And the capital of Laos is? Vientiane. It’s one of those questions you might get asked in a quiz. The fact is that Laos, of the three states that used to make up French Indo-China, is the one which Brits, as a whole, are probably least aware of. We’ve all heard of Vietnam and Cambodia and the wars there, but far fewer know much about Laos and its similar history of post-colonial conflict. Most people can name the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge, but what about the Pathet Lao?
Like Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos saw its own British invasion long before the Americans were in any way involved.
For most of the Second World War, Vichy French authorities ran Laos, with Japanese forces free to move in and around the area. In March 1945, with the war in Europe almost finished, the Japanese took full control of the country and encouraged the people of Laos to regard themselves as independent from the French. When it was Japan’s turn to surrender, it was our turn to occupy a big chunk of Laos. In September 1945, with Laos north of the 16th parallel under Chinese control, the area south of the 16th parallel came under the control of British and Indian troops.
We stayed here until 1946, helping, among other things, the French to regain power, using British planes to fly French troops into southern Laos. Having said that, it wasn’t long until French control of Laos would end forever.