Developing Lao national identity gained importance in 1938 with the rise of the ultranationalist prime minister Phibunsongkhram in Bangkok. Phibunsongkhram renamed Siam to Thailand, a name change which was part of a larger political movement to unify all Tai peoples under the central Thai of Bangkok. The French viewed these developments with alarm, but the Vichy Government was diverted by events in Europe and World War II. Despite a non-aggression treaty signed in June 1940, Thailand took advantage of the French position and initiated the Franco-Thai War. The war concluded unfavorably for Lao interests with the Treaty of Tokyo, and the loss of trans-Mekong territories of Xainyaburi and part of Champasak. The result was Lao distrust of the French and the first overtly national cultural movement in Laos, which was in the odd position of having limited French support. Charles Rochet the French Director of Public Education in Vientiane, and Lao intellectuals led by Nyuy Aphai and Katay Don Sasorith began the Movement for National Renovation.
Yet the wider impact of World War II had little effect on Laos until February 1945, when a detachment from the Japanese Imperial Army moved into Xieng Khouang. The Japanese preempted that the Vichy administration of French Indochina under Admiral Decoux would be replaced by a representative of the Free French loyal to Charles DeGaulle and initiated Operation Meigo Sakusan. The Japanese succeeded in the internment of the French living in Vietnam and Cambodia, but in the remote areas of Laos the French were able with the help of the Lao and Garde Indigene to establish jungle bases which were supplied by British airdrops from Burma. However, French control in Laos had been sidelined.
Its location has often made it a buffer between more powerful neighboring states, as well as a crossroads for trade and communication. Migration and international conflict have contributed to the present ethnic composition of the country and to the geographic distribution of its ethnic groups.
Geographic coordinates: 1800N 10500E
Expanding commercial exploitation of forests, plans for additional hydroelectric facilities, foreign demands for wild animals and nonwood forest products for food and traditional medicines, and a growing population have brought new and increasing attention to the forests. Traditionally, forests have been important sources of wild foods, herbal medicines, and timber for house construction.
Soils are found commonly throughout the floodplains. Typically, soils are formed from alluvium deposited by the rivers as either sandy clay in light colors or sand clay with gray or yellow colors. Upland soils derive from granitic, schistose, or sandstone parent rocks more acidic and less fertile. Southern Laos has areas of laterite soils, and basaltic soils in the Bolovens Plateau.
Plant Life and Animals
The north of Laos has tropical rain forests with broader leaved evergreens and monsoon forests of mixed evergreen and in the south is filled with deciduous trees. In the monsoon forest the ground is covered with tall, coarse grass. The trees mostly only reach their secondary growth. Typically there is an abundance of bamboo, scrub, and wild banana. Laos is also home to hundreds of species of orchids and palms.
Forests and fields serve as support for wildlife. Wildlife in Laos includes nearly 200 species of mammals, about the same number for reptiles and amphibians, and about 700 varieties of birds. Common mammals are gaurs (wild oxen), deer, bears, and monkeys. Endangered animals include elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, several types of wild oxen, monkeys, and gibbons. Snakes, skinks, frogs, and geckoes are abundant. Warblers, babblers, woodpeckers, thrushes, and large raptors inhabit the canopy and floor of the forest. Numerous of birds live in the lowlands. Lastly, several of Laos's birds are threaten including most hornillo, ibises, and storks.