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IN A LATHER
The following letter is in response to Greg Stacy's April 19 story, “Don Bolles Keeps His Nose Clean,” about the legendary Germs drummer being busted for driving with soap.
I play music with this guy, and he's an amazing person. And unequivocally, the West Coast's equivalent to a Ramone! Glad you paid mind to this story. And yeah, it was funny, in a sick kinda way! We hope the best for him. Thanks again for caring.
SURF CITY, HERE WE COME
I loved your review of the Griffin show [Greg Stacy's “Good Vibrations,” July 5]. Really great style and such a cool angle to launch your review (the punk-eye take). Love the part where you said you can taste the line and smell the design, or something like that. Anyway, thanks for writing something original, well-thought-out and clever instead of rehashing the press release. Gnarly.
This next slew of letters respond to Nick Schou's July 5 article “The General's Last Stand,” detailing the struggles of Vang Pao, a Hmong general devoted to fighting communism in Laos until his arrest by the U.S. government.
Your article about Vang Pao was quite well-written. I knew him in Laos while flying there. He was tough in a tough country. He deserves to die in peace, remembering what his life was and what he did to help those who were there.
I was an Air America helicopter pilot in Laos from 1968 to 1974. I was always embarrassed at the way we deserted the Hmong people at the end of the SEA [South East Asia] war. Our politicians should hang their heads in shame. However, how you could give any credability to Alfred McCoy and his hippie drivel in an otherwise well-written history of the time mystifies me. Otherwise, the article was accurate, as I remember those days, and I wish the Hmong that want to return home all the best. Sad to say they need to understand our politicians as a whole are never going to help them realize this dream. Were it in my power, I would go back to SEA tomorrow and do whatever possible to atone to these people for the broken promises our government made to them for their support. An ugly period in our history.
The portrayal of Vang Pao as an opium-trafficking-and-processing mastermind are totally absurd. Vang Pao was actively pushing his soldiers and right behind his troops at the front line. He helped with artillery firing. Always making sure his troops did effective jobs; if not, he urged them to do so. He sent condolences to people whose beloved ones perished. He comforted his injured soldiers in hospitals and sometimes ate just one meal a day. He may have ordered someone killed who posed a threat to his network, just like the U.S. executes terrorists. He did not have time to do any opium processing, even if he had a lab.
MORE GENERAL TALK
The following letter is in response to Nick Schou's June 14 article “Hero or Heroin?” discussing Vang Pao's alleged involvement in the South East Asian heroin trade. The article made reference to Alfred W. McCoy's book on the subject titled The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.
Forty years ago, anyone could write anything about the Hmong, and we would just sit there silently because we could not read or write. For some time now, the Hmong community has sat silently as uninformed people like you and McCoy wagged your hypercritical fingers. McCoy has accused Vang Pao of running a heroin factory and committing unspeakable war acts. All of these accusations come from a man who never stepped foot in Laos until the war was nearly over. Contrary to what you wrote, McCoy did not spend years in Laos. He was there for a few weeks as the war was winding down. McCoy has been so busy condemning Vang Pao that he has failed to realize that Vang Pao was no more than a puppet whose master was none other than the good old USA. Vang Pao's only crime is that he danced to the tune of the CIA, and to McCoy's chagrin, he danced it very well. Let us take a look at who is the real culprit behind this atrocity.
Vang Pao came to power in 1960, when, as a soldier's soldier, he was courted by the U.S. government to halt the spread of communism. The U.S. feared, whether real or imaginary, that communism was about to dominate the world and Laos would be the key. This led a few men in the highest positions of the U.S. government to violate the laws of this nation, the Neutrality Act, Title 18, Section 960, by providing and furnishing money for a military expedition in the sovereign nation of Laos, with whom the U.S. was at peace.
In December 1960, Bill Lair, a CIA agent, met with Vang Pao and Hmong Clan leaders in Padong, Laos. According to Jane Hamilton-Merritt's interview with Taseng Yang, a Hmong tribal leader who was present at the meeting, “'I asked if we defeat the Vietnamese, how will you help us?' Colonel Billy [Lair] answered, 'If the Hmong beat the Vietnamese, then we will help the Hmong people as much as we can. If the Hmong people lose, we will find a new place where we can help the Hmong people.' That promise pleased us. After this discussion, Colonel Billy, Colonel Khouphan, Vang Pao and I signed a paper that said in eight days, American people would send us 500 guns.”
Then on July 23, 1962, the U.S., along with Russia and 12 other nations, ratified the Geneva Accord. By signing this agreement, they promised to recognize and will [sic] respect and observe in every way the sovereignty, independence, neutrality, unity and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Laos. They agreed that they will not bring the Kingdom of Laos in any way into any military alliance that is inconsistent with her neutrality. Shortly after signing this agreement, and with total disregard for its contents, the United States continued to provide arms, build and pay the salary of a Hmong fighting force, shattering the Geneva Accord and violating the Neutrality Act—the same act they are accusing Vang Pao of violating.
A declassified State Department memo (Volume XXII), “CIA Supported Covert Paramilitary Program,” will help shed some light on this topic.
The genesis of this program stems from high-level U.S. government approval in late 1960 and early 1961 in response to a recommendation by the U.S. ambassador in Laos that the CIA enlist tribal support to fight communism. The main effort in this program has been development of the Meo (Hmong), the largest non-Lao ethnic group in Laos, as an effective guerrilla force and the provision of plausibly deniable U.S. air support for the program. Vang Pao, the commander of the Meo forces, is a regular FAR officer, and the Meo forces are technically considered to be FAR ADC units. As authorized by the Special Group in June 1963, this program has expanded to a present force of approximately 19,000 armed Meo guerrillas (23,000 authorized) engaged in village defense and guerrilla activities against the Pathet Lao.
In support of the above forces, the CIA has employed covert air support designed to fulfill resupply requirements, as well as meet FAR and neutralist paramilitary and military requirements. This air support, conducted by an ostensibly private and commercial company, has been able to continue operations in Laos under U.S.-aided contractual arrangements and through the flexibility of the CIA's cover and funding mechanisms.
During the development, employment and support of the above covert tribal paramilitary program in Laos, the CIA has provided World War II weapons and associated ammunition, salary and subsistence, and miscellaneous support items. The budget for the Laos tribal program for fiscal year 1963 was $11,625,000 and for fiscal year 1964 was $14,008,000.
Now back to the opium topic. Speaking only from my memories of a child roaming the streets of Long Tieng, I can attest to the fact that I never saw a heroin factory. Raw opium was openly sold in the markets, as it has been done for hundreds of years. Most Hmong were not drug addicts, as it was looked down upon in our society. We grew opium because it was a cash crop. At first, it was to sell to the Chinese, and later to the French who controlled the drug market. Don't get me wrong, I am not disputing that there weren't some low-level and perhaps even mid-level drug-dealing activities during this “we all need to eat” time period. What is at issue is McCoy's accusation that Vang Pao was running some sort of drug cartel with a heroin factory based out of Long Tieng. An operation of this magnitude needs a complex operational system. This alone would trigger a buzz in the community. I personally have not heard of any buzz from the Hmong, even after 40 years. Even Vang Pao's worst Hmong enemies—and believe me, you make enemies when there is war—will tell you there was no heroin factory in Long Tieng.
The streets of Long Tieng were my playground. I was too young to fight a war, but old enough to know what I saw. I knew every crack and cranny on the CIA compound. I played in the T-28 hangars, on the ammunition dump and at the fuel depot, and I climbed the power station. I even roamed the grounds of the zoo. I sliced my butt open playing on the medical-waste pile at the hospital. Occasionally, I stopped at the whore house on the west side of the runway, built by the Thai to service their mercenary soldiers, to spy on the naked girls. I was there when the first ice machine was brought to Long Tieng, ate at the first restaurant, and watched the first baguette come out of the oven when the short-lived bakery was built. I was the child who broke the king's bed at the king's palace by jumping up and down on it one too many times. All this time, I never saw anything resembling a factory.
In order to have a factory of any magnitude, several things need to be considered. One of which is electric power. Long Tieng had a very limited power supply. A small substation was built halfway down the runway to service the CIA compound and airfield. Only a handful of homes had electricity. The majority of Long Tieng existed under candle power. I remember, in our house, we had one light bulb: If the light switch was not flipped on by 5 p.m., then at 7 p.m., there was not enough energy left to turn it on. In short, Long Tieng had no factories. The ice factory every one speculated on was a two-sided freezer, no larger than 22 cubic inches. It was eventually shut down because of the lack of a power supply. I was there when this happened, as it belonged to my mother.
Another factor one needs to consider is time. Vang Pao had no time for extracurricular activities, like running a drug operation. War was his full-time job. He and his cabinet worked 14- to 16-hour days for most of 10 years. He was too busy saving American lives, carrying out CIA orders and defending the principles of what this nation stands for so that people like McCoy can express their opinions. (Source: Former Hmong Chief of Staff MRII.)
Furthermore, for those of you who are not aware, opium likes to grow in the black soil of the tall cool mountain sides. By the time McCoy visited Laos, most Hmong have been displaced from northern Laos. They were living in refugee camps south of Long Tieng, where the climate is hot and humid and unsuitable for opium growing. Most able-bodied men had been killed or were on the front line. The women and children could barely eke out a living. No one had the time or the means to cultivate opium fields. As a result, opium was rarely seen on the street markets in the late '60s and early '70s.
In addition, when there is drug involved, all you have to do is follow the money trail. Where the money stops is where the story begins. I have personally interviewed the person in charge of all the finances on the Hmong side during the U.S. covert operations. I can tell you there are no secret Swiss accounts or a villa tucked away in some exotic place. I am certain of this fact. Vang Pao didn't need money: With one wag of his finger, a CIA agent, code name “Money Man Mike,” appeared with it. (Source: Former Hmong Chief of Staff MRII.)
Dr. Charles Weldon, unlike McCoy, spent more than a decade working side by side with the Hmong during the war years. According to Weldon, he indicated that an aerial survey in the '60s showed that Laos was producing about 35 tons of opium per year. Weldon continues to report that the price at that time was around $12 to $15 per kilogram. This would mean that the whole opium crop would yield around $250,000 to $300,000 ANNUALLY. (Source: Tragedy in Paradise, Charles Weldon, M.D.)
Now consider that Vang Pao's army was bankrolled by the CIA. Even at the pittance of 12,000 kips for fresh recruits to 25,000 kips for seasoned soldiers, this would average to around $10 to $20 per soldier per month. Given that Vang Pao's force was maintained at 30,000 strong, that would put the payroll at a conservative half a million dollars per month. Add to that the expenditure for the war, and we can just imagine the amount of money that was being spent. This was a bargain for the Americans, as compared to the bankroll for the war in Vietnam, but a hell of a lot of money for the mountain soldiers. (Source: Former Hmong chief of Staff MRII.)
Let us just assume, for a fleeting moment, that what McCoy says is true and that Vang Pao somehow controlled the drug market. Let us again assume that Vang Pao controlled 50 percent of the Laos opium market. This would mean that Vang Pao could gross approximately $150,000 annually, or $12,500 per month. After cost of operation in opium, he would net around $6,250 per month. Get the point? Vang Pao didn't need the chump change from the opium market when he was receiving more than half a million dollars from the CIA per month just in payroll. Everyone got it now?
Finally, I often wondered why McCoy harbored such ill feelings toward the Hmong and Vang Pao. A recent interview with Amy Goodman may help shed some light on this topic (www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/02/17/1522228).
It seems that McCoy alleged that some 40 years ago, he was ambushed by a group of clandestine soldiers backed by the CIA in the jungle of Laos. When asked by Goodman how he knew it was the CIA, his reply was: “Oh, look, in the mountains of Laos; there aren't that many white guys, okay?” Was he implying that CIA agents with this group were shooting at him? Then he goes on to say they were Laotian mercenaries. From there, his response to questioning by Goodman is unclear as he, the supposed expert, couldn't distinguish between the proper terminologies for naming the different ethnic groups in Laos. Without any empirical evidence, he came to the conclusion that those who ambushed him were clandestine Laotian mercenaries. That, everybody was clear about that. Nobody denied that. Please provide the sources, McCoy: Who were everybody, and who was nobody? It is difficult to take a man seriously when his research is clouded by his own personal prejudice, which appears to be retribution.