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Saturday, January 22, 2011

General Vang Pao: Hmong Hero or Tyrant?

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.


Sharny said...

You have a fair analysis. It is true GVP leaded the defense of LAOS and contributed most to the war. Those times are different. What is also true is he killed his own people for his advance. Being a leader people will like and hate you. Just be sure that only 40% hates you and you have 60% followed you. That is general VP. I don't agree with some of his actions thought. The facts: he has favored his VANG & inter-marriage superior to anyone. He ordered VANG married VANG the ultimate price = drop the couple from helicopter from the air into the jungle. Opium smuggler...I can go on with facts.

Personally, I respect GVP for his past leadership but I believe it is time to move on. 40 years is enough. Change is coming. Hmong needs to move forward and not be anchored by some tyrant.

all in all, it is not best to lose GVP and it is not good to have him around with the same attitude. What I wish was a GVP that would reflect the time of the generation. Peace.

Yang, MN.

MK Chang said...

Sharny, thanks for stopping by. I honestly don't feel comfortable judging someone when I don't have all the information there and when what's there may or may not be reliable. All I know for sure about GVP is that his choices led to me being here in the U.S., which I'm very glad of. You make a good point about needing a new leader who will reflect our current generation.

Qeej Heroes said...

General Vang Pao did not just one day appeared out of a crack in the mud and did what he did. Research his childhood, what motivated him to become a leader, how he gained respect from the Hmong people, and you would at the least appreciate him even though you may not like him. He started to rise during the time of French occupation. The French were collecting taxes heavily from poor Hmong villages throughout Laos. If you didn't have money, you had to give everything else you got whether it be a pig, cow, veggies, or rice and it still wasn't enough. He saw old ladies with starving families, giving away their last meal to the French, and yet were beaten in public because they could not produce more. He made a decision to help and unite Hmong people. This is only but one example. Focus on what has happened as a whole as opposed to a few incidents involving a few people.
He was an individual just like you and me, but someone who saw a greater purpose and had the courage to rise up to the challenge and seize it. How many of us have the courage to do the same? All this time since moving from Laos, I can tell you that I have seen no one who has surpassed what he has done for Hmong people. The mass majority mindset is taking baby brides from Laos, I can assure you. The greater good of all people outweigh the few. You can even find this lesson in Jet Li's "Hero". Would there be China if not for those warlords that fought to unite them? Would there be U.S.A if the pioneers became best buddies with the Indians? Times have changed, but it's only because of what has happened in the past.

Qeej Heroes said...

Btw, Mk Chang. Thanks for sharing your blogs. It's helped keep me awake and pass some time these lonely nights at the hospital watching over my grandpa who became ill. I am Hmong and do share some of your experiences as a child growing up in a big family, the smell of squirrels, lol. You write your blogs well. Don't be offended by my many comments at both your blog sites, I'm just bored and I also try to provide some insight. I do enjoy reading your writing whether or not I agree with your opinions. Keep it up and I hope it enlightens others too.

MK Chang said...

Qeej, I understand your view on General Vang Pao. Everyone has their own opinion on whether he should be considered a hero or not. For me, I don't feel comfortable judging him. I didn't know him personally, and furthermore, what I have read or researched about him seems to convey two opposite extremes--either that he is a great man, or that he is a tyrant. I doubt that he is simply one or the other. People are much more complex than that.

Btw, I welcome your thoughts and comments. Different perspectives and learning from each other is part of a fulfilling life, as long as it's done in a respectful way (which is what you have shown). Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll visit my pages again.