Friday, May 27, 2011
The Vang Pao Thing -- "The General, His Sisters, and Me"
This morning Doualy Xaykaothao presented a remarkable family history on NPR's Morning Edition that I cannot recommend too highly. One of her grandmothers was a sister of General Vang Pao, a Hmong general in the Royal Lao Army who was recruited by the CIA during the Vietnam Era to organize an anti-Communist resistance in Laos to complement the ongoing tragedy of American and South Vietnamese forces battling the NVA and Viet Cong.
The results weren't pretty. As we know, the Americans and their allies abandoned Indochina and the Indochinese peoples to their fate when the NVA and Viet Cong took over Vietnam and the Pathet Lao and the Khmer Rouge declared their own victories in Laos and Cambodia.
The Hmong people were squeezed out of Laos, many of them becoming refugees in Thailand, but many others coming to the United States as welcome and in many cases honored refugees.
The Hmong sacrificed everything to fight with the Americans. When the cause was lost, though, their peril was stark. Those Hmong who remain in Laos are not is very happy circumstances.
General Vang Pao, who had done so much to organize resistance in Laos became far and away the strongest organizer and personality among the Hmong refugees in the United States. Many of them had settled in California's Central Valley, but there were Hmong communities in many other areas of the country as well.
It was with considerable shock and outrage therefore when the General was arrested in 2007 and indicted in Federal Court, with nine others, for plotting to overthrow the government of Laos, a violation of the Neutrality Act.
It was almost immediately clear to anyone who was following the case that this was yet another instance of Federal justice officials setting up potential violations/violators in order to create a criminal situation and have arrests and a trial. The stories that came out of the investigation and the court were simply outrageous examples of misconduct. Ultimately, the case against the General would be dismissed, after intense protest by thousands of the General's supporters outside the courthouse and in many Hmong, Laotian and Vietnamese communities throughout the country.
Vang Pao died early this year, and his funeral was an extraordinary event.
Doualy Xaykaothao brings the story of her family and the General into sharp and very human focus, something rare in radio.
There are so many stories like this that don't get told in the media, and they need to be. Unless they are, Americans will continue to be ignorant of just how amazing the lives of people outside our own narrow sphere really are.