As you may know, General Vang Pao recently passed away, causing a lot of grief in Hmong communities all over the United States and I would imagine in other countries with Hmong residents as well. A lot of Hmong people certainly respected and loved GVP. Many viewed him as a father-figure and saw his death as a significant loss.
However, I've been hearing a lot of negative comments about GVP and stories about horrible things he did to others and to his own Hmong people. Some say that he never cared for the greater good of the Hmong community and that he was only out for self-success. They cite the Hmong people in Laos who are still there and living peacefully without being persecuted or killed. They comment on GVP's wealth as evidence that he was a corrupted leader. There are a lot of other things that I have seen brought up in various commentaries on GVP, but I won't mention them all.
If you want to read some of the negative things being said, here is one article that gives a searing report of GVP back in his CIA operation days: "My Memo of Vang Pao" by Fred Branfman
So...what to make of all of this? To be a top leader is an extremely tough job, and there has got to be plenty of temptations along the way. I doubt that GVP was a perfectly virtuous leader. Who really is? We're all guilty of greed, pride, and power to some extent. Just what was his extent?
As a kid, I remember my dad sending money every month in support of GVP and his causes. I overheard the grown-ups talking about promises that GVP would make and fulfill, if he got enough money from the Hmong people. I was just a kid, but I thought it was ridiculous. It seemed absurd to send hard-earned money away to some unproven cause. My dad would rise early every morning, drive an hour to a pig slaughter house to slave away, and then drive home at night, smelling like pig and with blood and grease splattered all over his hair and clothes. I'm sure his back was sore, his arms heavy with the lifting of hundreds of pounds of pig carcasses. He hardly earned enough to support our family of eleven. Why was he sending money away? After years of doing that, what was the end result? Where did all that money go? I have no idea, and I don't think my dad did either. He eventually stopped sending his hard-earned money away.
When I think about everything that I'm reading about GVP (the good and the bad) and the memories I have of how the Hmong elders spoke of him and supported him, I guess what I'm left with is a bit of confusion. Who was he? I'm not talking about biographical or hard facts. I'm talking about who he was in his heart. I guess none of us, except perhaps his closest confidante, really knows.
I am, however, grateful that I am here in the United States. And that's due to GVP. So for that, I thank him.