Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 | Page 141
but highly contentious, Cold War struggle for the small,
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. He provides fascinating insights into the
maddening challenges of dealing with Laotian interlocutors as well as the Soviets and even allies Great Britain
and France. He ably drives home the point that by 1963,
with the neutralization process faltering, Kennedy was anchored with a problem without any satisfactory solution.
Only Kennedy’s death, and the subsuming of the Laotian
conflict under the broader Vietnam War, moved the issue
of Laos to the periphery.
Rust’s work is extensively footnoted with primary
sources, notably the Foreign Relations of the United States
volumes and United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967,
commonly referred to as the Pentagon Papers. But far
from being a dry reiteration of meeting minutes, Rust
imbues the proceedings with a tension, highlighting
President Kennedy’s vacillations amidst varying political
and military advice. Of particular interest are two appendices: the first, a full copy of the 1962 Geneva Agreement
neutralizing Laos, and second, a 1963 State Department/
Department of Defense memorandum for President
Kennedy laying out his options for leveraging all instruments of national power. The latter is of particular interest
to students of the historical use of the DIME (an acronym
used to identify four instruments of national power: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic).
MILITARY REVIEW November-December 2015
If there is a weakness in Rust’s work, it is the lack of a
strong conclusion to either the final chapter or the epilogue;
both seem to end abruptly. Regardless, this is an excellent,
very readable book. So Much to Lose ably proves that John
Kennedy’s soaring rhetoric could not always carry the
day—especially in a small, isolated country.
Robert M. Brown, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
NORTH KOREA UNDERCOVER: Inside the World’s
Most Secret State
John Sweeney, Pegasus Books, New York,
2015, 336 pages
osing as a university professor with a visiting
group of students from the London School of
Economics, renowned investigative journalist John Sweeney, in North Korea Undercover: Inside
the World’s Most Secret State, returns an outstanding
accounting of conditions in North Korea. Sweeney’s
goal in writing this book was to ““make the world’s most
secretive society a little less unknown, to map this terra
incognita that loves to tell us: Be Quiet.” Combining research, interviews with several defectors, and his personal observations from an eight-day trip in March 2013,
the author clearly achieves his goal.
Despite a choreographed itinerary guided by two
“tourist agency” minders, Sweeney offers evidence of a
North Korean government that is undoubtedly the most
evil, oppressive, and propagandizing in the world today.
He posits that North Korean claims of nuclear capabilities are a bluff that masks a tragic human rights crisis,
and that, excluding the elite, the vast majority of its citizens are malnourished. Conservative estimates put five
hundred thousand dead of starvation in the famine of
the 1990s. He also writes about a general population that
is brainwashed; the mausoleum that houses the glass cases displaying the preserved remains of Kim Il Sung and
Kim Jong Il—exhibited like Lenin—recei