The Hmong are a tribe from the mountains of Laos, in Southeast Asia. They fought for the C.I.A. in a little-known sideshow to the Vietnam war. For a people that didn’t even use the wheel in their old country, the Hmong have done phenomenally well as immigrants to America. A solid Hmong-American middle class – soldiers, lawyers, accountants, chicken farmers, store owners and college students – far outnumbers the urban hoodlums. What haunts Hmong-Americans as an ethnic group is that the war they left behind in Laos has never entirely ended. And what frustrates them is that the U.S. government, while occasionally pretending to care, has made the problem worse instead of solving it.
A third of a century after the U.S. armed forces pulled out of Southeast Asia, Laotian soldiers of the old-line communist regime still hunt and kill men, women, and children belonging to the last few Hmong resistance bands. The leaders of the resistance bands were all trained by the C.I.A. when they were young. Most of them are grandfathers now. They have satellite phones, gifts from their American relatives. From remote jungle mountainsides, they call family members in Minnesota, or Wisconsin, or California, and forlornly ask when the U.S. military is going to come back and save them from their enemies.
Roger Warner is a frequent traveler to Southeast Asia, and is the author of Shooting At The Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos, which won the Overseas Press Club’s book of the year award.