| After the hearing, The Capital City Hues sat down with Chong Jeh Vang and Fa Chia Vang, two men who say they served under Pao during the Vietnam War, to get their perspective on Pao and the allegations against him. While this interview hardly purports to settle the controversy surrounding Pao, it does give some insight into the total allegiance of the Hmong community to Pao and the vehemence with which they defend him and the school naming.
Essentially, the Hmong have been a people without a country since they migrated from southern China into the highlands of Laos during the early 1800s. Always on the defensive and continually living with the threat of conflict, the Hmong have practiced the adage "You are my friend because your enemy is my enemy."
During World War II, that enemy was the Japanese. "In World War II, the Hmong people fought with the French in Southeast Asia against the Japanese because the Japanese were trying to take over Laos," Chong Vang said through interpreter Shwaw Vang. "The Japanese soldiers would capture the French and tie them up in the nose and lead them around. U.S. and Hmong people would go and fight for their release from prison. Also Hmong people would help the French soldiers when the Japanese were in the area and they would hide them."
At the end of World War II, the French tried to maintain their colonial domination of Indochina and the Vietnamese people. The Hmong -- and Pao -- were at their side. "Even before the Americans recruited the Hmong, Vang Pao was already fighting for the French in the battle of Dien Bien Phu," Chong Vang said. When the French left Indochina after their defeat, the U.S. filled the colonial vacuum. The Hmong sided with the U.S. and the CIA, the only face of the U.S. government in Laos during this period.
As an ally of the CIA during this period, according to Chong Vang, Pao united the Hmong and other minority ethnic groups in Laos. Before this time, they were considered second-class citizens. "Hmong people were not respected prior to Vang Pao's rise to leadership," Chong Vang said. "Hmong people were treated as second-class citizens. But after Vang Pao's rise to leadership, then the Lao gave more respect to the Hmong people. As a person, General Vang Pao is well respected in the Lao community and by the Lao leadership circle. But also he was very much hated by the Communists because of what he did. He is a self-respected leader and commands attention from leaders in countries where he goes."
Pao also helped develop the areas where the ethnic minority groups lived. "He built infrastructure, particularly schools and hospitals in the remote areas of Laos," Chia Vang said. "When the war broke out, people had to move from one place to the next. Wherever they went and there was a large population, General Vang Pao went in and ordered the building of hospitals and schools. That united everyone and that is when people got to know him. In addition, he also ordered the building of roads so that communication and traveling would be safer and easier for the different ethnic minorities."
During the Vietnam War and the "secret" war in Laos, Pao and his forces made their headquarters in Long Cheng. Air America, the CIA's secret airline, routinely flew missions in and out of Long Cheng. It is alleged that the CIA also flew opium in and out of Long Cheng for Pao.
Chong Vang stated that he was an air traffic controller at Long Cheng as a major in Pao's army. "I directed all American flights in and out of Long Cheng," Pao said. "I also directed personal flights for General Vang Pao." He vehemently stated that there were no drugs flown out of the airstrip.
Chia Vang stated that he served as a first lieutenant in Long Cheng. "I was someone who was close to and lived with General Vang Pao from 1967-1975," he stated. "I lived in his house. I was a guard in General Vang Pao's house. I had to ensure the safety of General Vang Pao and his family." He vehemently stated that he saw no drugs at Long Cheng.
With the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 and the evacuation of the U.S. military and the CIA, many Hmong allies fled from Laos to Thailand and were eventually accepted as permanent refugees in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Pao, who settled in California, still commanded the respect and allegiance of the Hmong community. "General Vang Pao is the world-renown leader who is respected by governments all over the world," Chong Vang said. "He is respected because unlike those who make allegations against him and then leave the meeting, he is a person who is very respectful of the people he meets with. He is a person that loves people. He is not somebody who doesn't like to talk to people. When you talk to people and you look away, you don't respect them. He is a person who is very respectful."
And what about allegations that Pao has been involved with fundraising efforts for the continued fighting in Laos, but vast sums of money are unaccounted for? "General Vang Pao is the leader of the Hmong in the United States," Chong Vang emphasized. "Everywhere he goes and everything that seems to go wrong with things he is associated with, people immediately point the finger at him. But his job is not to run the daily operations of those things that go wrong. He tries to mediate those issues, but as McCoy [a UW professor who is a critic of Pao] alleged, everything that goes wrong, McCoy points a finger at General Vang Pao because he is associated with that. General Pao does not run the organizations."
For the Hmong still living in hiding in Laos, the fighting continues. For the Hmong who live in the U.S., another type of fighting continues, a fight for respect and recognition of their presence in the community. The fighting in Laos and the fighting over the naming of the school after Pao will more than likely rage on.
| Testifying at MMSD Board meeting
Defending Pao's legacy
By Jonathan Gramling
|When the Madison Board of Education met May 7, they met for over four hours listening to public testimony. While the most intense comments were against the consolidation of the Lapham-Marquette elementary school pair, a large contingent of the Hmong community turned out to support the controversial naming of Madison's newest elementary school after General Vang Pao. Pao's association with the CIA in Laos during the Vietnam War and allegations that he was involved in the drug trade and caused the execution of civilians has created an alliance between progressives and some west side families against the naming of the school after Pao.|