Heidi Reynolds called over the weekend. She is spearheading the drive to get the Madison School Board to change the name of the proposed General Vang Pao School. Heidi persevered on this issue long before of the most recent revelations that Vang Pao masterminded a plan to overthrow the government of Laos. From the Boston Globe:
...allegedly envisioned a massive military operation, laying plans to ship surface-to-air missiles, rockets, mines, and guns to Laos to equip rebels there...
...Vang Pao eventually made it to America, where he essentially continued his warlord lifestyle. Former employees told me Vang Pao demanded absolute loyalty, telling them to leave their families to stay by his side. He surrounded himself with women (he has been married numerous times) and former army officers from Laos, and at community gatherings older Hmong reverently touched Vang Pao like he was a god.
Heidi mentioned that renewed efforts the past two weeks failed to get Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to endorse their effort. Numerous efforts resulted in rebuffs that amounted to, "That is not a city issue."
Like hell. I suppose just as school budget cuts, state spending controls on education, and declining enrollments are not a city issue.
It was not intentional, but one of the biggest insults I ever received was in the 2003 campaign when a friend said, "Whether you or Dave wins, it makes no difference; you are both the same."
Like hell. I knew we were different when Bill Keyes told me that Dave related that he would not have defended Bill on the free speech issue related to the Pledge of allegiance.
It is not a difficult issue.
As we said about the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq, "Failure to oppose it is tantamount to supporting it."
For an updated view of Vang Pao and how he exploited the jutifiable anger and torment of his own people who were trapped by the Communists and the U.S. government, read Royal Calkins from the Monterey Herald:
Almost 18 years ago, I helped write an ambitious newspaper series called "The General and the Hmong: A Tale of Betrayal." It was about Gen. Vang Pao and how he was squeezing money out of 100,000-plus Hmong refugees with the acquiescence of the U.S. government.
After the Vietnam War, the former Laotian Army general and CIA partner was like the king of the Hmong in this country. He supported himself, his wives and friends by collecting money for a negligible resistance movement along the Thailand-Laos border. He and his collectors claimed that much of the money went to a small army working to overthrow the communist government in Laos so his followers could return to their homeland...
...Federal prosecutors say they are likely to charge other co-conspirators. They should start by charging a long list of U.S. officials and politicians who spent decades ignoring the exploitation of Vang Pao's followers and his illegal support of a resistance effort that was primarily a prop in an international shell game...
...Several times before, the paper had told the story of how the Hmong had been pressed into action by Vang Pao and the CIA during the war in Vietnam, and how they fled when Saigon fell. The Bee frequently wrote about their struggle to assimilate, about their prolonged welfare dependency.
Every year or so, Vang Pao would come to Fresno and give a speech to thousands of refugees. Official translators would tell reporters that the general was urging them to learn English, to get jobs, to become Americans. The crowd would cheer.
When we heard that the general and his allies were living off collections from the refugees, we sent our own translators when he came to town. He wasn't telling the people to learn English. He was telling them to keep their old ways and stay on welfare. He said, accurately enough, that they had earned the help by helping the U.S. military.
Vang Pao told the crowd that someday soon they would return to Laos. That's when they cheered.
Leaders in the highly hierarchical Hmong society knew that if the people assimilated, they'd stop dreaming of home. If they stopped dreaming, they'd stop paying.
Despite the 1989 series and various official inquiries, Vang Pao and cronies continued requiring Hmong families to tithe. If they didn't, they'd lose access to social services and to colorful certificates proclaiming their right to return to Laos.
The Hmong have struggled mightily and it's partly because of Vang Pao's scheme. Most have remained tethered to welfare. A 2005 study found that more than half of California's Hmong population lives in poverty and is faring significantly worse than all other Southeast Asian refugee groups.
U.S. authorities knew what was going on, The Bee and others reported, notably the Washington Post and New Republic, but the U.S. government did nothing. Federal agents said they couldn't find victims. Reporters could, but the FBI couldn't.
Was Vang Pao, now 77, left alone because of things he did for the CIA in Southeast Asia and things he did later? In his classic 1972 book, "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia," Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy reported that U.S. agents helped Vang Pao strong-arm political challengers in Hmong villages. He wrote about how the CIA allowed Vang Pao to profit from heroin trafficking in exchange for help guiding U.S. troops. After the war, Vang Pao helped in the search for missing U.S. soldiers. By some accounts, he even provided pilots who helped the CIA smuggle weapons to the contras in Central America.
For whatever reason, U.S. officials looked the other way for three decades and let Vang Pao essentially extort money from tens of thousands of people who believed in him, people he and our government apparently considered expendable.
In 1989 we wrote that if Vang Pao was plotting against Laos, he was violating the Neutrality Act, and if he wasn't plotting against Laos, he was defrauding his people. In either case, our government should have stopped him a long time ago.
(Royal Calkins is editor of the Opinion page of the Monterey Herald.)