Germany, 2008, 75 min and 52 min
The Secret War in Laos became the largest covert operation ever conducted by the CIA. In The Most Secret Place on Earth filmmaker Mark Eberle describes how a covert CIA proxy war corrupted a country, destroyed a civilization and mushroomed into the largest aerial war in history.
IT WAS CALLED the “secret war”. Its secrecy derived originally from the fact that the U.S. would not admit its involvement in what was formally a neutral country – Laos – caught in the midst of the Indochina conflicts of 1950 to 1975. Yet, this “secret war” would result in a bombing campaign in which bombs were falling on the people of the Laotian interior every eight minutes for nine years.
In The Most Secret Place on Earth filmmaker Mark Eberle takes us back to the operational centre of the Laotion war, a remote spot called Long Chen near the Plain of Jars. The CIA operative who first selected Long Chen as the site of an airstrip tells us he found it pretty much empty. It was, of course, not empty at all, but home to people who had barely encountered the industrialized world. Eberle’s documentary takes us from this first encounter to the construction at Long Chen of a centre of industrialized death-from-above. He does it at a break-neck speed, clearly aiming to push a complex history through the 45 minute window of television documentaries. But he succeeds, primarily by keeping the focus on the story of Long Chen’s transformation from a bit of forest in the middle of nowhere, into the centre of a covert “death machine” on the western flank of the Vietnam war.
Neutrality in Laos allowed the U.S. to focus on mobilizing for Vietnam, and the war in Vietnam became the most intensely televised war ever. But by 1961, when US military advisers began arriving in Vietnam in their thousands, the CIA had already mustered “La Armée Clandestine”, a force of over 9000 Loatian tribesman (which would later rise to almost 30,000), mostly from the Hmong people. The Armée was led by General Vang Pao, known as “VP” to his CIA handlers. Their mission was to fight the Soviet and North Vietnamese-backed guerillas, the Pathet Lao, in a civil war that had been carefully stoked by both Cold War super powers since the end of French colonial involvement in the late 1950s.
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