THE SECRET WAR - INTERNAL


A COUNTRY DIVIDED BY ALTITUDE

THE LOW-LANDERS AND THE HMONG


A DELICATE SUBJECT FOR SOME
LAO before the war was a country whose demographics were representative of the people.  I emphasize this quite a bit.  The southern part is low-land, in places water logged, perfect for growing rice which requires flooded acreage and at one time LAO was the world leader in rice production. The folks who settled there were called Low-Landers. This might be the only country in the world “ Where and  who you are known as, is based on how high you live above sea level”.

The Plain of Jars or the middle of LAO was home to the LAO Middle people and the slight elevation up to 1200 feet was theirs and the area received the highest accumulation of ordinance ever by the US. It was a dumping ground for unused ordnance.

The area of mountains from 1200 feet and above belonged to the Hmong and related tribes. These were tough mountain people, fighters and knew every square inch of their land and how to fight on it.  It was closer to the Ho Che Minh trail and that meant the Hmong tribes had the advantage and training began, then the Secret War.

As the war developed there was a definite separation between the Low-Landers and the Hmong.  Really two different personalities,  exacerbated, by the terrain and the empirical dynastic governments, which effected the relationship.  The Hmong were immigrants to the country and came from China, believed by some as far as  India in their migrations.

I best explain it, or try to is that they were on the same side, sometimes, not on the same page, almost fighting two wars side by side.  Dis-in-franchised, individualistic, stubborn at times, but with many differences in culture, depending on where, when, who,  and why. 

•  The Low-landers believed the Hmong to be a lesser race. No written language or records. 

•  The Hmong thought little of the Low-landers as lazy and indifferent.  Simply put a clash of warriors and farmers.  

With some old bad never goes away...In some places today this attitude extends to different tribes as some tribal conflicts never either go away or die off.   It is not spoken of as courtesy, prevails in public, but I have heard it expressed by some old timers, still fighting wars in their minds after a few beers and usually some unwilling listeners.  

On one occasion as a guest and advisor for the group,  after Roberts Rules of Order got trashed,  it was ME... it was not what I was looking for.  No one was listening as it was Beer time.  Sometimes the stories go on and on and as the beer is consumed the noise gets louder... At that point I left.   This was not the group I would nor could support.  There are other challenges and hangups that would have to be eventually worked out.


GOALS AND SHORTCOMINGS BY OUR CIA - NO EXIT PLAN
My goal was to bring even more of the LAO story to the present, unfortunately there is a problem.  They believe, that is the fighters against the NVA and Cong were hung out to dry at the end of the war by the CIA.  Partially true, Cambodia, Lao and Viet Nam were all falling apart.  Southeast Asia was totally engulfed, we observed borders, the enemy had none.

This is true and a proper exit plan was not in place.  The Viet Cong, the PRG, the North Vietnamese regulars, the Pathet Lao the Kampuchea supported by arms from Russia, Communist Bloc nations,  and China, The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia,  North Korea and others, even Cuba vastly overpowered the freedom fighters.  It was inevitable.

The refugees escaping with virtually nothing took refuge in internment camps in Thailand till the United States granted “ Refuge Status”.  
Many in Cambodia, for which escape was difficult, almost 3,000 million were simply slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge and l
ittle is ever said about the Vietnamese Cambodian War.


IT IS TILL FELT TODAY - BACK TO THE PRESENT
There are different emotions running around in the room even between those who all came from Lao. Surprisingly, the even partially based on age and where you lived in the old country.  

1-The Elders who managed to survive the death camps and relocation granted American citizenship and privilege.  The elders want the old customs and food, clothing, and in some cases religion and try to press it on the children. 

This is called heritage and these people have centuries of it.    Some almost 50 plus years later are still fighting the war in their minds.  There are enough atrocities from that era which stretched from the late fifties to the mid seventies to keep it alive.

2-Those who immigrated and managed to get under the immigration umbrella and really prefer the lifestyle here, and do not really want to associate with the old country. They are Americans now.

3-The children of the newest 2nd and third generations who feel they are by birthright in the US Americans and adapted well to this style.

4-The Hmong who follow their traditions closely (they are a smaller but very unified group).  And those cultural differences reflect in their beliefs and a strong community.  There are still enough differences in attitude, beliefs,  and old memories that create small tensions. 

BEST FOUGHT THE CONG
For this reason the  “SECRET” part of the war effort was concentrated with the mountain-trained Hmong as it provided the better fighters in that particular environment, better suited to altitude, strength and resiliency.  But almost 30,000 of them were killed with the Chinese supplying the North Vietnamese Regulars and Viet Cong simply were too much as the LAO country collapsed even with the US and allies supplying the southern command. 

In the photo above, the North Vietnamese engineers widened and improved the Ho Chi Minh trails using nothing but manpower and those trails were built at the rate of one mile per day including de-forestation and bridge building.

The Helios Courier, an incredible short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft was the taxicab into the mountainous retreats of the Hmong forces.   Bill Lair used it to work with Vang Pao, the Hmong leader.

Capable of taking off inside of 500 feet and landing at 30 miles per hour, its performance could only be exceeded by a helicopter. At it other end it could also cruise at 180 MPH, quite a unique combination.  They are still popular today as bush planes in all climates.


GENOCIDE EQUALS MOTIVATION
When the Khmer Rouge genocide in 1975 took place and 1.3 million people were killed in Cambodia, the thinking changed somewhat in LAO and the egress began, knowing it was a matter of time before the Pathet LAO would take the Khmer playbook and possibly run with it.  Those in LAO ran or swam for their lives crossing the MeKong to Thailand.  The lucky ones made it to the US after detainment in Thailand. 

Faced with a changing culture, you can see subtle demeanor and differences in the LAO low-land refugees, and Hmong refugees through their second generations born in the US and the third generation of America children.  

Being they are American born both the Low-landers and the Hmong children, they do assimilate going to American schools, cell-phones, drivers courses, sports  and many excelled, some at the tops of their class and some of the HS students graduating early doing college work. They enjoy the benefits of citizenship.

With some of the second generation, seriousness is treated with a smile and a laugh, it’s the Lowland LAO way.  The kids are more American and the elders wish for them to retain the honesty and virtues of the LAO culture but kids who are being educated in American schools, for some of the kids they are the first to attend any school in their family tree. These kids will become more independent thinkers.

As the children mitigate into US society and education, the challenges in this world are more competitive and some of their youth who are very competitive have risen to the occasion and are excellent students and coming into acceptance in the professional society. Those are the ones I want to see rise to the occasion.  Those that need mentoring in some subjects should get it.


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