“The Americans gave us weapons and told us to shoot the enemy, then they left us and we’ve been slowly dying here ever since…When the Lao Army kills one of our men, they feel as though they’ve killed an American in revenge for us helping them during the war.’”
I heard about the “secret war” of Vietnam for the first time the other day in class when we talked about the Hmong. While we are told about the Vietnam war in school, we never learn of the “secret war” fought on behalf of the United States during this time. The “secret war” refers to the thousands of Hmong who were recruited by the U.S military through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to help fight the war against Communism in Southeast Asia. According to Daphne Winland, the Hmong belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Being culturally similar to the Chinese, Hmong origins can be tracked back to China, where they lived peacefully hundreds of years. The word Hmong mean “free people” or “mountain people”. They were chosen by the CIA because of the geographically strategic location in the mountains of Laos. In the 1960s, the CIA began secretly enlisting Hmong to prevent North Vietnamese troops from entering and moving supplies to South Vietnam through Laos. The Hmong suffered devastating losses estimated at more than 100 time greater (proportionately) than the United States. Most experts agree that more than 25,000 Hmong lost their lives fighting for the United States during the Vietnam War.
Due to intense political pressures at home, the United States had vowed not to escalate the war into Laos. Thus, the Hmong became known as “the Secret Army” and their participation in the war was called “the Secret War”. In 1975, the United States withdrew its forces from Vietnam. Concurrently, a Communist-backed government, supported by the Vietnamese and Soviets, assumed power in Laos. One of the foremost goals of the new Laotian government was to annihilate the Hmong people because of their alliance with the United States. The Communists tortured, raped, and murdered thousands of Hmong. They napalmed their villages and slaughtered their cattle. There is evidence that the Communists used chemical and biological weapons in their attempt to wipe down the Hmong. With the United States having withdrawn from Vietnam, the Hmong were left without any allies in the middle of their enemies and a new war. Many Hmong immigrated to the United States, Australia and France. Nowadyas, approximately 150,000 Hmong live in the United States, with little or no recognition for their efforts, and without any veterans benefits. In 1997, the U.S finally acknowledged Hmong veterans with a granite marker in Arlington National Cementery.
Life has not been easy for the Hmong immigrates in the U.S. New coverage of the Hmong often referred to them as a “pre-literate”, “primitive”, and “hilltribe group”, writer John Duffy explains in his book. Meanwhile, in the jungle back in Vietnam, Hmongs live miserably, living in terrible conditions and hiding, trying to survive with little food they get from sympathetic farmers. “If the Americans don’t want to help us,”a veteran said on an interview to the New York Times, “they should drop a big bomb on us and end our misery.”
This is the story never told by the government of the United States. President Johnson, in coalition with the Central Intelligence Agency, kept the “secret war” as a secret from all the Americans. The Vietnam War was planned and implemented step-by-step by five administrations and principally directed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Once secret documents, referred to as the “Pentagon Papers” and “McNamara Papers,” have shown the U.S. government, during the war, systematically deceived the American people as the secret strategy unfolded. Deception is war’s key weapon (Rockstroh, 2010). Why was this sotry never told? Simply because it would jeopardize president Johnson’s popularity.
This is just one of many examples of how easly we can be lied to and how the forvernment and media keep information from the main public just for the interest of some.
For further insight, here is a short documentary of the “Secret War”. Sworn to Secrecy: Secrets of War: Wietnam: Johnson’s War