin and America's Miracle Man in Vietnam.
Title:The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy In Cold War LaosFormat:HardcoverDimensions:328 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.39 inPublished:May 8, 2012Publisher:Cornell University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801445477

ISBN - 13:9780801445477

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Table of Contents


1. "A Long Country Inhabited by Lotus Eaters": Washington Encounters Laos
2. "A Soft Buffer": Laos in the Eisenhower Administration's Grand Strategy
3. "Help the Seemingly Unhelpable": “Little America” and the U.S. Aid Program in Laos
4. “Foreigners Who Want to Enslave the Country”: American Neocolonialism, Lao Defiance
5. “Doctor Tom” and “Mister Pop”: American Icons in Laos
6. “Retarded Children”: Laos in the American Popular Imagination
7. “No Place to Fight a War”: Washington Backs Away from Laos



Editorial Reviews

"The Universe Unraveling is a fine answer to the paucity of scholarship dealing with the countries surrounding Vietnam and their relationship with the United States that for many years shaped their options in the Cold War, their internal (in)stability, and their destinies. The thread that runs through the text is the tragic combination of American ignorance and arrogance that characterized so much of what is called nation building during the Cold War. This book informs our understanding of America's broader—and counterproductive—role in impeding the global forces of nationalism during the Cold War."—Journal of American History