Hmong Means Free

Life in Laos and America

edited and with an Introduction by

Sucheng Chan

This Web page contains the "Introduction" chapter of Hmong Means Free by Sucheng Chan, published by Temple University Press. It is reproduced on the WWW Hmong Homepage with permission from the author and publisher. Please respect the Dr. Chan's and her publisher's efforts and goodwill by not redistributing this document.

To order your own copy of Hmong Means Free, please do so through this link to If you order Hmong Means Free through this link, a small portion of the purchase price will be returned to the WWW Hmong Homepage for use in its further development.

The chapter below was scanned and OCR'd into the computer and is in serious need of proofreading. I welcome the efforts of those reading this on the Net to compare what is presented here with the actual chapter from Hmong Means Free. Please e-mail me any corrections you find at <>.

Many thanks for the proofreading efforts of Carol <>!

You may notice that footnote references are not included in this online version of the "Introduction" chapter. This is to encourage you to go out and buy the book! :-)

For another person's perspective on whether or not the word "Hmong" means "Free", please see this article by Lamont H. Thao.


The Hmong Experience in Asia and the United States

The Hmong living in the United States today came from Laos, a small landlocked country in mainland Southeast Asia. Their ancestors originated in southwestern China, in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Hunan. For several thousand years, the central Chinese government dominated by Han Chinese basically left the Hmong (called Miao by the Chinese) alone, as long as they paid their tributes to the Chinese. However, the last dynasty in China, the Qing (1644-1911), founded by Manchus, followed a different policy. Qing armies and officials oppressed the Hmong, who rose in rebellion. In the early nineteenth century, this political persecution, along with increasing population pressure, led some of the Hmong to migrate southward into mainland Southeast Asia, where they settled in the mountainous regions of northern Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

Today there are still more Hmong in China - estimates range from: 2.8 to 5 million, depending on whether one counts only the Hmong or combines all their cognate groups - than in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world combined. There has never been an accurate count of how many Hmong live in each of the Southeast Asian countries. Virtually all those who have settled in the United States, however, have come from Laos, where they may have numbered as many as three hundred thousand in the 1960s. Perhaps half of that number remains in Laos today and little is known about how they are faring. The hundred thousand or so now in the United States were forced to come here as a result of their "American connection," as will be discussed later in this introduction.

Laos: Geography, History, and Ethnic Composition

Measuring approximately ninety-one thousand square miles, Laos shares borders with five countries: Thailand to its west, Burma to its northwest, China to its north, Vietnam to its east, and Cambodia to its south. The country's major means of transportation is the Mekong River, which flows along much of Laos's present western boundary with Thailand. The Laotian stretch of the Mekong is divided by rapids into three navigable segments. From the end of the seventeenth to the late nineteenth century, three kingdoms existed in the area that is now Laos: Luang Prabang in the north, Vientiane in the middle, and Champassak in the south. In addition, the principality of Xieng Khouang occupied the northeastern part of presentday Laos. The two major plateaus within Laos, both of which are approximately three thousand feet above sea level, are the Plain of Jars (so called by the French because of the numerous large stone burial jars found there) in Xieng Khouang and the Bolovens Plateau in the southern panhandle of the country. South of the Plain of Jars lies the Phou Bia Massif-a mountain range that rises to almost ten thousand feet. Xieng Khouang and the Phou Bia mountains, as we shall see, have both been important in the history of the Hmong in Laos.

The only country that can be reached easily from Laos is Thailand. Between Laos and Vietnam lies the Annamite Cordillera range of mountains traversable at only six passes. High mountains similarly hinder access to Burma and China. The impassable cataracts of the Mekong River near the town of Khone and the Dangrek Range make movement between Laos and Cambodia difficult.

The Laotian sense of national identity, based primarily on the history of its dominant ethnic group, the lowland Lao, was formed during the reign of Fa Ngum, who founded the kingdom of Lan Xang ("land of a million elephants") in 1353, with its capital at Luang Prabang. The Lao concept of kingship was underpinned by Theravada Buddhism and supported by the {\it sangha}, the monastic order, thereby endowing the king with both temporal and spiritual powers. The Buddhist monks provided the only education that existed in Laos until very recent times; they imparted to Lao young men the moral precepts of the Buddha, which stressed making spiritual merit by doing worldly good.

Despite the physical barriers that divided it from its neighbors, the kingdom of Lan Xang was repeatedly invaded. In the late fifteenth century, Vietnamese armies marched through Xieng Khouang all the way to the capital at Luang Prabang and held that city for a time before they were repelled. During the sixteenth century, Siam (the old name for Thailand) and Burma invaded Lan Xang five times, causing the reigning monarch to move the capital to Vientiane. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, disputes over succession broke Lan Xang into the aforementioned three kingdoms. The eighteenth century saw Burma sack Luang Prabang in 1753 and again in 1771, and Siam attack Vientiane in 1778. In the early nineteenth century, the Siamese again invaded Vientiane and reduced it to ruins, while the Vietnamese claimed the provinces of Xieng Khouang and Khammouane. The Laotian kingdoms managed to survive by acknowledging the suzerainty of both Siam and Vietnam.3 Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a new imperial power, France, appeared on the scene and eventually made Laos into one of its five Asian colonial possessions (six, if one counts a small territory France held in southern China).

More than sixty ethnic groups belonging to several linguistic families are found in Laos. The dominant political and cultural group, the Lao, belongs to the Tai-speaking peoples called the Lao Loum ("Lao of the lowlands"). The Lao people occupy the lowlands of the Mekong valley on both sides of the Thai-Laotian border, and those in Laos comprise a little less than half of the total Laotian population. They grow rice in wet paddies for their staple and sugarcane and tropical fruits as cash crops. In the highlands dwell the Lao Theung "Lao of the mountain slopes"), who speak Mon-Khmer languages and occupy the lower elevations, and the Lao Soung ("Lao of the mountain tops"), who speak Tibeto-Burman languages and live at elevations above three thousand feet. The two major Lao Soung groups are the Hmong and the Iu Mien.

The word Hmong means "free." However, older generations of Western scholars and the lowland Lao have referred to the Hmong as Meo, which means "savage" -- a term that the Hmong find derisive and unacceptable. The Iu Mien have been called Yao or Man in the existing literature, while the Lao Theung have been called Kha, which means "slave" -- another derogatory name. [Thousands of Iu Mien have also settled in the United States as refugees. [Ed.]] The Hmong and other highlanders cultivate dry upland rice and corn as staples and the opium poppy as a cash crop.4 When French colonialists arrived, they introduced coffee and cotton as cash crops, but it is opium, more than any other product, that has drawn Laos into the modern capitalist world economy.

Laos and the Hmong under French Colonial Rule

In the history of Western colonialism in Southeast Asia, the French were relative latecomers. The Portuguese set up trading posts in Southeast Asia in the late fifteenth century, the Spanish claimed the Philippines in the sixteenth, the Dutch colonized Indonesia in the seventeenth, the British established settlements in Malaya in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth, but the French did not make any real efforts to acquire colonies in that part of the world until the midnineteenth century, though some French Catholic missionaries and traders had begun coming to Siam and Vietnam by the latter part of the seventeenth century.5

In 1858, the French sent the first of several naval expeditions to Danang, a port on the eastern seaboard of Vietnam. At that point they were interested mainly in securing the right to trade and not territorial aggrandizement per se, but the Vietnamese, who had chafed for almost ten centuries under Chinese rule, fiercely resisted the French and drove their ships off. Three years later, however, the French returned and took Saigon. Located in the southern part of Vietnam, Saigon became the beachhead for the French conquest of the rest of what eventually became French Indochina.

Saigon lies just north of the mouths of the Mekong River in the rich alluvial lands of the Mekong Delta. The Vietnamese call this part of their country Nam Bo, meaning "southern region," while the French called it Cochin China after they annexed it. Since part of the fertile delta lies in Cambodia (which by then had become a mere shadow of the resplendent civilization that had existed there during the heyday of the Angkor empire in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries), the French decided to gain control over Cambodia also. They established a protectorate there in 1863.

As a prelude to further colonization, the French sent an exploratory party up the Mekong River in 1866, with the mistaken notion that the waterway might provide a route into China. China was in fact the country that the French were most interested in, but because the British had so firmly established their economic, political, and military presence there after the two Opium Wars (1839-42 and 1856-60), the French had to try to find a backdoor to China. The explorers discovered that the Mekong River is not navigable at certain locations where rapids interrupt its course. Later, hoping that perhaps the Red River, which runs from southern China through northern Vietnam and drains into the Gulf of Tonkin, would provide the route into China that they sought, the French conquered northern Vietnam in 1882. The Vietnamese call that part of their country Bac Bo, meaning "northern region," while the French dubbed it Tonkin. In August of the following year, the French occupied the royal Vietnamese capital at Hue, located in central Vietnam - an area called Truong Bo, meaning "central region," by the Vietnamese and Annam by the French.

Having acquired all of Vietnam, the French now thought of themselves as heir to the Vietnamese claims in neighboring Laos. Since the Siamese had tried repeatedly in the late 1880s and early 1890s to consolidate their hold over the Laotian kingdoms, when the French, in the person of Auguste Pavie, appeared on the scene, the Laotian rulers were willing to consider placing themselves under French protection as a counterweight to domination by the Siamese. Pavie had gained the favor of the king of Luang Prabang after he saved the old monarch's life during a raid on the latter's capital in 1887.

During this period, the British also became involved in this part of the world when they conquered upper Burma. They wished to keep Siam (which lies between Burma and Laos) as a neutral buffer state and in 1892 told the French that they would not stand in the way, should the latter wish to take over Laotian territory east of the Mekong River, as long as the French did not encroach upon the valley of the Menam Chao Praya -- the river that flows through the heartland of what is now central Thailand. Following this understanding, when French and Siamese troops clashed, France used the skirmishes as a pretext to demand that Siam cede all territories east of the Mekong River to France. In the face of France's superior military power, Siam acceded to this demand in the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1893. In 1904 and 1907, Siam was also forced to cede the provinces of Sayaboury and Champassak, respectively, which lie west of the Mekong, to France.6

Within French Indochina -- composed now of Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China, Cambodia, and Laos -- the French considered landlocked Laos the least important colony. In contrast to the forty thousand or so French people who descended upon the three regions of Vietnam to govern the local population and to exploit the natural resources there, only a hundred French colonial servants were allotted for Laos. This handful of Frenchmen administered Laos with the aid of Vietnamese, whom they brought to Laos to serve in the lower echelons of the colonial bureaucracy and in the Garde Indigene, a local militia. Meanwhile, the Chinese, who had traded in Laos for centuries, were encouraged to continue handling the retail and wholesale trade of the colony.

Since the number of administrative personnel was minimal, the French relied on the existing Laotian political structure as much as possible to maintain law and order. For example, the king of Luang Prabang negotiated successfully with the French to retain his throne, and the kingdom of Luang Prabang was ruled indirectly -- at least in theory. In fact, however, the French governor-general of Laos exercised full authority over the king. Members of the Luang Prabang royal family as well as those from Xieng Khouang and Champassak were allowed to retain their social status but had very little political power. The French controlled the royal houses mainly by reserving the right to approve who might succeed the king of Luang Prabang or any of the princes whenever one of them died. Naturally, they always chose compliant figureheads. Outside the kingdom of Luang Prabang, Laotians came under direct French rule.

The French made Vientiane the administrative capital of Laos and divided the country into fourteen provinces called khoueng, each of vhich was in turn carved into cantons called muong. The muong were divided into districts called tasseng, each of which was made up of villages called ban. Lao village chiefs served as intermediaries between the French colonial administrators and their Vietnamese assistants, on the one hand, and their own people, the Lao, as well as other ethnic groups, on the other hand.

The French made little effort to develop Laos economically, socially, or culturally. After discovering that their hopes of creating a river empire in the colony was but a pipe dream, the only resource they tried to exploit was the country's tin deposits. They built few roads and no railways in Laos, as they had elsewhere in French Indochina. In the six decades that the French ruled Laos, they did not establish a single high school in the colony. In 1940, a total of only seven thousand Laotian youngsters were attending primary school. Those who desired and could afford a high school education had to go to Vietnam or France to get one. To make Laos pay for itself, the French found four ways to raise revenue: by levying a head tax on all males between the ages of eighteen and sixty; by taxing the sale of opium, alcohol, and salt; by requiring each adult male to perform unpaid corvee labor; and by establishing a government monopoly on opium. The first three means of raising revenues are described below, while the French colonial government's opium monopoly will be dealt with in the next section.

The head tax was onerous because it had to be paid in cash. At that time, Laos had a subsistence and barter economy. To pay their taxes in cash, people had to find ways to produce commodities that could be sold for money. In many instances, they had to pay more than the officially imposed amount because the tax collectors demanded additional money for their own pockets. The taxes on opium, alcohol, and salt were imposed on everyone, regardless of whether or not a person consumed any of the taxed items. The corvee required each adult male to contribute fifteen to twenty days of work a year. Not only were the men not paid for such work but, as Jou Yee Xiong, one of the narrators in this book, recalls, they often had to walk long distances to the work sites and had to supply their OWII food. The aborers cleared jungles, removed rocks from rivers, built and repaired roads, served as porters and messengers, and performed other Introduction kinds of hard, common labor. It was possible to buy off one's corvee requirement by paying an additional tax. Fines, imposed for even minor infringements, further enriched the colonial coffers. Though the receipts from these various forms of taxation and from fines covered only about 15 percent of the colonial budget,9 they imposed great hardship on the people, some of whom resisted by rising up against the French in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Only a few studies of these uprisings have been made, but a number of historians believe that resentment over taxation and the corvee was the main cause of the insurrections, even though some of them were led by religious figures and were millenarian in character."' Most of the rebels were highlanders because the French, who administered some of the areas occupied by the hill tribes as military outposts, were especially harsh on them. The French practice of using Lao chieftains and a few educated Tai Dam (the Black Tai, another ethnic group) to collect taxes from the highlanders meant that the payment of taxes was not tempered by any bonds of kinship or ethnic solidarity.

The first large anti-French uprising was undertaken by Lao Theung groups in the Bolovens Plateau in southern Laos from 190I to 1907. One of the defeated leaders of this revolt escaped; many years later he led a more widespread movement that lasted from 1924 to 1936. In northern Laos, Tai-speaking groups revolted from 1914 to 1923 in Nam Tha Province, in 19I6 in Houa Phan Province, and in 1918 in Phong Saly Province.' The Hmong in Xieng Khouang Province revolted in 19I9 under the leadership of Chao Bat Chay. The revolt actually began in the adjacent area of Dien Bien Phu across the border in Vietnam. When troops under French command chased Chao Bat Chay and his followers across the mountains into Laos, the band gained adherents among the Hmong in Xieng Khouang Province by calling for the establishment of an independent Hmong kingdom. The insurrection ended in 1921 when someone betrayed Chao Bat Chay to the French.

In an effort to prevent a recurrence of such acts of resistance, the French established an autonomous Hmong tasseng (district) at Nong Het, to the east of the Plain of Jars near the Laotian-Vietnamese border, and allowed the Hmong there to govern themselves. Hmong organize themselves socially into exogamous clans; the Nong Het region had been settled by three clans from Chinathe Lo, the Ly, and the Moua. The two dominant ones in the 1920S and 1930S were the Lo and Ly clans. Traditionally, the Lo clan was allied with the Luang Prabang royal family, while the Ly clan was allied with the Xieng Khouang royal family.

The head of each of these clans desired the tasseng chief's position once it was established because it was very lucrative: the incumbent served as the broker for the sale of all the opium grown in the mountains surrounding the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang Province. According to the rules of the opium monopoly that the French had established in 1899 for Indochina, the only place that was allowed to grow opium legally was Xieng Khouang Province, although contraband opium was cultivated elsewhere. Profits from the opium monopoly contributed from 15 to 40 percent of the colonial budget at any given time.

The Lo and Ly clans, which had shared power in Nong Het, got into a feud in 1922. In I9I8, Ly Fong, a bright and ambitious member of the Ly clan, tried to advance himself socially by kidnapping and marrying the favorite daughter of Lo Blia Yao, the head of the Lo clan. Even though Ly Fong already had a wife and children, the Hmong practiced polygamy as well as bride kidnapping, and Ly Fong's action was nothing unusual. Lo Blia Yao not only acquiesced to the marriage but made his new son-in-law his secretary. Ly Fong's new wife gave birth to a son, Touby, and a daughter. In 1922 she committed suicide after her husband allegedly beat her. In anger and sorrow, her father fired Ly Fong and severed all ties between the Lo and Ly clans.

According to Gary Y. Lee, a Hmong anthropologist now living in Australia, Lo Blia Yao's eldest son, Song Tou, administered Nong Het, but the French became disstisfied and dismissed him in 1938. When Ly Fong offered himself for the position, the French appointed him, but he died one year later. The French then held an election and F:aydang, the second son of Lo Blia Yao, ran against Touby, the son Of Ly Fong. The larger number of votes went to Touby, not only because he was more educated (he and his two half-brothers were the first Hmong to receive high school diplomas), but also, according to Lee, "because Faydang's father had alienated many Hmong in the past through his authoritarian leadership."

Some Western scholars, however, have given a slightly different version of the story, stating that the French divided Nong Het into two subdistricts, with Song Tou as chief of one and Ly Fong's eldest son (from his first wife) as chief of the other. According to this version, when the French chose Ly Fong to succeed Song Tou, Faydang went to see a member of the Luang Prabang royal family and asked him to intercede on his behalf. The prince got the French to promise that upon Ly Fong's retirement or death, Faydang would be appointed to the post that his elder brother had held. However, when Ly Fong died, the French broke their promise to Faydang and, instead, made Touby his father's successor.

The antagonism between the Lo and Ly clans eventually became entangled in national and international politics and has continued to the present day. Toward the end of World War 11, as the Free French (the anti-Nazi French resistance movement) parachuted commandos into the Plain of Jars to prepare for the French recolonization of Laos after the end of hostilities, they were aided by Touby Lyfong and his men. Later, when Americans started arriving, Touby Lyfong joined their counterinsurgency efforts against the Laotian and North Vietnamese Communists. Although, in time, Touby's importance was eclipsed by a young Hmong military leader named Vang Pao (who commanded the secret Hmong army that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency recruited, supported, and used in the U.S. war against Communism in North Vietnam and Laos), he remained the titular head of the pro-Western group of Hmong until 1975.

Meanwhile, Touby Lyfong's rival, Faydang Lobliayao, followed an opposite political path. He formed a Meo Resistance League in 1946 6 and joined the Lao Issara, a nationalist group formed to secure Laotian independence at the end of World War 11. When the Lao Issara split into factions, Faydang aligned himselfwith the one led by Prince Souphanouvong, which in 19S0 became known as the Pathet Lao. (Pathet Lao literally means "land of the Lao," but popular American usage has made the term synonymous with "Laotian Communists.") Souphanouvong joined forces with the Viet Minh, an organization working for Vietnamese independence under the leadership of the revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. Faydang became n important leader within the Pathet Lao. The Pathet Lao and the secret Lao People's Party it founded in 1955 came to power in 197s, establishing the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Until his death in 1986, Faydang was the highest-ranking Hmong, first within the Pathet Lao and, after, in the government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Regardless of which external power was acting as overlord, the Hmong hav consistently played a significant role in the political life of Laos for a number of reasons. First, they lived in the strategic border region between North Vietnam and Laosone of the most fiercely contested terrains during the successive phases of the Indochinese conflict. Second, they have been extraordinarily hardy soldiers, capable of operating effectively both as guerrillas in the jungles and mountains and as regular troops in positional warfare. Third, they grew the opium that helped finance the French colonial adventure from the 1890s to the 1950s, the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945, and the American involvement in Indochina in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Given the pivotal role of opium in this story, we need to understand what opium is: how it is grown, processed, and sold; its role in the economic life of the hill tribes people of northern Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam; how it has become a commodity in the international contraband drug traffic; why those who deal in narcotics value it so much; and how it has been used to finance political activities and influence the fate of nations.

Opium and the Hmong

In relying upon opium as a source of revenue, the French were simply following in the footsteps of the Britishthe paramount power in Asia in the nineteenth century. Opium, an effective analgesic, has been used medicinally in small quantities for thousands of years. Asia did not have a large population of opium addicts, however, until the British smuggled increasing quantities of the drug into China during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in an effort to reverse Great Britain's negative trade balance with China. Thus, widespread Opium addiction was one of the scourges that came to Asia with Western imperialism.

As the number of addicts in China increased and opium addiction began to afflict people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the Chinese central government made an attempt to stop its illegal importation. In the city of Canton in southern China, an imperial commissioner seized twenty thousand chests of opium in British warehouses and burned the whole supply. In response, Great Britain sent a naval squadron to punish the Chinese, who lost the first Opium War in 1842. China was forced to pay a huge indemnity in silver to the British, open five ports to trade, limit the amount of custom duty it could charge on foreign imports, allow Christian missionaries to proselytize, and cede the island of Hong Kong to Great Britain. China's defeat meant that the opium trade would continue to flourish. In 1860, China lost a second war over opium, this time to Great Britain and France, and had to make additional concessions to the Western powers. French and British troops occupied Canton for several years, while China was forced to legalize the importation of opium. Thereafter, the number of addicts increased even more rapidly.

During this period, the Chinese emigrating to various places in Southeast Asia introduced the opium-smoking habit to the local inhabitants. With a ready clientele, the French colonial governors of Indochina decided to cover some administrative costs by creating a government monopoly over the manufacture, sale, and use of opium. They made money by controlling the processing of raw opium into smoking opium and by opening several thousand opium dens and shops throughout French Indochina to induce an ever larger number of people to become addicts.

Raw opium is the resin from Papaver somniferum, a species of poppy. There are twenty-eight genera and some two hundred and fifty species of poppy, but only one produces opium.17 The active ingredient in opium is morphine, an alkaloid first isolated in its pure form by a German chemist in 1805. In addition to being a potent pain killer, morphine also creates a sense of euphoria in those who use it. Repeated usage, however, leads to a chemical dependency or addiction.18 In the remote mountains of Southeast Asia, where no modern health facilities existed, opium was usually the only drug available to treat a variety of ailments, and its use was widely accepted.

The Hmong had learned to cultivate the opium poppy before their migration from China; in Laos, they grew small amounts for their own use and for trade. As the life stories in this book show, opium was one of the thrce main crops that most Hmong families grew. (The other two were rice for their own consumption and corn for their domestic animals.) The laborious work of planting the poppy seeds, thinning the seedlings, weeding the field, and harvesting the opium crop was done mainly by women. The opium was either sold for cash or exchanged for items the Hmong did not produce themselves. The latter included iron to be made into tools, silver to be made into jewelry, kerosene for lamps, textiles, salt, and other basic necessities. (Aside from opium, domestic animals were the only other tradable or salable items that the Hmong produced.) After the French came and began to tax them, the Hmong relied on the sale of opium for cash to pay taxes.19

The opium poppy grows best in rich, alkaline soil, so opium farmers in the highlands of Southeast Asia often look for land near outcroppings of limestone. In Laos, the plants only thrive at three thousand feet or more above sca level. The mature plants like a southern or western exposure, which provides the right amount of sunlight. The Hmong sometimes plant corn in the poppy fields to help shade the young poppy seedlings. Being very delicate, the plants also need to be protected from strong wind. The hillsides on which they grow cannot be too steep, because the tiny seeds, as well as the growing seedlings, can be washed away easily during heavy rains.20 The poppy is usually planted between August and October and is harvested four months later when the plant has grown to a height of about four feet.

The crop is ready for harvesting when the brightly colored petals fall off the bulbs, which turn first from green to yellow and then to brown. Late in the afternoon, Hmong women carefully make vertical incisions in each bulb, using an instrument made of a length of bamboo or wood to which blades have been attached. A milky liquid oozes out from these incisions during the cool of the night. This sap or latex must be collected before dawn because rising temperatures cause it to coagulate into a thick resin that is difficult to scrape off the plants. The opium latex begins to lose moisture from the moment it is exposed to the air. As it dries, it turns darker until it becomes brown. To remove impurities from this raw opium, the Hmong dissolve it in boiling water and then filter the solution through pieces of cloth. The clean opium is then wrapped up for shipment.

The Hmong sometimes took the opium supply to town for sale, but more often than not, Chinese and lowland Lao merchants came to their villages to buy the year's harvest. After the French appeared on the scene, the price of opium was based upon the morphine content of the crop from each locality. (The morphine content in different batches of opium varies greatly, depending on how many years a field has been planted to poppy, the characteristics of the soil, and the extent to which the opium has dried since harvesting.) As chemical analysis in a laboratory was required to determine the morphine content of a batch, the Hmong often had to wait for weeks to find out what price the French would offer them. Merchants from the lowlands soon learned to take advantage of this situation and to appropriate a large part of the profit from this stage of the transaction for themselves. They showed up before the results from the laboratory came back, set a price themselves, and advanced cash or credit to the Hmong. These merchants thereby earned the differential - a large one in good years - between the price the French eventually decided upon and what they themselves had offered the Hmong.

Opium cultivation is well suited to the remote highland environment for several reasons. First, the value of opium per acre is very high. Though it requires an extraordinary amount of manual work, this is available in the form of unpaid family labor, which means that the larger a Hmong family is, the more poppy its members can cultivate. Second, poppy becomes productive and can therefore generate an income the very first year it is planted - unlike many other kinds of cash crops. Third, its peak period of labor requirement does not coincide with that of rice and corn, so the labor input of those who cultivate all three crops can be spread out over the year. Fourth, the poppy does not deplete nutrients in the soil; a poppy field can therefore remain productive for up to ten years without the use of fertilizers, which are still unavailable in the highlands of Southeast Asia. Fifth, opium is not a perishable product that has to be marketed within a short period of time. As a matter of fact - unlike most agricultural products in the tropics - the longer it keeps and ages, the more valuable it becomes. Sixth, it is compact, easily packaged, and can be carried over steep mountain trails on the backs of pack mules and mountain ponies - the only available forms of nonhuman transportation in that part of the world. Finally, there has always been a ready market for it, given its addictive quality.21

Even though opium was cultivated legally by the Hmong in Xieng Khouang Province, most of the raw opium that was manufactured as smoking opium in French Indochina was imported from China, India, Persia (now called Iran), and Turkey. By controlling the pro cessing that took place within Indochina, the colonial government received all the profits derived from the large markup in price be twetn the raw and processed opium. The government's opium dens and shops brought additional revenues. The main beneficiaries of the opium trade, therefore, were the Chinese and Lao merchants and the French colonial government, and not the Hmong who grew only a small portion of the crop processed in Indochina.

A new player in the opium trade appeared on the scene at the end of World War 11, when the 93rd Division of the Kuomintang (KMT, meaning Nationalist Chinese) army moved into northern Burma and Laos, ostensibly to accept the surrender of Japanese troops, but in reality, to seize the opium harvest there. When the Chinese Commu nists assumed power on the mainland in 1949, the 93rd KMT Division, which had returned to southwestern China after seizing the 1945 46 opium harvest, once again moved into northern Burma. These armed men found a way to support themselves by gaining control over the opium cultivated by the Shan people in upper Burma. Their commanders became wealthy and powerful local warlords. When the Burmese government offered them a chance to be repatriated to Taiwan, where the rump KMT government had set itself up, they declined. After repeated attempts to oust them, the Burmese govern ment finally drove them out of Burma by bombing their headquar ters in the late 1950S. By I962, they had managed to reestablish a base in northern Thailand, where they have remained ever since.22 For the last four decades, these ex-KMT soldiers and their leaders have con trolled much of the opium grown in the so-called Golden Triangle - the area where Burma, Thailand, and Laos come together.

Opium has been used increasingly, not in its original state, but in the form of its derivative, the deadly drug, heroin. Heroin, the common name for diacetylmorphine, is made by chemically bonding morphine with acetic anhydride.23 It is far more powerful and ad dictive than opium, or even morphine, because it is absorbed much more quickly into the bloodstream. Its narcotic effect does not last as long as opium's, and addicts crave another dosage within a few hours. Heroin thus debilitates its users at an alarming rate.

Not only are the profits from heroin trafficking greater, but as a contraband, it can also be smuggled across international borders more easily. Unlike opium, which exudes an unmistakable characteristic odor that makes it impossible to hide, heroin has no discernible odor and is an easily packaged and hidden white powder. Its value is thousands of times greater than a similar quantity of opium.

Though there was a heroin addiction problem in the United States before World War 11, most American addicts were deprived of their drug during the war due to the disruption in transatlantic transportation, which cut off the supply of heroin from Marseilles, France - the world center of heroin manufacturing before the war. After the war ended, however, the mafia became involved in heroin trafficking, and heroin addiction in the United States increased.24 Addiction became a serious social problem when thousands of American GIs, who had fought in Vietnam in the 1960S and become addicts there, returned home.

Not only have French colonialists, Japanese imperial troops, Nationalist Chinese soldiers, American counterinsurgency forces, and certain military and political leaders of various Southeast Asian countries been involved in and benefited from the opium trade, so also have the more moralistic Communists. According to anthropologist David Feingold, agents ofthe Viet Minh, who led the Communist revolution in Vietnam, brought cloth, salt, and other desired necessities to Laos and bartered or sold them for opium. Then they took the opium back to Vietnam and sold it to Chinese merchants. With the hard currency obtained from these Chinese merchants, they paid for modern weapons from the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China. Likewise, the Pathet Lao, who controlled the mountainous provinces to the northeast of Xieng Khouang Province, also used the profits from opium to finance their revolutionary movement.25 Thus, the hands of every nation and group that has vied for political power in Laos and Vietnam in the last century have been stained by opium. The Hmong, who did the actual hard work of growing the opium, have merely been pawns in this dangerous illicit trade and, through it, in international power politics.

The Japanese Occupation of Laos

Although the opium that the Hmong grew was traded in the world beyond their villages, the Hmong, as a people, did not get entangled in world politics until the 1940s, when the feuding Ly and Lo clans took opposing sides vis-a-vis the French colonial regime and the Japanese army that came to occupy French Indochina. Under Fay dang Lobliayao's leadership, the Hmong also became involved in the movement for Laotian independence during that same period.

One of the "midwives" of the Laotian independence movement was Japan, which has played a paradoxical role in the national lib eration movements of many Southeast Asian nations. On the one hand, it was Japan that pushed the emerging nationalist leaders in those countries to proclaim their independence in early 1945; on the other hand, Japan was itself an imperialist power. It began to sta tion troops in French Indochina in 1940 after signing a treaty with the Vichy French government (the Nazi-collaborationist regime) to allow Japanese troops to move freely in Indochina while the French colonial administration remained in power. During this period, as Jou Yee Xiong, one of the narrators in this book, indicates, the major Hmong clans took different sides: the Lo clan supported theJapanese, while the Ly and Moua clans remained loyal to the French. Boua Neng Moua, another narrator here, recalls that he and some other Hmong were recruited into the French militia to guard their villages against the Japanese TheJapanese troops used Laos mainly as staging ground for attacking the Nationalist Chinese regime north of the border.

Japan had also come to an understanding with Thailand,* the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized. With Japanese backing, in early 1941 Thailand successfully demanded the return of all territory on the west bank of the Mekong River that France had acquired from Siam in 1904 and 1907. To mollify the king of Luang Prabang, who was furious at the loss of this territory and threatened to abdicate, the French compensated him and gave the Luang Pra bang royal house a little more power: they turned the royal advisory council into a council of ministers and named Prince Phetsarath as prime minister and viceroy.26 [* Siam changed its name to Thailand in 1939, reverted to Siam from 1945 to 1948, and once again to Thailand thereafter. [Ed.]]

In an effort to counterJapanese influence, the French also tried, for the first time, to promote Lao nationalism. (Japanese propagandists envisioned uniting all the peoples of Asia into a single "co-prosperity sphere" under Japanese leadership and control ) In contrast to the preceding half-century of colonial rule, when the French had done virtually nothing for Laos, they now encouraged a veritable Laotian cultural renaissance, with the publication of the very first newspaper in the Lao language, the performance oftraditional drama and music, and the construction of some seven thousand primary schools.27 Since the war had cut offcommunications between the French colonial administration in Indochina and France proper, the opium monopoly provided one of the few dependable sources of revenue for the French colonial government. Therefore, French officials made special efforts to travel into the mountains to encourage the Hmomg and other hill tribes to increase their poppy acreage.28

In France, meanwhile, the Resistance forces under Charles de Gaulle set up a provisional government in liberated Paris in August 1944. Fearing that theJapanese might formally take over Indochina, de Gaulle ordered Free French commandos to be parachuted onto the Plain of Jars in December 1944 to set up resistance bases there with the help of those Hmong under the leadership of Touby Lyfong.29 In March 1945, realizing that the tide of the war was turning decisively against them, the Japanese suddenly arrested and imprisoned all French residents in Indochina and, as de Gaulle had predicted, seized control of the govemment. They asked the leaders in each of the Southeast Asian countries they occupied to declare their independence.

In Laos, the king, instead of declaring independence, initially called on his people to rise up against theJapanese. But when the Japanese occupied the royal capital and took the crown prince hostage, the king acquiesced and declared Laos's independence in April 1945. Prince Phetsarath, meanwhile, removed many of the Vietnamese in the government bureaucracy and in the Garde Indigene and replaced them with Laotians.30

When the Allies decided at the Potsdam Conference to use British and Nationalist Chinese troops to accept the Japanese surrender in Indochina, Japan immediately ordered its commander in Indochina to turn power over to the newly independent governments in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Though the United States was not eager to sce the French recolonize Indochina, President Harry S. Truman assured de Gaulle that he would not oppose the French return. British and Chinese troops did not get to Indochina until several weeks after Japan's unconditional surrender, however, and this brief interlude proved crucial, for it gave the Viet Minh - the independence movement in neighboring Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh - time to consolidate its control over northern Vietnam. Viet Minh forces also moved into Laos in an effort to gain control over the towns along the Mekong River. At this critical juncture, Hans Imfeld, a Swiss artillery officer acting on behalf of the Free French, arrived in Laos and went to see the king. He persuaded the monarch to repudiate his declaration of independence and to proclaim that the French protectorate over Laos was still in effect. The king's proclamation infuriated Prince Phetsarath, who had hoped the king would unify all of Laos - including the territory in southern Laos outside the kingdom of Luang Prabang - under the king's authority.31

Soon thereafter, Prince Phetsarath's younger half-brother, Prince Souphanouvong, who had been working as an engincer in Vietnam, returned to Laos and became president of the Committee for Independent Laos (Khana Lao Issara), which had been founded by a group of nationalists.32 Phetsarath was honorary president and Oun Sananikone (scion of another Laotian aristocratic family), vice president. They intended to create an army, with Souphanouvong as the commander, and to name their government the Lao Issara. The king, however, refused to endorse the Lao Issara, whereupon the provisional people's assembly established by the Lao Issara voted to depose him.33

In early 1946, as French forces marched northward to retake all of Laos, Prince Phetsarath, in a conciliatory gesture, offered to reinstate the king as a constitutional monarch. The king accepted this offer in April, just one day before French forces reoccupied Vientiane. As the French entered the city, the Lao Issara leaders fled across the river to Thailand, where they soon set up a government-in-exile in Bangkok. Later that year, the French and the crown prince reached an agreement to treat Laos as a single political entity. A national assembly was elected and its members drew up a constitution to make Laos a constitutional monarchy. Laos became a member of the French Union in 1947. The French then negotiated successfully with Thailand to regain the territory on the west bank of the Mekong River that had been ceded to the Thai in 1941.34

In Bangkok, meanwhile, the key members of the Lao Issara government-in-exile fell to quarreling among themselves. Many of them especially did not like Prince Souphanouvong's close relationship with the Viet Minh. In 1949, unable to resolve the differences among its members, the Lao Issara dissolved itself. Some of its leaders returned to Laos. Souphanouvong also left Bangkok and took his guerrilla forces to Ho Chi Minh's headquarters in northern Vietnam. At a congress in August 1930 (attended by the Hmong leader Faydang Lobliayao), Souphanouvong's group transformed itself into a resistance movement called the Pathet Lao.35 From then on, the Vietnamese and Laotian Communists saw their fate as a common one. Among the leaders who emerged within the Pathet Lao movement was Kaysone Phomvihane, one among a handful of Laotians who had joined the Indochinese Communist Party founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1930. He served as chairman of the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party until his death in November 1992.

The Pathet Lao was the only group in Laos that actively engaged in armed struggle against the French during the First Indochina War (1946-54). Approximately 60 percent of the Pathet Lao's forces came from ethnic minority groups, particularly the Lao Theung, whom the lowland Lao elite had so despised and mistreated. Although more Hmong sided with the French, a substantial minority under Faydang Lobliayao supported the Pathet Lao.

Laos and the First Indochina War

In contrast to the Lao Issara who fled to Thailand when France reimposed its rule over Laos, the Viet Minh in neighboring Vietnam waged a ferocious war, called the First Indochina War, against their former colonial masters. This war began in March 1946, when the French bombarded the port of Haiphong in northern Vietnam and forced Ho Chi Minh's newly established government to evacuate to the countryside. Over the next eight years, the Viet Minh, under their brilliant strategist, General Vo Nguyen Giap, fought a bitter guerrilla war against the French.

Though the First Indochina War was fought primarily on Viet namese soil, some battles took place in Laos. Viet Minh forces, usually in coordination with Pathet Lao guerrillas, marched into Laos to divert French troops from the fighting in Vietnam, as well as to secure territory in Laos itself. In t953 four Viet Minh divisions, numbering some forty thousand men, invaded Houa Phan Province (also called Sam Neua Province), where the Pathet Lao had set up its headquarters. The Vietnamese also attacked Thakkek in the south ern panhandle of Laos. The following year, Viet Minh forces thrust toward the royal capital at Luang Prabang and the administrative capital at Vientiane, striking fear into the hearts of the French and lowland Lao troops.36 The Pathet Lao supplied the Viet Minh with guides, provisions, and intelligence reports.37 The French, for their part, organized the Hmong followers of Touby Lyfong into parti san guerrilla units called the Meo Maquis to aid their own efforts.38 Partly to reduce the number of fronts on which they had to fight, and partly in response to American political pressure, the French granted Laos full independence in October 1953.

During the 1953 Vietnamese invasion of Laos, an important event occurred that eventually played a role in ending French colonialism in Indochina. As Viet Minh forces advanced on Luang Prabang, the commander-in-chief of all French forces in Indochina tried to persuade the king to evacuate the royal capital. But the latter looked him in the eye and said that he was not going to move: the Vietnamese who had tried to take Luang Prabang in 1479, he declared, had failed, and neither would they succeed this time. The French, therefore, had no choice but to move seven elite divisions to northern Laos to defend Luang Prabang, for they recognized the symbolic significallve of holding on to Luang Prabang and Vientiane. In other words, their decision to defend northern Laos was a political, rather than a military one.39 As it turned out, the Vietnamese withdrew before they reached Luang Prabang because the French succeeded in cutting their supply line and the rainy season had begun."

The king's refusal to leave Luang Prabang forced the French to prepare for another potential invasion of northern Laos. In November 1953, they parachuted sixteen thousand of their best troops into Dien Bien Phu, a small bowl-like valley surrounded by mountains in the northwestern corner of Vietnam, very close to the Laotian Vietnamese border. This valley lies in the traditional invasion route from Vietnam into Laos. The French thought they would be invin cible there because the terrain was so rough that they doubted the Viet Minh, who had no aircraft for parachuting troops or supplies into the valley or its surrounding mountain ranges, could transport enough weapons to the area to attack them. They never imagined that the resourceful Viet Minh would dismantle their large artil lery, and that agile members of various hill tribes, including the Hmong - many of whom the Viet Minh and the Pathet Lao had successfully won to their anticolonial cause - would carry these pieces, one by one, up the treacherously steep mountainsides, reassembling the components when they reached the summits. To the complete astonishment of the French - and, when the news got out, of people around the world - Viet Minh forces, numbering thirty-three battal ions, unleashed such a volley of firepower on the French troops holed up below in Dien Bien Phu that the French had no option except to surrender. Their defeat on May 8, 1954, forced France to withdraw from Vietnam, ending their more than eighty years of colonial rule.41

The 1954 Geneva Conference, convened to work out the political settlements for both the Korean War (1950-53) and the First Indochina War, divided Vietnam supposedly temporarily in two at the 17th parallel, pending nationwide elections scheduled for July 1955. The Communist Viet Minh gained control over North Vietnam, while an anti-Communist regime aligned with the Unitcd States and the Western allies ruled South Vietnam. Cambodia, which had re ceived its independence the year before, as had Laos, remained intact as a single entity. Laos was not divided per se, but the Pathet Lao were allowed to "regroup" their forces in the two provinces already under their control - Phong Saly and Houa Phan (also called Sam Neua Province).

One of the least known facts about the First Indochina War is that by the time it ended, the United States was paying almost 80 percent of French war costs.42 Though the United States had little interest in the French colonies, Americans were drawn unwittingly and indirectly into the conflict there largely because of developments elsewhere in the world. In the years following World War II, the victors of that war divided themselves into two camps - a Communist one dominated by the USSR and a Western one dominated by the United States. These two blocs soon engaged in a Cold War. Events around the world bode ill for the so-called Free World: the erection of the Berlin Wall, symbolizing the division of Germany; the fall of the Eastern European countries under the Soviet sphere of influence; the Communist victory in China (referred to by many Americans as the "loss of China," even though China was never ours to lose); the Korean War, during which American troops fought Chinese Communists face to face for the first time; and the defeat of the French in Vietnam.

During the Cold War, many American political and military leaders thought in geopolitical terms. They imagined countries to stand like a row of dominoes on end, so that if one fell to Communism, the ones behind it might fall in short order, too. First enunciated by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the "domino theory" became a dominant conceptual framework in American foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s. Policymakers felt that the United States should make vigorous efforts to "contain" Communism wherever it seemed to be spreading. Were it not for this containment policy - a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War - it is doubtful that Americans would have become involved in the affairs of Laos, a country in which the United States had little interest.

American Intervention in Laos

, At the time the French pulled out of Indochina, the official American presence in Laos was a lone foreign service officer, who did not even have a secretary to type the reports he sent to the U. S. State Depart ment.43 Yet within a few short years, the United States had become inextricably entangled in Laotian politics. How did this happen? Why did it happen? To answer these questions, it is necessary to examine developments in Laos between 1954 and I975. Unfortunately, these were so complex, with so many players actively competing with each other in the political arena and so much conflict among the individuals who formulated U. S. policy toward Laos, that it is well-nigh impossible to summarize what happened in any cogent manner. The bare outline given here, which leaves out many details, is a gross oversimplification, but it will doubtless still sound confusing.44

Though the U. S. State Department did not even establish a country desk for Laos until 19SS, the United States had begun sending economic aid directly to the Royal Lao Government (RLG) in 1951. Unlike economic aid, military aid was channeled entirely through the French until their defeat in 19S4 and even afterwards. The 1954 Geneva accords allowed the French to keep fifteen hundred military advisors in Laos, though no more than five hundred were stationed in the country at any one time because French forces were deeply mired in another war, in Algeria. In order to maintain Laos's neutrality during the Cold War, the accords stipulated that no other foreign country could station troops in Laos. The United States was thereby prevented from setting up a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Laos. (MAAG is a common designation for American military advisors sent to other countries.) To circumvent this restriction, the United States created a Program Evaluation Office (PEO) in 1955, staffed by retired military officers or officers temporarily placed on reserve status, to administer the military aid program. Wearing civilian clothes, they soon began training men from the Laotian police and the Royal Lao Army (RLA).45 Meanwhile, the United States Operations Mission (USOM) oversaw the disbursal of economic aid.

Both the State Department and the Pentagon believed the best way to prevent the spread of Communism into Laos was to build up the RLA. Accordingly, the United States agreed to pay all the salaries of the troops and officers in that army.46 No one in the United States had an accurate idea of how many men were actually in the RLA, however, because the Laotians insisted that they be allowed to exercise full control over military pay.47 Americans were willing to close their eyes to abuses in this military aid program and supported the RLA at the level that its commanders requested, because the occasional forays made by Pathet Lao guerrillas into the territory under RLG control reminded them of the ever-present dangers of Communism.

Frustrated by the conditions under which they had to operate, some Americans in Laos eventually turned for help to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whose agents could operate covertly - and hence without any restrictions - to manipulate the outcome of political struggles in Laotian national politics. J. Graham Parsons, the American ambassador to Laos from 1956 to 1958, got along well with the CIA chief in Laos but not with the head of PEO. Thus, not surprisingly, he began to rely more and more on the CIA to get the results that he favored.

In particular, Parsons did not like Prince Souvanna Phouma - the brother of Prince Phetsarath and the half-brother of Prince Souphanouvong - who had emerged as the key political figure in Laos after 1954. A genuine neutralist, Souvanna tried patiently between 1954 and 1957 - through the rise and fall of several cabinets, including some headed by himself - to put together a coalition government that would include pro-American rightists, nonaligned centrists, and pro-Communist leftists. Parsons felt that Souvanna relied too much on his French advisors, on the one hand, and was too accommodating to the Pathet Lao, on the other. When Souvanna visited Hanoi and Beijing in 1956, Parsons became convinced that he was indeed a Communist sympathizer.

Souvanna finally succeeded in forming a coalition government in November 1957. The Pathet Lao returned the two northeastern provinces set aside for them by the Geneva accords to the central government, while Souphanouvong joined the new government as minister of planning and reconstruction. Another Pathet Lao leader, Phoumi Vongvichit, became the minister of religion and fine arts. A cease-fire ended the sporadic fighting between RLA and Pathet Lao troops. At that time, the latter numbered approximately six thousand. A clause in the agreement that led to the coalition government stipulated that fifteen hundred of the Pathet Lao soldiers would be integrated into the RLA, while the rest would be discharged and returned to civilian life.45 The agreement also provided for a supplementary election in May 1958 to fill twenty-one new scats in the National Assembly.

The United States was unhappy with this new coalition government - called the Government of National Union - because its composition legitimized the Pathet Lao's existence. Key American decision makers in Laos increasingly felt that the only government that would be acceptable to them was, not a neutralist one, but one that was strongly pro-American. In the months preceding the May 1958 election, U.S. personnel in Laos launched Operation Booster Shot, a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Laotian electorate, so that they would vote for the non-Communist candidates. The United States spent more than $3 million on a wide variety of village assistance and community development projects.49 Despite this expensive effort, the results of the election shocked American officials. Instead of the rightist candidates emerging victorious, the predominant party was the Neo Lao Haksat—the popular front that the Pathet Lao had established in 1956 to field political candidates. Its candidates won nine seats, while its ally, the Santiphab (Peace Party), won four out of the total twenty-one. Souphanouvong received the largest number of votes among all the candidates who ran.50

The Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA all decided that something had to be done to reverse this political swing to the left in Laos. On the pretext that corruption was rampant in the U. S. aid program, the United States cut offaid to Souvanna's government in June. Since the amount of U. S. aid far exceeded the country's national budget, the withdrawal of aid created a grave economic crisis. Souvanna lost a vote of confidence and resigned in July 1958, bringing to an end to the neutralist coalition he had worked so hard to craft.

Even before Souvanna's government fell, the CIA had already set up a Committee for the Defense of National Interests (CDNI), consisting of a group of pro-American young politicians. The next cabinet was formed by Phoui Sananikone, who claimed that his government would also be neutralist but, nevertheless, announced that Communism would be his number-one enemy.51 Four CDNI members joined Phoui Sananikone's cabinet, while the two Pathet Lao ministers from the preceding cabinet were ousted. Phoui Sananikone did not protest when the new PEO director stated that Americans would now play a more open and direct role in training Laotian troops, even though doing so violated the Geneva accords. The Laotian commander whom the Americans looked most favorably upon was Phoumi Nosavan - the most rightwing of all the military leaders that the Americans supported.

In May 1959, Phoui Sananikone demanded that the two remaining Pathet Lao battalions be integrated into the RLA immediately. One complied, but the second, with about five hundred men and their families and domestic animals, somehow managed to slip through the RLA cordon and make its way back to northeastern Laos. Meanwhile, Souphanouvong and three other Pathet Lao leaders were placed under house arrest. Two and a half months later, the government charged Souphanouvong with treason and sent him and fiftten Pathet Lao leaders, who had been rounded up in the interim, to prison. In one of the most remarkable incidents in modern Laotian history, these men eventually won over their prison guards, who helped them escape in May 1960.52

Though grossly outnumbered by the RLA, whose strength had risen by now to some twenty-nine thousand men, the Pathet Lao remnants, with assistance from North Vietnamese troops and political cadres, began attacking government outposts in Phong Saly and Sam Neua provinces as well as in the highlands of southern Laos in July 1959. Civil war seemed imminent. At the end of the year, when the term of the National Assembly expired, Prime Minister Phoui Sananikone submitted his pro forma resignation to the king, but before he could form another government, Phoumi Nosavan, the CIA'S and PEO'S protege, who had risen to the rank of general, marched into Vientiane with his forces in late December 1959 and occupied key government buildings. Phoumi's coup was legitimated by rigged elections the following April. CIA agents aided Phoumi in this effort: they were seen distributing bags of money to village headmen just before the elections.53 In the new government Prince Somsanith became prime minister while Phoumi Nosavan became minister of national defense.54

The Laotian Civil War and the Hmong Armee Clandestine

Phoumi Nosavan did not have long to savor his triumph, however. In August 1960, a young paratrooper captain named Kong Le. who had received training at the Ranger School set up by the United States in the Philippines, staged his own coup. He demanded that the country return to a policy of genuine neutrality, that all foreign military bases be abolished, that Laos accept aid from all countries without strings attached, and that corruption within the government be eliminated.55 To preserve the peace, the king brought Souvanna Phouma back as prime minister. Kong Le handed over the administrative functions that he had assumed to Souvanna, though his troops remained in Vientiane to patrol and defend the city. To mollify Phoumi Nosavan, the king asked him to become the deputy prime minister as well as minister of the interior. But Phoumi Nosavan did not go to Vientiane to assume these posts. Instead, after consulting his uncle, the prime minister of Thailand, he remained in Savannakhet, his power base in southern Laos. There, he formed a Counter Coup d'etat Committee. The CIA began chartering planes from Air America, a private airline, to supply his troops.56

The new American ambassador, Winthrop Brown, was supportive of Souvanna Phouma's efforts to reopen negotiations with the Pathet Lao. News of Kong Le's coup reached Prince Souphanouvong while he was hiking back through the jungles to northeastern Laos after his escape from prison. His followers broadcast their conditions for negotiations: termination of the civil war, return to a policy of "real peace and neutrality," the release of all Pathet Lao soldiers who had been taken prisoner, and the establishment of diplomatic relations and acceptance of aid from all countries with no political or military strings attached.57

Though Souvanna very much wanted to reach a settlement with his half-brother, Souphanouvong, the American ambassador could find no support for Souvanna in Washington, D.C. The reason was that the former American ambassador to Laos, J. Graham Parsons, who had always disliked and distrusted Souvanna, was now assistant secretary of state in charge of the Far Eastern Bureau, which gave him supervision over U.S. policies toward Laos. Parsons was not about to support any efforts at negotiations with the Pathet Lao. To make matters worse for Souvanna, Thailand, which sided with General Phoumi Nosavan, imposed an economic blockade on Laos. Meanwhile, under the influence of the pro-American Hmong leader, Touby Lyfong, the garrison at Xieng Khouang, which had been loyal to Souvanna, suddenly switched sides and went over to General Phoumi. Out of desperation, Souvanna turned to the Soviet Union for aid. For the first time, Laos recognized the USSR, which immediately set up an embassy in Vientiane.55 In early December, when General Phoumi's forces began marching toward Vientiane and the commander of the Vientiane Military Region rebelled against Souvanna on Phoumits orders, Souvanna and some of his ministers fled to Phnom Penh, the capital of neighboring Cambodia.59

The following day, one of Souvanna's remaining ministers flew to Hanoi, where he negotiated with the Russians to airlift supplies to Kong Le's troops if the latter would form an alliance with the Pathet Lao in a common fight against General Phoumi's forces. Kong Le's troops withdrew from Vientiane several days later, drove Phoumi's forces out of the Plain of Jars, established their own headquarters there, and linked up with Pathet Lao forces. Between December 15, 1960 and January 2, I961, the Russians flew over a hundred and eighty missions over the Plain of Jars, dropping food, weapons, and ammunition to the now-combined forces of Kong Le and the Pathet Lao. At this point, North Vietnamese troops entered Laos in large numbers and, together with the Pathet Lao, occupied portions of six provinces in northern Laos. Souvanna Phouma returned to Laos is; in late February and set up a government at Khang Khay, a small village in the Plain of Jars. Alarmed by the Communists' military advances, the United States gave up any pretense at abiding by the 1954 Geneva accords: the American military advisors who had been wearing civilian clothing and working under the PEO'S aegis donned army uniforms once again. The United States finally established a MAAG in Laos on April 19, 1961.60

It was during this period of turmoil that the CIA began systematically recruiting Hmong into a mercenary army. The CIA had first heard of the Hmong when Edward Lansdale, one of its agents in Laos, became acquainted with the Hmong and their fighting ability. In the summer of 1959, the first members of the U. S. Army Special Forces (popularly known as the Green Bcrets) were assigned to the PEO in Laos. Some one hundred Green Berets were smuggled into Laos from Thailand aboard Air America planes. Called the Laotian Training Advisory Group of the PEO, their main duty was to train the RLA. Teams composed of twelve men each were assigned to each of twelve RLA battalions in the field, but the RLA officer corps did not respond well to the presence of the Americans. Friction also arose between the Special Forces and the French military advisors still remaining in the country. The CIA took advantage of this impasse and requested that half-teams of six Green Berets each be sent to train the Hmong in northeastern Laos and some of the Lao Theung tribes in southern Laos. Under the tutelage of the Green Berets, these mountaincers soon proved to be superior fighters, compared to the lowland Lao soldiers of the RLA, and quickly gained the CIA'S favor.61

The CIA itself established direct relations with the Hmong in late 1960. A (CIA agent, identified only as "Colonel Billy,"' went into the jungles to look for Vang Pao, the Hmong military leader, who had been a soldier since his early teens. As an eighteen-year-old soldier without rank in the Lao Territorial Army, Vang Pao had led two raids against the North Vietnamese forces that had penetrated into northern Laos. His daredevil exploits came to the notice of a French commander, who encouraged him to go to officer training school in southern Laos. In early 1954, he led the Meo Maquis units, which the French, in their desperation, hoped to use to break the siege of Dien Bien Phu. But Vang Pao and his men did not get to Dien Bien Phu until the day after it had fallen. Following the French defeat, he transferred many of the Hmong in the Maquis into the RLA. Before Vang Pao's French mentor departed from Laos, he gave Vang Pao a lot of arms and ammunition to hide in different locations in the Plain of Jars, in case the Maquis needed to protect themselves.63

When Colonel Billy found Vang Pao in late 1960, he asked the latter if the Hmong would be willing to help stop the Communist advance into Laos. According to Colonel Billy's account, as told to Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Vang Pao replied: "For me, I can't live with Communism. I must either leave or fight. I prefer to fight."64 Vang Pao asked the Americans for weapons, food, salt, and medical supplies. He then went off to consult Hmong clan leaders, who agreed to make a deal with the Americans after some of them had a chance to question Colonel Billy. One clan leader recalls that Colonel Billy promised them that should the Hmong succeed in pushing the North Vietnamese Communist forces back, the Americans would help the Hmong as much as possible, and if the Hmong should suffer defeat, then the Americans would "find a new place" where they could help the Hmong.65 Other accounts suggest that the CIA promised the Hmong an autonomous kingdom.66 The first American shipment of five hundred guns to the Hmong arrived soon thereafter. The CIA's chartered airline, Air America, now began airdropping arms, ammunition, food, and medical supplies to the Hmong as well as to General Phoumi's forces.

The Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang Province, Laos, showing the landing strips for Air America planes, 1960S. (Redrawn from map in Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War, p. xv.)

As the combined forces of Kong Le and the Pathet Lao captured more and more of the Plain of Jars, Vang Pao had to evacuate more than a hundred thousand Hmong from their villages. He moved them to refugee camps set up on seven mountaintops southwest of the Plain of Jars, establishing his headquarters first at Padong and, after Padong was overrun by Communist forces inJune 196I, at Pha Khao, then finally at Long Cheng. From then on, instead of relying on their traditional slash-and-burn agriculture for subsistence, the Hmong depended largely on CIA supplies for survival.

After John F. Kennedy became president, he reviewed U. S. policy toward Laos thoroughly and came to the conclusion that the only way for the United States to avoid sending ground troops to Laos would be to accept a new coalition government. At the same time, however, he decided it would be expedient to strengthen the Hmong mercenary army, which might be used to fight on behalf of American interests. He renamed the Special Forces teams in Laos the White Star Mobile Training Teams and ordered them to train the Hmong secret army in earnest. By September 1961, there were thrce hundred Green Berets in Laos, while another one hundred and twelve men were being readied for deployment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and in Okinawa. At the height of their strength in July 1962, four hundred and thirty-thrce Green Berets worked in Laos.67 In that same year, there were an estimated fourteen thousand to eighteen thousand Hmong under arms, organized into shock companies and dispersed throughout the highlands to harass Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces. The Hmong also received training from Colonel Billy's Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement Units, which were secretly imported into Laos.68 At its peak in 1969, the Hmong secret army numbered about forty thousand men. Until 1973, it was the main force holding back the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese advance, providing exactly the kind of frontline defense that the United States desired in its efforts to "contain" the spread of Communism.

Laos during the Second Indochina War

The troops of Kong Le and the Pathet Lao not only fought against the Hmong under Vang Pao's leadership, but they also battered General Phoumi Nosavan's forces. Unable to withstand this onslaught, General Phoumi met with Souvanna in March 1961 to talk peace. In early May, General Phoumi and his ally, Prince Boun Oum, who now headed the government in Vientiane, Prince Souvanna Phouma, and Prince Souphanouvong agreed to a ccase-fire. But the Hmong under Vang Pao persisted in fighting against the Pathet Lao and Kong Le's troops even after the ccase-fire went into effect, while Air America planes continued to supply them. The Pathet Lao shot down an American helicopter and a transport plane, which gave them the proof they needed to accuse the Americans of violating the cease-fire. The Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese ally seized the opportunity for retaliation. The Hmong base at Padong fell on June 7, 1961, though other Hmong outposts in Sam Neua and Xieng Khouang provinces were sustained by Air America's airdrops.69 By this time, the Pathet Lao, aided by their North Vietnamese allies, had gained control over the entire eastern two-thirds of the country, north to south, while General Phoumi's side held only the major towns along the Mekong River in the western part of Laos.

In this tense atmosphere, the foreign ministers of those countries that had participated ill the 1954 Geneva Conference plus their pecrs from several of Laos's neighboring countries met again at Geneva to discuss the situation in Laos. Meanwhile, President Kennedy sent Averell Harriman, his roving ambassador, to talk to the three warring factions. Kennedy himself and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed at their summit meeting in Vienna in June 1961 that Laos should have a neutral coalition government.70 Apparently, at this time, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union wanted to become involved in a war with each other over Laos, a country in which neither superpower had any compelling interest.

From May 1961 through June and July 1962, two sets of negotiations went on simultaneously. The first was among thc thrce Laotian factions - the rightists led by General Phoumi and Prince Boun Oum, the centrists led by Prince Souvanna Phouma, and the leftists led by Prince Souphanouvong, which occurred in Zurich and at various locations in Asia. Negotiations also took place among the participants of the Second Geneva ConScrence, who had to hammer out the terms of the ccase-fire, the reconvcning of the International Control Commission (ICC), and the creation of a neutral government. One of the chief hurdles blocking a settlement was the fact that no one could agree to a map showing where the troops of the three factions were stationed and what territory each group occupied at the time that a ccase-fire was declared in May 1961. Furthermore, no side wanted the Icc to inspect the situation on the ground.

In early 1962, while the talks were still going on, General Phoumi Nosavan made a desperate attempt to test the CIA'S commitment to him. He garrisoned his troops at Nam Tha, a city in northwestern Laos. But when Pathet Lao forces marched on Nam Tha, Phoumi's soldiers retreated pell-mell to Thailand. His ploy to lure American troops into Laos did not work: though the United States sent addi tional units to Thailand, none was sent into Laos to defend General Phoumi.71

Pathet Lao and Royal Government clams on Laotian territory, 1962. (Redrawn from maps in Nina S. Adams and Alfred W. McCoy, eds. Laos: War and Revolution, pp. 210-211.

After more than a year of painstaking and complicated discussions, the three Laotian factions agreed in June 1962 to set up the Provisional Government of National Union, to be made up of seven neutralists under Souvanna Phouma, four leftists from the Pathet Lao, four rightists from General Phoumi Nosavan's group, and four so-called rightwing neutralists - men who had remained in the Vientiane government but who had not shown any political commitment to General Phoumi. Souvanna was to become prime minister, while Souphanouvong and Boun Oum were both to become deputy prime ministers. On July 23, 1962, the international participants signed the Geneva Protocol, a comprehensive statement to guarantee the neutrality of Laos.72

In compliance with the Geneva Protocol, the United States pulled out all its military personnel - numbering more than a thousand - by October 1962, although U.S. military aid to Laos continued.73 Vang Pao had by now been promoted to a general in charge of all of Military Region 11 in northeastern Laos. (Laos was divided into five military regions.) As a general in the RLA, he commanded some Lao troops as well as Hmong and other hill tribesmen organized into Special Guerrilla Units (SGU). He stockpiled arms and supplies at Long Cheng and was responsible for all civilians in the Plain of Jars and its surrounding mountains. U. S. advisors, dressed again as civilians, stayed behind to coordinate the distribution of the covert military aid given Vang Pao's forces. A new Requirements Office replaced MAAG; it was henceforth used as a convenient cover for the CIA S activities.74 The number of CIA agents was not large, but they were placed in strategic locations to coordinate and direct the once-againsecret war. Each CIA agent was accompanied by a radio operator who could speak English, Lao, Hmong, and sometimes Vietnamese, in order to maintain contact with the CIA'S Southeast Asian headquarters in Udon, Thailand, and with RLA troops and Hmong SGUs on the ground, and to pick up radio messages sent by the enemy.75 By 1963, Air America's planes were dropping forty tons of supplies a day to the Hmong.76 When the number of aircraft operated by Air America proved insufficient to handle the cargo load, another private airline, Continental Air Services, bid successfully for USAID and CIA contracts to supply the troops and civilians under Vang Pao's care.77 The North Vietnamese were also supposed to withdraw their forces after the Geneva Protocol was signed, but no accurate count was ever done of how many of the latter actually left Laos. The Americans estimated that approximately six thousand North Vietnamese troops remained in Laos 78

Meanwhile, conflicts erupted among Kong Le's neutralist troops, on the one hand, and between them and the Pathet Lao, on the other hand. In February 1963 men under a colonel who had once been loyal to Kong Le but who had quarreled with him and joined the Pathet Lao killed one of Kong Le's officers. This dissident neutralist group, with the support of the Pathet Lao, fought against Kong Le's forces sporadically throughout the spring and summer of 1963. The dis sident neutralists succeeded in ousting Kong Le's men from Khang Khay, Xieng Khouang town, and an airstrip on the Plain of Jars. As Kong Le retreated, he changed sides and joined forces with General Phoumi Nosavan's men, which enabled his troops to gain access to American weapons.79

In April 1963 after a leftist minister friendly to the Pathet Lao was assassinated in Vientiane, Souphanouvong and another Pathet Lao minister left the capital for Khang Khay, by then the Pathet Lao head quarters. After two more neutralists were assassinated later that year, virtually all of Souphanouvong's followers left Vientiane, thereby bringing to an end the second coalition government.80

As the United States began supplying Kong Le's army, the North Vietnamese stepped up their support of the Pathet Lao. The USSR, however, withdrew from the scene and ceased its airlift to the Plain of Jars in October 1963, partly because it was embroiled in an ideo logical war with China that was commonly called, at the time, the Sino-Soviet split. The Soviet Union did not resume an active role in Vietnam and Laos until American intervention in Vietnam intel1si after August 1964.

At the beginning of 1964, Pathet Lao forces began pushing Kong Le's army offthe Plain of Jars. They succeeded by mid-May. In the process, they also attacked Hmong strongholds, turning thousands more Hmong into refugees.8' At the same time, they began a campaign to gain more territory in central and southern Laos. In despair, Souvanna Phouma announced he intended to resign. But before he could do so, the commander of the Vientiane Military Region, acting in conjunction with the head of General Phoumi's secret police, arrested him.82 The United States and other Western nations successfully exerted pressure on the coup leaders to release Souvanna because by then the United States was committed to keeping him in power. Key American policymakers had come to believe that he was the only alternative to a Communist government.83 General Phoumi's standing in the eyes of Americans, meanwhile, declined; he went into voluntary exile in Thailand in 1965. Kong Le. too, left Laos in 1966 and settled in France.84

Seen in a broader light, the second coalition government in Laos, like the first, was also a casualty of larger forces - this time, the Second Indochina War. This war can best be characterized as a civil war between Communist North Vietnam and anti-Communist South Vietnam, which soon became a testing ground for the larger Cold War between the Communist bloc of nations and the Western allies.

In 1959, as the American-supported government in South Vietnam increased its suppression of dissidents, the North Vietnamese decided to infiltrate cadres and transport war materiel to the south. The following year, a National Liberation Front (the NLF - commonly called the Viet Cong) was established in South Vietnam. Since the demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the 17th parallel, which divided North Vietnam from South Vietnam, was heavily guarded, the North Vietnamese had to find a way to get around the DMZ in order to get their supplies into the south. They laboriously hacked out a network of jungle treks that came to be called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, part of which ran through eastern Laos, adjacent to the Laotian-Vietnamese border around the 17th parallel. Down this trail, under cover of the thick jungle canopy, came trucks, bicycles, and people, all carrying supplies to aid the Viet Cong's war effort.

To prop up the successive governments that came to power in South Vietnam, the United States first sent military advisors, then air support, then bombing raids, and ultimately half a million ground troops to that country. To impede the southward flow of men and armaments, American planes bombed not only targets in North Vietnam but also the Ho Chi Minh Trail (and hence, Laotian territory in the vicinity of the trail). In this mamler, Laos was drawn inexorably into the Vietnam War. In fact, whenever there was a pause in the American bombing of North Vietnam, the bombing of Laos intensified. By 1972, approximately 70 percent of all American air strikes in Indochina were aimed at targets in Laos and 80 percent of those were in the region of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. From a daily average of fifty-five sorties in 1965, the number grew to three hundred in late 1968.85 The neutrality of Laos that was supposedly guaranteed by the 1962 Geneva Protocol, therefore, was violated with impunity by both the Communists and the Americans in the widening war.

The bombing of Laos was done in secret. It began in May 1964 when American reconnaissance planes started flying over southern Laos and the Plain of Jars. Souvanna Phouma gave verbal permission to the American ambassador for these flights. But as Communist antiaircraft units shot at and occasionally shot down the reconnaissance planes, fighter escorts began flying with them. At the same time, the United States began supplying bomb fuses to the Laotian Air Force to make operational the bombs that had been delivered to the Laotian government earlier. But since the number of qualified Laotian pilots was very small, Air America pilots as well as Thai pilots began manning some of the Laotian planes. The use of Thai pilots became public knowledge when, in June 1964, they bombed the Pathet Lao headquarters at Khang Khay and destroyed the Communist Chinese mission there. Souvanna Phouma, greatly embarrassed by this incident, tried to stop the air strikes, but the United States prevailed upon him to allow them to continue. The United States called all its air operations in Laos over the next six years "reconnaissance flights," even though over two million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos in the 1960S—more than the total tonnage dropped during World War 11.86 To conceal the true nature of its activities, the United States based all its bombers across the border in Thailand, keeping only reconnaissance, supply, and rescue aircraft on Laotian territory.87

Tactical air navigation systems were installed on Laotian soil to guide the American planes in their bombing missions against Communist targets in both Laos and North Vietnam. One such base was set up on a fifty-five-hundred-foot mountain, I'hou Pha Thi, located in northern Laos, only fiftten miles from the Laotian-Vietnamese border. The sophisticated radar equipment was operated by more than a dozen American technicians - U. S. Air Force personnel dressed in civilian clothing—who were guarded by two hundred Hmong at the site, with another eight hundred Hmong stationed at lower elevations.88 The radar system at Phou Pha Thi guided all the American bombers flying into North Vietnam until the base was captured by the Communists in March 1968.89

The secret war in Laos was fought on four fronts: (1) RLA alld Communist troops battled each other around the major towns; (2) the Hmong guerrillas fought against Pathet Lao forces in northeastern Laos; (3) American B-s2s rained destruction over northern Laos in coordination with the ground war fought by the Hmong; and (4) a second air war took place over the southern panhandle in the vicinity of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.90 CIA personnel played the key role in directing both the ground and air wars.91

The fourth facet of this war took on added significance after March 1970, when Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed by one of his own generals, Lon Nol, in neighboring Cambodia. Up to this point, the Communists had managed to ship supplies into South Vietnam through Cambodia, but Sihanouk's successor was avidly pro-American, unlike Sihanouk, who tried to maintain Cambodian neutrality by playing various factions against each other. After Lon Nol came to power, he cut off all shipments through Cambodia of food and war mattriel destined for the Viet Cong. Thus, the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through Laos became the only lifeline left for the Viet Cong. The North Vietnamese struggled to keep the trail open, while the Americans tried to bomb it out of existence.

Despite official denials, countless numbers of civilians were killed and entire villages wiped out during this unpublicized war. The Hmong, in particular, suffered so many casualties that Hmong and other hill tribesmen from Thailand, as well as regular Thai troops, had to be brought into Laos to help replenish Vang Pao's army. Bringing in Thai troops was part of a broader change in U. S. policy. When President Richard Nixon realized that the only way to extricate American ground forces from Vietnam was to "Vietnamize" the war by forcing the Vietnamese themselves to do more of the fighting, an effort was also made to "Thai-ize" the war in Laos.92 Americans did not try to force more Laotians to fight because American military advisors in Laos were now fully aware that the RLA could not fight well. The Hmong were the only effective indigenous fighting force in Laos, but they paid an extraordinarily high price for their valor. According to one estimate, 2s percent of the Hmong who enlisted were killed.93 According to another estimate, seventeen thousand Hmong troops and fifty thousand Hmong civilians perished during the war.94

The Hmong who survived also suffered greatly. Both the male and female narrators in this book talked about the extreme hardships they experienced. While men such as Xang Mao Xiong, Xia Shoua Fang, Chou Nou Tcha, and Boua Ncng Moua, who have told their stories in this book, fought in the jungles and on the opcn plains, their wives and parents moved from place to place trying to farm while keeping one step ahead of the Communists Often, they could not stay long enough in one place to harvest the crops they had grown, so to survive they had to eat ltaves, wild fruit, tree bark, and whatever else they could find in the jungle.

As the 1960s unfolded, morc and more North Vietnamese troops entered Laos: by 1970, their estimated number was sixty-seven thousand. As the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union supplied the North Vietnamesc with increasingly more sophisticated weapons, these were used against the Hmong, who could no longer hold their positions. By the late 1960S, Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces had capturcd the entire Plain of Jars.

General Vang Pao was determined, however, to retake the Plain of Jars. In August 1969, he launched an offensive and the following month he succceded in reoccupying two key points - Xieng Khouang town and Muong Soui.95 During 1969 and 1970, as American, Thai, and Hmong pilots retaliated against the Communists with the heaviest bombing to date, almost the entire population on the Plain of Jars had to be evacuated.96 For the first time, President Nixon authorized the use of B-s2s against targets in northern Laos. The number of refugets doubled, and airdropped relief supplies could barely keep them all alive.

In February 1970, the Communists began their counteroffensive to recapture those parts of the Plain of Jars that Vang Pao had taken in late 1969. Vang Pao's troops werc forced to withdraw. The town of Sam Thong, where more than eight thousand Hmong refugees had gathered, was leveled in March 1970.97 Civilians were also evacuated from Long Cheng, while Thai "volunteers" were flown in to help defend it. By this time, however, in the face of mounting antiwar protests in the United States and the continued loss of American lives in Vietnam, the United States was determined to find a way to end its involvemcnt in Southeast Asia. Americans, therefore, did not provide Vang Pao with the air support he requested when he nceded it most. By the time Long Cheng came under siege again in December 1971, little military air support was available, though airdrops by Air America and Continental Air Services continued to supply the people remaining at the base.98 When the last RLG stronghold in northeastern Laos fell—the air base at Xieng Khouang town—the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese allies controlled most of the country.99

It is obvious that during this war neither the North Vietnamese nor the Americans cared much about the needs of Laos or of the Hmong. Both sides in the Second Indochina War and, by extension, the larger Cold War, made use of Laos for their own ends. It was possible for the U.S. government to hide this war from the American public - indeed, from Congress itself - because reporters were forbidden to interview pilots who left on bombing missions over Laos from American airbases in Thailand. (This policy was not applied in Vietnam, which allowed the American public to read daily newspaper accounts and see television footage of U. S. military actions in Vietnam.) Moreover, with the nation's attention riveted on the war in Vietnam, few people paid any attention to that lesser-known country, Laos. It was not until 1969 that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on U. S. Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, chaired by Senator Stuart Symington, finally held hearings to find out what was going on in Laos. At the hearings, William Sullivan, the American ambassador to Laos at the time maintained that the war in Laos had to be kept secret in order not to abrogate the verbal agrcement that John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev had reached in Vienna in 1961! Only in March 1970 did President Richard Nixon make any public statement about American actions in Laos. But by then, the United States was determined to end its involvement in Southeast Asia and was looking for a way to extricate itself "with honor" from a conflict that had cost more than a million lives (all participants combined) and left a legacy of ecological destruction that still boggles the mind.

The Lao Peoples Democratic Republic and the Hmong

After three years of secret talks, on January 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon's national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, and North Vietnamese negotiator, Le Duc Tho, finally reached an agreement on terminating the war in Vietnam. Four days later, a formal ccase-fire agreement was signed in Paris, over the protest of South Vietnam's President, Nguyen Van Thieu. The United States pulled all its troops out of South Vietnam by the end of March.

Influenced by developments in Vietnam, the Pathet Lao decided the time had come to consider anew a political settlement in Laos and offered to negotiate with Souvanna Phouma's government without preconditions. Souvanna was happy to accept the offer and talks began in Vientiane in October 1972. Less than a month after the Paris Peace Agreements were signed by the United States and North Vietnam, the Laotian factions signed their own Agrcement on the Restoration of Peace and Reconciliation in Laos on February 21, 1973. It specified that all foreign military forces were to be withdrawn within sixty days and provided for the formation of another Provisional Government of National Union, with an equal number of Communists and non-Communists, as well as a National Political Consultative Council (NPC(,), a parliamentary body. When this third coalition government came into being in April 1974, Souvanna Phouma became its prime minister, while Souphanouvong became chairman of the NPC C . Three Hmong held high positions in this government: Touby Lyfong (representing the rightists) served as deputy minister for posts and telegraphs, Lo Fong (representing the leftists) as vice chair of the Culture and Education Committee of the NPCC, and Yang Dao (a neutralist and the first Hmong to receive a Ph.D. in France) as vice chair of the Economy and Finance Committee of the NPCC.100

For several months, the coalition government functioned smoothly and the cease-fire held. RLA and Pathet Lao forces jointly controlled Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Unfortunately, Souvanna Phouma suffered a heart attack in July 1974 and left for France to recuperate. During that interregnum, a series of strikes by students and workers disrupted the peace, and fighting broke out again between Pathet Lao and Vang Pao's troops in April 1975.101

Meanwhile, in neighboring Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communists) marched into Phnom Penh, the capital, and proclaimed a new regime on April 17. The South Vietnamese government in Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. In light of these Communist victories, the Pathet Lao decided they should speed up their own assumption of power. At the beginning of May, five rightist ministers (who held the defense, finance, foreign affairs, health, and public works portfolios) and seven rightist generals were forced to resign. People's Revolutionary Committees, with the support of Pathet Lao troops, took over many towns. Students then occupied the large USAID compound in Vientiane on May 21, whereupon the U.S. embassy closed down the agency onJune 30. In early November, elections were held at the ban, tassel and muong levels for people's administrative committees. The elected officials replaced the former chiefs of these traditional administrative units. At the end of the month, the king was coerced into abdicating, thereby bringing to an end a monarchy that had ruled Laos for more than six hundred years. The coalition government and the NPCC were dissolved, and the Lao People's Democratic Republic was proclaimed on December 2, 1975.102

The Hmong did not fare well during this period of transition. After the Vientiane Agreement was signed in February 1973, some eighteen thousand Hmong troops were disbanded, while the rest were supposed to be merged into the regular army by the end of Ig74.1°3 All American military advisors in Laos left the country. Only a small number of USAID men and one CIA agent remained to help the Hmong. The USAID stafffelt it was too dangerous to stay overnight at Long Cheng, so they flew into Long Cheng daily. The CIA agent, who was very devoted to the Hmong, remained at Long Cheng as i long as he could, but eventually he was asked by his superiors at [ i CIA headquarters in Udon, Thailand, to inform the Hmong that the Americans could no longer help them. He urged Vang Pao and J some of the key Hmong leaders to leave the country, but Vang Pao refused.104

The Hmong who remained under Vang Pao's command clashed with Pathet Lao soldiers in March 1975. When Pathet Lao forces ad vanced toward Vientiane in April, Vang Pao tried to repel them with aerial bombardment. This action angered Souvanna Phouma, who very much wanted the third coalition government to succeed. He relieved Vang Pao of his command on May 10, 1975.105 As this was happening, Hmong clan elders were meeting at Long Cheng to discuss and evaluate their situation. Though some wanted to remain to fight, most realized that they had no choice except to flee. But where could they go? Vang Pao flew to Udon to negotiate with the CIA: he felt the CIA was obligated to evacuate all the Hmong who had fought in the war, but the CIA replied that only the most important Hmong officers and their families could be taken care of. When Vang Pao asked for several C-130s to be dispatched to Long Cheng, he was in formed that though a few such planes were still sitting on the runway in Udon waiting to be flown back to the American air base in the Philippines, only one C-130 pilot was available.

More than ten thousand Hmong swarmed into Long Cheng, hoping to be evacuated, but only one plane load of people was taken out by the C-130, which did not return to pick up any more passen gers. Hmong and Lao pilots then flew in two old C-47 cargo planes they had commandeered and evacuated several hundred people over the next three days amid utter chaos. The last flight out of Long Cheng was made by a C_123, which was so overloaded that it could not take off until some twenty people were pushed out of the plane. On May 13, an emissary from the American embassy in Thailand came to Long Cheng and ordered Vang Pao to leave. He did so in a helicopter the following day.106 In all, only about a thousand Hmong were evacuated. After arriving in Thailand, they were bused to a temporary refugee camp in Nam Phong. Stunned by the failure of the Americans to keep their "promise," allegedly made by the CIA in 1960 to help and protect the Hmong, those who were left behind either fled into the jungles or started a long trek on foot westward toward Thailand.

As Pathet Lao troops took over Long Cheng, those Hmong who were still in uniform were disarmed and sent to reeducation camps on the Plain of Jars and later at Nong Het, the traditional center of Hmong life. When the "confessions" they were forced to make were deemed unacceptable, their food rations were reduced. Many died from malnutrition and hard labor, while a few managed to escape. At the end of 1975, Touby Lyfong and one of his sons were sent to a reeducation camp at Sam Neua, where it is rumored he died of malaria in 1978. More than forty thousand Hmong, including some of the narrators in this book, managed to flee on foot to Thailand.107 Thousands of others, who did not try to escape initially, retreated to the Phou Bia Massif, the highest mountain in Laos that rises to almost ten thousand fect, to resist the new government. Two groups of rebels hid in the thickets of Phou Bia: one band followed a messianic leader who preached that a Hmong king would return to lead his people; a second was made up mostly of ex-soldiers who tried to ambush government troops.108

On the other hand, a number of Hmong who had supported the Pathet Lao since the 1950s gained high office. Faydang Lobliayao became vice president of the Supreme People's Assembly. Nhiavu Lobliayao, his younger brother, became an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party as well as chairman of the Nationalities Committee within the new government.109 Yang Dao and Lo Fong, who had served briefly in the third coalition government, however, were not appointed to any posts. Yang Dao escaped to France, while Lo Fong disappeared from sight.

The Lao People's Democratic Republic has pursued a rather contradictory policy toward the Hmong since 1975. From 1976 to 1979, the government sent Lao and Vietnamese troops, supported by artillery and Soviet-made MiG-21 airplanes, to attack the Hmong hideout at Phou Bia, dropping napalm, defoliants, and, according to Hmong refugees who managed to survive and escape, biological and chemical poisons on them, in order to crush the remaining pockets of resistance.110

Survivors report that the poisons came in several colors. The ycllow poison fell like rain and made people dizzy and nauseous. The victims vomittod and had diarrhea until their bodies became so dehydrated that they died. The black poison came in larger drops and emanated a vapor that suffocated those who breathed it within three hours. Not only did the chemicals make those who came into direct contact with them sick, but they also poisoned the soil, plants, and streams, so that even those who were not covered with them became ill from the rice and vegetables they ate and the water they drank. Some airplanes spewed colored smoke that made people dizzy, gave them headaches, and caused them to vomit. Poisoned nails blasted out of airplanes also inflicted injury, misery, and death.111 Those who believe the stories the refugees tell think the biological-chemical poisons had probably been provided by the former Soviet Union. Many observers, however, do not believe the refugees' tales and insist that no evidence of any poisons has been found.112 Whatever the truth may be, the fact is, thousands of Hmong descended from Phou Bia and tried to find their way to Thailand.

In spite of this treatment, the Republic tried to dissuade the Hmong from leaving by telling them they could continue to grow the opium poppy (something that had been banned in 1971), and a radio broad cast beamed at the refugee camps on the Laotian-Thai border promised that the Hmong could return home without retribution."

Hmong resistance against the Lao People's Democratic Republic has continued, however. Hmong refugees living in Thailand, allegedly with support from the Thai,114 slip back across the border from time to time to harass Laotian government troops as well as the forty thousand Vietnamese forces still stationed in Laos. Several thousand Hmong have also made their way to China and have re portedly found some support there, both from their fellow Hmong and from the Chinese government, which fought a border war with Vietnam - Laos's number-one ally - at the beginning of 1979. The suspicion that the Hmong were receiving help from the Chinese government was based on the fact that a number of Hmong who were captured near the Chinese border in the early 1980S were wearing Chinese army uniforms and carrying Chinese-made arms, which they may have got from the Khmer Rouge, whom the Chinese supplied with arms. According to a former rightwing Laotian politician, the People's Republic of China was operating military training centers for the Hmong and several other minority groups along the Laotian-Chinese-Vietnamese borders.115

Resistance has also taken other forms. Hmong and other Laotian refugees who settled in France established a "Lao government-in exile" in October 1978.116 Former generals Vang Pao and Phoumi Nosavan announced in July, 1981 that they were forming a United Lao National Liberation Front.117 The front has troubled the present regime in recent years. Insurgent guerrilla activities began to increase in northern Laos from December 1989 onward, after the United Lao National Liberation Front announced that it was creating a provi sional government, with Vang Pao as the defense minister.118 The Hmong resistance fighters were apparently inspired to step up their activities by uprisings in Burma in 1988, by the pro-democracy movement in China, and by the fall of Communist governments in Eastern Europe.119

The front gets most of its funds from Hmong refugees in the United States.120 In 1989 and 1990, the Washington Post and the New York Times published articles about how the Hmong in the United States were being required to - indeed, coerced into - making monthly payments to support the provisional government and its officers. In addition, for a certain sum, people can supposedly buy positions in a future government.121

Although perhaps as many as a hundred and fifty thousand Hmong have escaped from Laos since 1975, about that same number still live there. The latter are very unhappy about the government's attempts to force them to abandon their slash-and-burn agriculture (because it destroys valuable timber - one of Laos's few exportable items, aside from opium) and to move to lower altitudes to work on collective farms. In 1978, the felling of trees to clear land for farming was banned altogether.122 It is also decreed that their rice harvest must be divided into three parts: a third to be given to the government as tax, a third for the village rice bank, with only a third reserved for the houschold's own consumption. The Hmong are, therefore, often short of food. In addition, they suffer from a shortage of other necessities, such as salt, cloth, and various items that used to be offered them by Chinese or Lao traders, but such a petit bourgeois trading system has been abolished. Finally, the Hmong are still sometimes subject to labor conscription, a practice that harks back to the corvee during French colonial rule.123 The fiercely independent Hmong find these drastic changes from their traditional way of life most difficult to accept. Moreover, many of them do not want to live in the lowlands where, they claim, their health suffers. Such hardships make it unlikely that the exodus of Hmong refugees will stop in the foresteable future. Given the family reunification provisions in current U. S. immigration laws, more Hmong - mostly family members of those already here - can be expected to continue coming to the United States, even though the total refugee outflow may eventually slow to a trickle.

Adapting to Life in the United States

A large proportion of the Hmong who found their way to refugte camps in Thailand endured harsh living conditions for months and, in many instances, years before being resettled in a third country. By far the largest number has come to the United States, with smaller numbers going to France, Australia, and Canada. Little has been written about life in the refugee camps. Four of the narrators in this book, who were children at the time, provide some of the more vivid glimpses of life in these camps. Maijue Xiong alludes to tensions within her family, as her parents toiled to earn a little money by working outside the camp, while leaving her and her sister (at the time aged three and five, respectively) to take care of themselves. Lee Fang and Thek Moua remember going to school - a new experience for them and for many Hmong children. Vu Pao Tcha recalls the gnawing hunger he experienced during his days in the refugee camp. The story of how he was branded a thief and was severely punished by his father for licking a little powdered milk from a carton that some other children had taken from another refugee family is especially poignant.

Thousands of Hmong spent years in Thai refugee camps. Unlike the one hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese who were evacuated in late April 1975 by the Americans and allowed into the United States under the "parole" power of the U.S. Attorney General, the Hmong and other ethnic groups from Laos did not win that privilege until December 1975, when Congress admitted 3,466 Hmong under parole.124 Since Laos did not capitulate to Communists overnight as South Vietnam did, the status of the Hmong who had fled Laos in the wake of General Vang Pao's departure remained ambiguous. General Vang Pao himself was held up for more than two months in Thailand before being flown to the United States because he had several wives. Polygamy is illegal in the United States, and he had to divorce all but one of his wives before he was allowed to land on American soil. (Several of his former wives have followed him to the United States and remain members of his household.)

In May 1976, another eleven thousand Laotians were granted entry under parole (there is no information on the ethnic mix of this group). Then in August 1977, Congress paroled eight thousand "land people," most of them from Laos, along with seven thousand Vietnamese "boat people.''125 By the early 1980S, some fifty thousand Hmong had been resettled in the United States. Their numbers were close to a hundred thousand when the 1990 U. S. census of population was taken.

Many studies have been made of the Hmong who have settled in the United States in the last two decades. These include several books, some twenty dissertations, dozens of journal articles and book chapters, and many newspaper stories. The most commonly studied topics are various aspects of Hmong acculturation,126 literacy and the schooling of Hmong children as well as adults,127 their health and mental health,128 and their economic status.129

After reviewing the existing literature, I came to the conclusion that it is well-nigh impossible to generalize about how well the Hmong as a whole are adapting because their conditions in different localities vary a great deal. The locales of the existing studies stretch from Providence and Philadelphia on the East Coast to Seattle and San Diego on the West. Furthermore, there are not only variations across space but also changes over time. Given the fact that researchers who have studied the Hmong asked disparate questions, used different methodologies, interpreted their empirical findings according to theories in several disciplines, and obtained information from varying numbers of informants, it is difficult to synthesize the available information in any systematic way. For this reason, I shall discuss only the more interesting findings in the studies that have been done to date.

Anthropologist George M. Scott, Jr., has analyzed various facets of Hmong adaptation more carefully than anyone else. He noted how, despite the fact that social service providers report the almost universal failure of the adult Hmong to learn English and find employment, the Hmong, in fact, try actively to make cost-benefit calculations and to engage in "active, strategic, internal negotiation."130 He examined four premigration variables and five postmigration or situational variables to assess the nature and degree of Hmong acculturation. The premigration variables are language, traditional occupations, war experience, and a kinship-based network of authority. The situational variables are postmigration settlement pattems; the ethnic composition of the neighborhoods where Hmong settled; the socioeconomic or class status of those neighborhoods what resources were provided by the federal, state, and local governments, as well as by private agencies; and the values of the host society.131

Scott pointed out that long before the Hmong came to the United States, they had already encountered great disruptions in their lives. During the war, most of them had to abandon slash-and-burn agriculture in the mountains and either had to depend on American airdrops of food and other necessities while they lived in the refugee camps General Vang Pao had set up or move to lowland areas to learn wet-rice cultivation (as did Jou Yee Xiong, the first narrator in this book) or engage in white-collar wage labor (as did Ka Pao Xiong, the second narrator). In the lowland towns, Hmong became acquainted with such items of modern material culture as radios, clocks, bicycles, milled lumber, and tin roofs, and more generally learned to function in a monetary economy.132

The war also had a social impact. As men left home to become soldiers, the extended kinship network lost some of its importance as a system of social organization and control. Those who moved to the lowlands came increasingly under the jurisdiction of the RLG: they now had to obey government officials as well as their clan elders. Children in Hmong families that moved to the towns finally could attend school. One consequence was that young people were able to meet a broader range of potential marriage partners. When they married, more couples were able to live as nuclear families, away from the husbands' parents, brothers, and unmarried sisters. As Hmong fighters perished, widows married the brothers or cousins of their deceased husbands, as dictated by Hmong custom, thereby increasing the prevalence of polygamy.133

After their arrival in the United States, the Hmong have faced even greater changes in their material culture, means of livelihood, social organization, religious practices, and patterns of political leadership. In America, they cannot practice slash-and-burn agriculture nor depend on Air America to drop them food. Clans elders no longer control how land is used or when clan members should move to another locality. Instead, in San Diego in the early 1980s, when Scott did his field work, more than thrce-quarters of the Hmong depended on either federal refugee assistance or welfare. The only feature of the traditional Hmong economy that survived was the sharing of food and basic necessities among members of an extended family.134

In terms of social organization, most Hmong in the United States can no longer live as extended families. American landlords, government housing authorities, as well as fire and health department codes forbid too many individuals from living in an apartment or house. Thus, many Hmong extended families have had to split up physisally, although family members still maintain strong emotional ties to each other. Social service agencies also affect the Hmong's sense of what constitutes a "family" because they use the nuclear family, and not the extended family, as the unit of distribution for various kinds of assistance. Instead of being a unit of production as it was in Laos, the extended family has become primarily a unit of consumption and distribution in America.135

The power formerly held by the larger clan has also declined. Clan elders used to perform traditional ceremonies but now seldom do so. Many of these rituals require chickens, pigs, and cows to be butchered, so that the animals' blood can be used as a sacrifice. It is not possible to buy live animals in urban supermarkets in the United States. Moreover, some of the ceremonies involve chanting and playing loud and, to American ears, strange music. The Hmong are painfully aware that such noise draws adverse attention. Besides, some Hmong are no longer certain about the efficacy of their beliefs and rituals. Those who live in rental housing wonder whether the spirits they used to worship are still accessible: after all, can such spirits reside in houses that are not owned by Hmong? As though to comfort themselves, some individuals draw a distinction between the pantheistic spirits dwelling in the jungles, mountains, streams, fields, and villages of Laos and the spirits of their own ancestors. They like to think that while the former may not reside in America, perhaps the latter continue to smile down at them from the heavens.

But ceremonies, particularly those associated with the Hmong New Year, remain important. In fact, the symbolic role of such celebrations has increased because they provide meaning, security, and, as Scott put it, "familiar relatedness."136 However, what used to be rituals have become performances that are similar to the traditional version only in form because "they have taken their traditional ritual practices out of the context of everyday life and deposited them in the protective gallery of a public theatrical performance." These "serve as mnemonic repositories of religious beliefs whose daily utility has ended but whose importance in maintaining a sense of ongoing ethnic identity is still very much in evidence," and are being retained primarily as emblems of Hmong culture.137 Nancy Donnelly, an anthropologist who studied Hmong women in Seattle, has made a similar observation. The Hmong New Year celebrations in Seattle, like those in San Diego, have likewise become "cultural displays," rather than "lived rituals." They are now "icons of identity rather than true natural expressions of an understood reality."138

In the political sphere of Hmong life, researchers have noted the emergence of a new leadership: educated, English-speaking young men who serve as officers in branches of the Lao Family Community, Inc. - a mutual aid association founded by General Vang Pa - o that have been established in communities with enough Hmong to support them. These men function as cultural brokers vis-a-vis the larger society. As Scott cautioned, however, it would be a mistake to assume that members of this small but noticeable Westernized elite are supplanting the clan elders. The young men continue to show tremendous deference to their elders and are able to serve their communities only with the latter's blessing.139

One of the most subversive effects of the surrounding Euro-American culture on Hmong social organization is the greater equality accorded women in the United States. Despite the crucial contributions made by women in traditional Hmong society to economic subsistence and childbearing and rearing, they had a very low status. Women had to obey their menfolk in every aspect of life. Not only was bride kidnapping an acceptable practice, so were wife beating and polygamy. Donnelly has noted that tensions are growing in many Hmong households "because men [feel] they are losing their basis of command.'' Because they have few transferrable job skills, cannot find jobs that pay them enough to support their families, and consequently are forced to depend on welfare, many Hmong men suffer from depression. In those households where the wives have found employment, however marginal, the husbands often experience a loss of prestige, self-esteem, and authority.140 Their fear of losing power in their families is very real for another reason: as Donnolly points out, "the state could circumscribe the authority of a man within his own household, for instance, by forbidding him to beat his wife.141

The ability of the police to intervene in family affairs is something that troubles many adult Hmong. Xang Mao Xiong, one of the narrators in this book, sighed about the difficulty of disciplining children in America because "we parents can be thrown in jail for trying to teach them what is right" - the method for such teaching being "a good beating."

Given the greater freedom as well as greater protection that women in the United States enjoy, it is not surprising that several available studies indicate Hmong women are adjusting more eagerly than Hmong men to life in America.142 Donnelly discovered that "no Hmong woman has ever told me she wanted to live in Laos again."143 Similarly, Goldstein found that "Hmong girls . . . did not want to return to the harder lives they lived in Laos."144

The women narrators in this book confirm this finding. While two of them complain about their lives - Vue Vang, who misses her siblings and longs to return to Laos someday, and Tchue Vue, who seems overburdened by the financial difficulties her family has experienced as farmers in the San Joaquin Valley of California - the rest sound quite happy. As Mai Moua said to her grandnephew, Lee Fang, "Ever since I have been in America, I have not done anything strenuous except to babysit my grandchildren. I am very happy to be alive today, seeing my family so well and happy." Ka Xiong put it this way: "I am so happy that we are now able to all live together in a country that is free . . . I am so happy to have all my children here with me and to see them doing so well." Pang Yang indicated that "the longer we have lived in the United States, the better our lives have become.... My sons often speak of this country as the land of opportunity. At first, I did not understand why they called it that, but now I do. Not only are there public schools, but there are lots of jobs, friendly neighbors, and a rich environment." Xer Lo, meanwhile, has been quite observant about the difference between the status of American women and that of Hmong women in Laos: "Women have more rights here in the United States, where wives and husbands have the same rights. Back in Laos, women have fewer rights than men. In fact, they have few rights at all. They must submit to their husbands. [Here in the United States] . . . their rights are protected, so they do not have to listen to their husbands. If husbands mistreat their wives, they can call the police. In Laos, wives have nobody to call when their husbands mistreat them."

Christianity, particularly its Protestant form, has also played a role in undermining traditional gender relations in some Hmong families. French Catholic and American Protestant missionaries have been active among the Hmong in Laos for many decades. At first, the Catholics were more successful in winning converts because Catholicism has shown itself quite capable of taking on elements from other religions in a syncretist way. Given Catholicism's own penchant for I iturgy, Hmong who become Catholics feel little conflict when they retain some of their animistic rituals. In contrast, Hmong who become Protestants are compelled to renounce all of their old religious practices: instead of being an additive element like Catholicism, Protestantism completely replaces animism.

After the Hmong came to the United States, several of the major Protestant denominations - the Baptists, the Presbyterians, and the Church of Christ - as well as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, X and the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church have all worked hard to gain Hmong adherents. Christianity has had a significant effect not only on the Hmong's religious practices but also on gender relations within some families. The various denominations involved with the Hmong do not approve of polygamy, which continues to exist de facto, if not de jure, among some Hmong in the United States. Christianity has affected other marriage practices as well. The payment by a groom's family of a bride price to the bride's parents, arranged marriage, bride kidnapping, and the tradition of girls marrying within a year or two of reaching puberty are all frowned upon - indeed, are deemed uncivilized - by the church, and those Hmong who have converted to Christianity have either modified such traditions or abandoned them altogether.

While Euro-American culture and Christianity have helped to change, however imperceptibly, the gender relations among some of the Hmong, certain American institutions, particularly the public 0 schools, are eroding traditional Hmong intergenerational relations. Countless studies of immigrant adaptation have shown that children acculturate - that is, learn the values, the behavior that is considered appropriate, and the ideas that members of a culture hold about "reality" - much faster than adults. In the words of Henry Trueba and his associates, "Children are a focal point of the integration of cultures. They move in and out of home and school environments that are in sharp contrast to each other."145 Immigrant schoolchil; dren quickly learn that what their parents expect is not necessarily the same as what their teachers and classmates approve of. The children also soon sense that the two cultures are not only different but are considered unequal: the Euro-American one is almost invariably treated as superior, the immigrant one as inferior. Until very recently, most teachers in American classrooms considered it their duty to help eradicate all traces of foreign cultures. Historically, one of the main justifications for using taxes to support a system of free, public schools in the United States has been the belief that education can play a central role in Americanizing newcomers from other lands. In short, schools in American society have functioned as major agents of assimilation and as builders of national unity.146

Unlike many Hmong adults, who received no education at all in Laos and are therefore illiterate and lack basic classroom skills,147 Hmong children are able to benefit more from their schooling in America. In a study of Hmong first-, second-, and third-graders in Minneapolis, Renee Lemieux found that there is a positive correlation between a child's English proficiency and his or her perceived level of adjustment and his or her degree of self-esteem. 148 Thus, from a Euro-American middle-class perspective, the faster the children of refugees master English and internalize American values and norms, the better they will feel about themselves and the more easily they will fit into the larger society.

What is seldom recognized, however, is that Hmong families are paying a heavy price for their children's acculturation. Some children have become a source of distress to their parents and a cause of family disunity. The dilemma that Hmong parents face can be simply stated: while they very much want their children to become educated (good academic performance is viewed as an achievement in and of itself, and also as the only means that Hmong families have to ensure their future economic security), they are realizing that, paradoxically, school is the very place where their children are learning behavior that contradicts the parents' own teachings. While the adults appreciate the ability of the children to serve as cultural brokers - to read documents written in English, to communicate with various authorities, to interpret in all kinds of settings - they, in particular the fathers, cannot help but resent the "power accorded the children by their schooling, a power that underscores the men's inability to support their families and the reduced status that results."149

Older men - commonly understood to be those over forty, given the premature aging that Hmong experienced as a result of their hard lives in Laos - are having an especially difficult time adapting to life in the United States. The contrast between Hmong culture and American culture is especially great in the honor accorded the aged. In Hmong society, as in most Old World cultures, old people are very much respected, so that individuals do not fear growing old. Even when old people are no longer economically productive or occupying positions of authority, they continue to enjoy respect within their families. There are multiple ways in which deference is shown to old people: reserving special seats for them, serving them choice foods, using honorifics to address them, assuming certain postures of deference, such as bowing in front of them, taking care of their bodily needs, and holding special celebrations in their honor.l5'' Among the Hmong, age is defined not only by number of years but also by a person's status within his or her family, by his or her ability to perform hard, physical labor, and by the use of generational titles. That is to say, kinship terminology is used to reinforce respect for age.151

In American society, on the other hand, old people are often pushed aside to make room for those who are younger and more vigorous. The nonwhite elderly, in particular, faces what one scholar has called "double jeopardy" - suffering not only from old age but also their minority status.152 Even more so than other minority elderly people, the Hmong elderly experience further privation due to their poverty and social marginality in the United States. The most painful moments they endure, however, occur when their own children and grandchildren no longer consult them, listen to their advice, or show them any respect. Unable to speak English, dependent on others to drive them places, fearful of taking public transportation in case they get lost, victimized by crime in the low-income neighborhoods where many of them live, many older Hmong men may sit at home with nothing to do except watch television. Having lost their traditional roles as elders - wise men who solve problems, adjudicate quarrels, and make important decisions - they feel useless and helpless. As one of them put it, "Where is my dignity if I calmot do anything for myself?"153 Said another, "We have become children in this country."154

Some of the narrators in this book have had similar experiences. As Lee Fang wrote in his autobiography, his parents were quite disoriented during their early days in the United States. "Not only did they feel lonesome but they became children, wandering around the house without anything to do. Whenever someone knocked on the front door, they became hysterical. They hesitated to answer the door because they were scared to sce people they did not know— mainly English-speaking people." Fortunately, not all older Hmong men have had such wrenching experiences. The two oldest male narrators in this book, Jou Yee Xiong and Boua Neng Moua, have both adjusted well. In general, older Hmong women also seem to be coping better. They remain active and useful by continuing to embroider, cook, do housework, and take care of children, as they have always done.155

Such changes in gender and intergenerational relations are very threatening to the Hmong because among all the ethnic markers they consider important - speaking Hmong, performing certain acts related to rites of passage and the New Year, engaging in slash-andburn agriculture, growing the opium poppy, living in the mountains, wearing distinctive clothing and silver jewelry, expressing paramount loyalty to the clan and respect for elders, observing the sexual division of labor, and accepting the subordinate status of women - they regard the ability to speak the language and the retention of their gender and age hierarchies to be the most essential for maintaining their ethnicity.156 As Kent Bishop put it, "They referred to the clans and the family as the 'Hmong way.'"157

But social service agencies, public schools, health clinics, and the judicial system all seem to conspire against them as they attempt to retain their ethnic identity.158 And it is the "people in the extremes of traditional Hmong society" - the clan elders, the male heads of households, and the shamans, on the one hand, and women and children, on the other hand - who are undergoing the most profound changes in their lives, as status hierarchies are undermined, if not entirely turned on their heads.159 Like many other immigrants, Hmong adults, as Goldstein has observed, tend to

This intense desire to retain their culture may help explain one phenomenon that has frustrated resettlement workers and others who have tried to assist the Hmong since the 1970s. To avoid overburdening any single locality and to encourage the refugees to learn English as quickly as possible, the federal government followed a policy of dispersing the refugees among communities across the face of the nation. However, as soon as the refugees learned enough to function on their own in American society, they began moving from the places of their initial settlement to other cities and towns. This arduous process of secondary or even tertiary migration confounded observers who tried to understand why it was taking place. Explanations included the desire for family reunification, the search for employment, the inability to continue living in places with high rents, hostile actions by the host communities, and difficulties in their relationships with their sponsors.161

Cheu Thao, a Hmong writer, has offered a more insightful explanation for the phenomenon. He sees a direct parallel between secondary migration in America and the Hmong tradition of moving from one place to another either in response to adverse conditions or to find more fertile land. He believes that Hmong in the United States now move either to reunify their clans, whose members may have become separated during their tortuous journey from Laos to Thailand and finally to the United States, or to better their lives. But the motivation for the latter kind of move is not just economic - that is, to find locations with more employment possibilities, better vocational training, lower rents, or larger public assistance payments - but political as well. By that he means that the more members of a clan there are in a town or city, the more power its leaders can exert. Just as in Laos where "clan leaders could use moving as a means of consolidating clan and personal power," so clan leaders in the United States can attempt to gather together in one locality as many of their followers as possible in order to maintain their social standing and influence vis-a-vis the new, young, educated, and English speaking leaders who today control the Western-style mutual aid associations.162

Another possible motivation that Cheu Thao does not mention is that by increasing the size of the Hmong community in a particular locality, it becomes easier to maintain those social relations that form the basis of Hmong ethnic identity. Members of self-contained communities need not interact much, if at all, with the outside world as they find companionship among their own kind. Perhaps most important, in such a setting they can exert social control over the young and the female Hmong with, they hope, greater effectiveness.

Though there are many unique aspects to the Hmong migration experience, in a larger sense it is really not so different from that of other immigrant groups in America. Like other newcomers, the Hmong have tried simultaneously to hang on to some facets of their cultural heritage while adapting to American society with the hope of achieving economic success, social acceptance, and a measure of political power. It will be some time before the Hmong attain these goals. But if the reflective essays by the four student narrators in this book are at all representative, then the day when Hmong refugees and their Hmong American progeny will become an integral part of American society may be closer at hand than scholars seem to think.