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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

The Ravens

I was discussing the US and CIA involvement in Indochina and found the person I was talking to had never read The Ravens (ISBN 974-8303-41-1). Deciding there must be more who have not read this seminal work, I re-reviewed this book, taken from Bookazine’s shelves.
Published originally in 1988, written by Christopher Robbins, this is the third imprint. He is also the author of Air America, about the CIA’s secret airline.
The Ravens were a group of American pilots who flew in Laos between 1966 and 1973, during the war that did not exist - officially. Both America and North Vietnam were signatories to an agreement that neither would be present in that country, yet both knew the strategic importance. The North Vietnamese using Laos as their troops marched down the Ho Chi Minh trail, while the Americans were supporting the defensive stance of the Lao (Hmong) tribesmen.
Of course, the Agency (the CIA), was there, and this book reveals just a little of the intrigue and deception that went on during the “phony war”.
The book is exceptionally well written and can quickly involve the reader’s emotions as the incredible tale of human wastage unfolds. The plot is so unbelievable that you eventually come to realize it is true. The back cover proclaims the book is a tale of undeniable heroism and real-life adventure and tragedy. It is all of that.
The pilots known as the Ravens were mavericks, men who really did not fit into the USAF mould as pilots. Given the opportunity to fly without the restrictive regulations of the air force, these rugged individualists chose the life (and for some - the death) of a Raven.
Since officially, America was not present, these pilots flew out of uniform, without dog-tags and other identification. Some even adopted new names as well as the new persona. Their exploits in the battlefield of the skies of Laos make exciting reading, and the forays back into Thailand make the book even more pertinent from our viewpoint.
The whole concept of a fighting flying force that did not exist, makes for much of the book’s fascination. The pen portraits of the men themselves are all so real, that many of them could be people that you can still see around Thailand - and some are!
The reunion that takes place each year at the Randolph Air Force base outside San Antonio Texas, however, shows that this was a real conflict, it was not a phony war. People were killed, people were injured physically, and some remain scarred by the ravages of the life in combat, now diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The epilogue says it all - “The Ravens. Yeah, I remember - a weird bunch of guys who lived and fought out there in the jungle in the Other Theatre somewhere. Hell, what was the name of the country?”
The Ravens is available from Bookazine stores with an RRP of 449 baht. It remains a disturbing book leaving one with the impression that America, far from being the number one super power in the world, has rather been the world’s number one manipulator.