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May 1973

Assassination in Laos: Its Psychosocial Dimensions

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1973;28(5):740-743. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1973.01750350108020

Ten cases of assassination in Laos were extensively researched using standard anthropological field techniques. These cases could be readily classified into three groups: criminal recidivism, dyssocial behavior (witchcraft), and abuse of power by nonelected officials. In addition to the differences among the three categories, there were also certain functional similarities among them. Behavior of the victims in all three groups had been deviant in regard to the community's norms, and it was deviant in such a way that it threatened community well-being in a major way. Assassination also served as a negative sanction to reinforce deference and amiability in interpersonal relations. In addition, it provided a problem-solving function when other means were not available for social problem resolution.

Assassination in Laos was compared to political homicide in the United States. In many respects, the former resembled the classic vigilantism of the American frontier, wherein extralegal execution was infrequently required for community survival. Presidential assassination appeared to have evolved from "neovigilantism," a form of homicide with personal, ethnic, religious, and political overtones.