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
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.