Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992 0253327318, 9780253327314

The staunchest of allies, the Hmong were America's foot soldiers in the brutal secret Lao theater of the Vietnam Wa

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Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992
 0253327318, 9780253327314

Table of contents :
Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments
Chronology
Part One: The Fight for the Control of Indochina
1. Massacre on the Mekong
2. The Time of the Fackee
3. The Rise of the Viet Minh
4. The Time of the Viet Mlnh
Part Two: Laos: The First Domino
5. The Time of the Americans
6. Camelot and the Land of Oz
7. The Charade of Neutralization
Part Three: Secret War in Laos: The Johnson Years
8. CIA Operations at Long Chleng
9. Widening of the “Secret War“
10. Phou Pha Thi Falls, “the Alamo” Holds
11. Hmong in the Skies
12. Vang Pao Goes Washington
Part Four: The Nixon-Kissinger Years
13. Men of Courage
14. The U.S. Betrays the Hmong
15. Lima Lima
16. Kissinger and Guerrilla Diplomacy
17. Bouam Loung, SKY Border Base
18. War Bloodies the Land of Oz
19. The Siege of Long Chieng
Part Five: “Peace” in Laos: The Communist Takeover
20. The Last Americans
21. An Ominous Lull
22. “Wipe Them Out!”
Part Six: The Lao Gulag
23. Exodus
24. Chao Fa: Mystical Warriors
25. Holocaust In the Hills
26. The Giant Slays Sin Sal’s Soldiers
Part Seven: A New Military Age
27. “A Conspiracy of Silence”
28. “Yellow Rain“ and World Councils
29. Wronged by the Media
Part Eight: Wronged in War; Wronged in Peace
30. Burial in Montana
31. Abused and Abandoned
32. Requiem
Notes
1. Massacre on tho Makong
2. Th« Tima of tha Fackaa
9. Th* Ris* of tho Vio» Mlnh
4. Tho Tlmo of too Vlot Mlnh
5. Tho Tlmo of too Amorlcant
6. Camalot and tha Land of Oz
7. Tho Charade of Neutralisation
I. CIA Operations at Long Chiong
9. Widening of the “Secret War*'
10. Phou Pho Thi Falls, “the Alamo Holds"
11. Hmong In th* Skint
12. Vang Poo goos to Washington
17. touam Loung: SKY Bordsr Bom
18. War Bloodlat ths Land of Os
19. Th« Steg« of Long Chteng
20. Th« Lost Americans
21. An Ominous Lull
23. Exodus
24. Chao Fa: Mystical Warriors
25. Holocaust In tho Hills
2«. “Y«llow Rain" and Wörtd Councils
29. Wronged by tho Modla
SO. Burial In Montana
31. Abu—d and Abandoned
32. Roquloin
Glossary
Interviews and Sources
Index

Citation preview

Tragic Mountains

Ttagic

INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS Bloom ington and Indianapolis

Mountains The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos,

1942- A992 Jane Hamilton-Merritt II

© 1993 by Jane Hamilton-Merritt All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, elec* tronic or mechanical, including photocopy­ ing and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without per­ mission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses' Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American Na­ tional Standard for Information Sciences— Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984. Manufactured in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-ln-PubUcation Data Hamilton-Merritt, Jane. Tragic mountains : the Hmong, the Americans, and the secret wars for Laos, 1942-1992 / Jane Hamilton-Merritt. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-253-32731-8 (alk. paper). 1. Hmong (Asian people)—Wars. 2. Hmong (Asian people)—Government pol­ icy—Laos. 3. Hmong (Asian people)— History—20th century. 4. Laos—Politics and government. 5. Laos—History— 20th century. I. Title. DS555.45.M5H36 1992 959.4'00495—dc20 92-28970 1 2 3 4 5 96 95 94 93

Hmong textile art, pa’ndau, found on the title page and on the part titles are examples of traditional Hmong designs.

In memory of all Hmong who d ie d defending their families and homelands.

C O N T E N T S Preface xl Acknowledgments Chronology xxiii

xlx

PART ONE THE FIGHT FOR THE CONTROL OF INDOCHINA

Massacre on the Mekong The Time of the Fackee The Rise of the Viet Minh The Time of the Viet Minh

3 19 37 47

5. The Time of the Americans 6. Camelot and the Land of Oz 7. The Charade of Neutralization

69 96 113

8. CIA Operations at Long Chleng 9. Widening of the "Secret War" 10. Phou Pha Thl Falls, "the Alamo" Holds 11. Hmong In the Skies 12. Vang Pao Goes to Washington

130 144 171 189 198

13. Men of Courage 14. The U.S. Betrays the Hmong 15. Lima Lima

211 225 230

1 2. 3. 4.

PART TWO LAOS: THE FIRST DOMINO

PART THREE SECRET WAR IN LAOS: THE JOHNSON YEARS

PART POUR THE NIXONKISSINGER YEARS

viii

Contents 16. Kissinger and Guerrilla Diplomacy 17. Bouam Loung, SKY Border Base 18. War Bloodies the Land of Oz 19. The Siege of Long Chieng

239

20. The Last Americans 21. An Ominous Lull 22. "Wipe Them Out!"

293 323 337

23. 24. 25. 26.

355 378 390 400

248 263 277

PART FIVE "PEACE" IN LAOS: THE COMMUNIST TAKEOVER

PART SIX THE LAO GULAG

Exodus Chao Fa: Mystical Warriors Holocaust in the Hills The Giant Slays Sin Sal's Soldiers

PART SEVEN ANEW MILITARY AGE

27. “A Conspiracy of Silence" 28. "Yellow Rain" and World Councils 29. Wronged by the Media

413 432

30. Burial in Montana 31. Abused and Abandoned 32. Requiem

463 471 497

453

PART EIGHT WRONGED IN WAR; WRONGED IN PEACE

Appendix 531 Notes 541 Glossary 559 Interviews and Sources 563 Index 571 Illustrations follow pages 154 and 306

Maps

Indochina Pre WWII and the Mekong River Laos: Political Map Laos: Time of the Fackee Laos: The Ground War 1961-1975 Laos: The Air War 1964-1973 Laos: Chemical-Biological Toxin War against the Hmong 1975-1991

xll xiii 2 128 129 354

PREFACE

In the mid*1960s when I arrived in Southeast Asia as a journalist and photographer, the Indochina peninsula was at war. North Vietnam, sup­ ported by its Soviet, Chinese, and Eastern Bloc allies, fought against South Vietnam and the United States and their allies from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. Some of the critical battlefields of this struggle were in the remote northeastern mountainous areas of Laos inhabited by th«^trihy| minority»«: Th|S war pitted the highly trained and well-equipped North Vietnamese Army and its allies against the moun­ tain men of Laos, primarily of the Hmong tribe, but also those of the Kmhmu and Mien groups. While some Hmong joined with the commu­ nist forces, most Hmong elected to join the fight to eject North Vietnam from Laos. The remote hills where this war was being fought were forbidden to journalists. Those of us who spent time in Laos lived on the edge of this story. During this time, I covered the Vietnam War for midwestem and Asian newspapers and magazines. I knew of the "secret war" being fought in northern Laos, but I could not write about it then. It was em­ bargoed. While reporters were forbidden in northeastern Laos, they were al­ lowed and even encouraged to visit the lowland Lao villages to report on economic development and medical projects. Several times, I had tried to visit the northern Lao province of Xieng Khouang. Since this area in­ cluded Long Chieng, Hmong General Vang Pao's headquarters, the CIA paramilitary base of operations, and was the province with the heavy fighting, my requests were denied. It was easy to control who went to General Vang Pao's area since those hills were accessible only by aircraft. Permission had to be obtained from U.S. authorities. Journalists found such authorization difficult to obtain. As a result, few of them spent mean­ ingful time in Laos. Secrecy and restrictions made significant stories diffi-

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