CEASE-FIRE: Settlement in Dreamland

War has never come naturally to the Laotians. A gentle, passive people, they traditionally harvested their rice and then relaxed or staged religious feasts. For decades, the French, then the North Vietnamese and finally the Americans have been backing rival factions and educating the Laotians in the ways of combat. They had to be taught to aim their rifles to kill rather than to fire overhead. Opposing armies regularly grouped for great battles, then retreated to regroup for combat some other day.

A former French colony, Laos drifted into independence after World War...