SACRAMENTO – The protesters thronged to the California capital with rallying cries about southeast Asia. It called up the good old days of 1968, but it was actually June 18 and 19, 2007, and the subject of the demonstration was Laos, not Vietnam. The protesters, some 2,000 strong, were mostly Hmong gathering to protest the arrest of Gen. Vang Pao, 77, leader of approximately 250,000 Hmong in the United States and one of 11 recently arrested for a plot to overthrow the Communist regime in Laos.
Vang Pao led a U.S.-backed army that fought communist forces from the early 1960s until mid-1970s. During the June 18 protest, former U.S. Army sniper Dave Downs said that thousands of American soldiers owed their lives to the Hmong forces. Those forces, Downs said, prevented North Vietnamese troops from using Laos as easy access to the south.
Those arrested in the plot, dubbed "Operation Popcorn," from "Political Opposition Party's Coup Operation to Rescue the Nation," included Harrison Jack, 60, a former Army Ranger in Vietnam and a retired colonel in the California National Guard.
The younger Hmong at the event told reporters of a YouTube documentary showing soldiers of the Communist regime hunting down the Hmong in Laos. They weren't making up the atrocities. In recent report on Laos, Amnesty International strongly condemns the massacre of ethnic Hmong people by Lao government troops in northern Vientiane province. One attack, which took place some 20 kilometers northeast of the tourist town of Vang Vieng on 6 April 2006, claimed the lives of at least 26 people, mostly women and children. According to AI, Lao government troops attacked the while their unarmed victims were foraging for food in the jungle.
The plot Vang Pao is charged with leading sought to take down Laos' Communist regime with former Green Berets, former Rangers and other special-forces fighters, at a cost of $28 million, according to news reports. They are charged with seeking to buy AK-47 rifles, anti-tank munitions, surface-to-air missiles, and explosives, whose vendors turned out to be ATF agents. The charges include violation of the federal Neutrality Act by conspiring to topple a foreign government which has peaceful relations with the United States.
The 11 arrested face penalties up to life in prison. They were not seeking to get the United States to take down Laos, but that is how judge Edmund F. Brennan saw it.
"It's not up to private groups to decide which countries the United States should be at war with and at peace with," Brennan said.
News reports of the protests mentioned the Amnesty International charges that the Laotian government has promoted "violence and persecution… against individuals and groups of ethnic Hmong perceived by the armed forces as having links to the rebels. Nothing like that appeared in editorials, no inkling that there was any legitimate cause at issue for those arrested or those protesting. Protests are common in the California capital and The Sacramento Bee, the monopoly daily, which has provided sympathetic coverage when the demonstrators were undocumented Mexicans chanting aqui estamos y no nos vamos – "we are here and we're not leaving," not only shrugged at the Asian demonstrators, but put its star colunnist, Marcos Breton, on the attack.
General Vang Pao, he wrote, "was trained and supported by the CIA and that's saying a mouthful, isn't it? Without rendering legal verdicts, it's safe to say the CIA didn't train its jungle-fighting point guys to solve conflicts through meditation." Breton writes from the politically correct lexicon in which the CIA is a three-letter code for evil, an incantation, and any contact with that agency amounts to a lifetime taint. But Breton was just getting warmed up. He dutifully rattled off "Laos, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Panama – how many former 'strong men' once financed by U.S. dollars have ended up dead or incarcerated in our jails?"
That the Hmong could be facing extermination at the hands of Marxist-Leninist strong-men had escaped his view. For Breton, who also complained about not being able to understand the protesters' language, "it was almost comical." Further, would "young Americanized Hmong really follow Vang to jungles far removed from their iPods? No way."
The whole thing, wrote Breton, was "so very Vietnam-era," and "like the Vietnam War, the Vang case is fundamentally senseless." It's all "flawed policies based on flawed premises."
Breton was right in a way. Conflicts have consequences, and they don't go away if one side packs up and leaves. They amount to a kind of condemnation for those left behind.
Those who allied themselves with the United States to fight communist totalitarianism have good reason to feel betrayed. They find themselves not only abandoned but prevented from taking up the fight themselves. They get no sympathy as an international brigade fighting a loathsome dictatorial regime. Those who support them in peaceful demonstrations get smeared as jabbering foreigners dedicated only to their iPods.