General Vang Pao (1929-2011) was a Laotian commander of the CIA’s army of Hmong villagers during the Indochina wars of the 1960’s and 70’s, the so-called “secret war.” It was no secret in the region, of course, and that word refers to the fact that it was never publicized in the American news media. Vang Pao was regarded as ruthless and tyrannical so that even our CIA boys, themselves murders and assassins, treated him with care and caution.
After some 3,000 Hmong had been flown across the Mekong Vang Pao and his CIA case officer, Jerry Daniels, a fifteen-year veteran of the secret war, flew out of Long Tieng and into Thailand – an ultimately, to Missoula, Montana, Daniels’ home town, where Vang Pao paid over a half million dollars for a cattle ranch, hog farm, and two large homes. By the end of the year, more than 30,000 Hmong refugees had fled across the Mekong into Thailand, the first wave of a mass exodus that would peak at 3,000 a month by 1979. “War is difficult, peace is hell,” concluded General Vang Pao. (Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin, p331)
But he got the job done, and that is all CIA has ever cared about.
During his tenure, the Hmong villages in the mountains of Laos were decimated, with young men impressed and usually killed in combat. When the Pathet Lao, indigenous resistance fighters, and North Vietnamese had the strength of numbers to mount an offensive, CIA tried to convince Hmong villagers to move away from their homes and to encampments. But Vang Pao by that time had soured them on any connections with Americans and their agents. They refused to leave even as food supplies were cut off. (Under CIA guidance, most villages had ceased production of rice and were exclusively growing poppy. Their food was helicoptered in (and the opium out) via CIA’s proprietary transport company, Air America.) So the U.S. did what the U.S. does so well, began to carpet bomb the Plain of Jars to force people out.
That is but one small chapter in a larger conflict, one that the CIA actually won. The area was pacified, resistance slaughtered or silenced, the countryside devastated. There’s a myth out there that the U.S. lost in Vietnam and the rest of Indochina. Not true. They accomplished their objective, and by 1975 thought the area was brutalized and devastated enough that it could be left to slowly recover. CIA was moving on, next stop Afghanistan and the war of devastation on that country of the 1980’s, and where oddly enough, poppy fields flourished as well. (They still do, under protection of the U.S. military, in case you wonder what your boys are doing over there.)
Indochina would endure yet another 25 years of economic warfare, with sanctions not lifted until the 1990’s. Mission accomplished. The area is alive today, but will never again present a threat to U.S. power. They learned their lesson.
I read about stuff like this all the time, the real history of Indochina, along with that of Iraq and World War II, Latin America … and it is all so ugly. The leaders of our country are not at all like the citizen of this country. They are brutal monsters. All that I wrote above is just another small passage, another small part of the world devastated by exposure to democracy, American style. The only reason I write this is to detail the final chapters in the life of Vang Pao, cited at the opening above, where he moved to Missoula Montana, a wealthy man, and bought houses and cows and pigs, and lived a life he denied to his countrymen.