The Secret War and Hmong Genocide (Fall 2012)
According to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), the Secret War began in 1965. The name of the war is exactly what it means; it was a war kept secret by the United States government. This war took place during the same time as the Vietnam War in the early 1950s to the mid 1970s and has led to the deaths of thousands of Hmong people. It is even possible that that war is still raging on and that there’s a current genocide of Hmong people in Laos happening today. In history, it is known that the Vietnam War was a conflict within its own country, between the North and South Vietnam. It is also known that the United States intervened and Americans at home did not like the war. However, not many people know about the Hmong who were involved and the Secret War that happened during the same time the publicly hated war in Vietnam was occurring. They both have gone unnoticed to most Americans in the United States, but they are an important people and event in history and today.
Many do not know about the Secret War and the Hmong because the U.S. and North Vietnam had agreed that Laos would remain neutral. Also the CIA wanted to keep the information about this war from people, so whenever the media did coverage or talked about it, they denied them (“Laotian Civil War”). Since this was kept quiet, the aid of the Hmong to the Americans are not known and is one of the big reasons why they have had a difficult time trying to voice themselves as an important ally to the Americans in history. Another reason is that there were wars that were going on during that time that overshadowed it, such as the Vietnam War and the war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Since the Secret War is closely related to the Vietnam War, here is some general background information about it. The communist party, who was known as the Pathet Lao, from North Vietnam was fighting the Royal Laotian Party from South Vietnam. The United States and Thailand allied with Southern Vietnam. As many will know, the U.S. feared the domino effect; it is the belief that if one country fell to communism, than the other countries surrounding it would also surrender to communism rule as well. If Laos fell to communism, then Thailand would most likely follow shortly after and if Thailand did, then the surrounding countries would too. Americans at home hated the war in Vietnam and when the soldiers came back home, there were no celebrations or big events for their return because of the hatred for what had happened there; many of them believed that America had no right to be there and protested and rallied against it. This was one of the factors that led the media to focus more on the Vietnam War than the Secret War.
With the Secret War, it involved two more different groups of people, the CIA and the Hmong people of Laos. Although the CIA was already involved in the Vietnam War, it became a part of the Secret War when “President Eisenhower was looking for ways to stabilize the situation in Laos without having to introduce American troops into the conflict. He therefore viewed with favor a CIA proposal to arm and train Hmong tribesmen” (United States). The U.S. government also looked to the help from them because they were familiar with the region and could easily block and intercept the invading communists from the north. Another reason why the U.S. government turned to them was because of finance, they believed that “[it] was much cheaper and better way to fight a war in Southeast Asia than to commit American troops” (United States). The “Hmong population at the time just shy of 400,000” (Moua) were willing to help and had strong belief and faith that the Americans would keep their words that after winning the war, they would aid the Hmong economically. An important person during this time was General Vang Pao; he was the Hmong military leader and impacted both his people and the CIA. Both groups looked up to him for help and guidance, and he was able to support them.
As the war waged on, many battles were won and lost. It was reported that Long Cheng, a province in Laos that was heavily populated by the Hmong, “[fell] in and out of General Vang Pao’s control” (“Hmong People”). According to the CIA, they created a program for the Hmong called PARU that trained and armed them to fight against the Pathet Lao’s communist army. The American soldiers and the CIA developed a newfound friendship and appreciation for the Hmong because they were a strong, dedicated, and helpful ally. However, friendship was not able to win this war because the invasion of the communistic party succeeded and the CIA and the Hmong knew that they were fighting a losing battle. Both sides lost much causality, the Hmong numbered about 400,000 at that time but declined to 100,000 after.
“The Secret War ended in the same year as the Vietnam War—1975. The Hmong did not feel this finality, for to this day they still are persecuted” (Memories of the “Secret War”). After the Americans left Laos and pulled out of the Vietnam War, it was obvious that they had lost the fight. Soon after, the Pathet Lao declared the Hmong people dead; they started searching and killing them. General Vang Pao was forced to leave the country when the American troops pulled out. They all knew that if he had stayed behind his fate would be torture and eventually death. Even the people he loved knew his fate if he’d stayed.
As a result of the Secret War, the Pathet Lao began hunting down and killing the Hmong people in mass numbers, this became known as the Hmong genocide. Even today, there are video footages that show what they are going through. The Hmong had to run into the mountainous forest and hide from their persecutors. They survive and live there on very small amounts of food and very little water. Roger Arnold a photo journalist was in Laos and was able to come into contact with some of them. They are referred to as Hmong guerrillas because it was a technique that was used by them during the time of war. He was able to document and take photos of what was happening to them. Arnold was greeted by Hmong men in the dark and they led him to their secret village in the forest which took three days to get too. “After 72 hours of climbing we reached their hidden village, where I found the saddest place I had ever seen” (Arnold), he then met a man named Blia Shoua Her who was the leader of a Hmong group hiding out in the forest. The journalist goes on to say the villagers were always ready to run whenever danger approached and that that has been the way they’ve lived for more than 30 years (Arnold).
This documentation from him really shows the war that is still going on in the jungles of Laos. The Hmong people are still fighting for survival and safety. The author also mentioned that there are many other accounts of bombing and shooting at the Hmong that still occurs not with Her’s group.
Since there is so little information or recognition of the Hmong as an ally with the Americans during that war they had to fight for their part to be in history in America and as a respected people. In 2009, the Hmong Veterans of the Secret War finally got their recognition as an important ally to the Americans in a monumental memorial located in Washington D.C.
Hilary Clinton, the Secretary of the United States, made an effort to reconnect with the nation of Laos and the Hmong people recently; however, when she landed in the country she did not stay long enough to cover more issues. Also, from the International Business Times, Fortin states that the nation of Laos was close to the bottom of the list for Clinton to visit. The United States is making an effort to reconnect with their old ally and to kindle the fire that started a long time ago.
In history class, certain forces impact certain outcomes in events. The forces of impact for this event and people in history were government, beliefs, people, and media. These forces all impact the Secret War and the Hmong individually and together.
The governmental force definitely had an impact during the war because there were different opposing sides, the communist and the more democratic party, the Pathet Lao were trying to take over the Royal Lao Party’s control. The North Vietnamese were communist and the South Vietnamese were much more favorable to the United States because the government party that was in control was more democratic. Since the disagreement between those two, the CIA pulled the Hmong into the fight that began the Secret War. The United States, North Vietnam and South Vietnam had an impact on the Hmong because they made certain decisions that affected their lives and future. The United States had the troops leave Laos and the war and abandon the fight; the Hmong depended on them with weapons and aid. The South government which was the Royal Lao government impacted them because they had views and beliefs that the Hmong believed in. The North government impacted them because they wanted to take control and after the war, they declared a death warrant for the Hmong people.
The belief force also had a role during this time because of what people believed in, such as, communism, democratic, freedom, or oppression. The North wanted communism to be in control, the South wanted the Royal Lao Party to continue to govern the South, the United States believed in the domino theory and is the Democratic King of the world, and the Hmong were in favor of the democratic views.
Another force that had an impact on the Secret War and the Hmong was certain people, such as, General Vang Pao, the troops of America, the CIA, and many others. General Vang Pao was the Hmong Military Leader as mentioned before. He impacted the Hmong and led them in the fight during the Secret War, the American troops did also. They helped aid the Hmong but at the end they had a negative impact on the lives of the Hmong because when they left, the mass murder of many Hmong families began. The CIA affected the events and people because they kept this war a top secret from the world and the fact that the Hmong were their ally. This caused many people to not know who they were and the media did not have enough information on the war and the Hmong.
Another force was the media, during that time, many of the news coverage were on the Vietnam War only because it was the war that many people knew about and the media had coverage on.
The Secret War and the Hmong people are both important in the history of America because they have helped shape this country in many ways. The Secret War gives information about the Hmong, and they have donated their culture and traditions to America in Minnesota, California and many other places.
- Arnold, Roger. “Laos: Still a Secret War.” Worldpress.org. World Press, 19 Jan. 2007. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://www.worldpress.org/Asia/2641.cfm>.
- Fortin, Jacey. “The Secret War: Hillary Clinton Visits Laos, Where Hidden Bombs Still Burst.” Ibtimes.com. International Business Times, 11 July 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://www.ibtimes.com/secret-war-hillary-clinton-visits-laos-where-hidden-bombs-still-burst-722553>.
- “Hmong People.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hmong_people>.
- “Laotian Civil War.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laotian_Civil_War>.
- “Memories of the “Secret War.”” ThinkQuest. ORACLE Education Foundation, “n.d.” Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://library.thinkquest.org/trio/TR0110763/secretWar.html>.
- Moua, Maitria. “Stand in Solidarity.” Hardboiled. Wordpress. “n.d.” Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://hardboiled.berkeley.edu/archived-issues/issue-13-4/stand-in-solidarity/>.
- Ragsdale, Jim. “‘Secret war’ echoes (Long Cheng, Laos).” Freerepublic.com. Pioneer Press. 15 May 2005. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. < http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1403513/posts>.
- United States. Central Intelligence Agency. “CIA Air Operation in Laos, 1955-1974 Supporting the “Secret War.” Central Intelligence Agency. CSI Publications, 14 Apr. 2007. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter99-00/art7.html>.