The Hmong People have the unsavory distinction of being American heroes. Unfortunately, it was for a losing cause that was not their own making. Indeed, similar to the original Americans, the Hmong were migrants who were not native to their new land. As a result, US and French invaders took advantage of their naivety and then left them behind to face the wrath of the Vietnamese and Pathet Lao.
Origins of the Hmong People in Indochina
The Hmong people living in Indochina are an ethnic minority group that has lived in the region for over 200 years. However, they are not native to SE Asia and began migrating from the Yellow River region of China in the 18th century. The Qing Dynasty forced the migration on the Hmong, regardless of the fact the Hmong had been living in China for 2000 years.
Forced Migration of the Hmong
Ironically, the Qing dynasty has nomadic origins which are similar to the Hmong in Indochina. Indeed, the Manchus were descendants of the Jurchen people that originated in Manchuria. Additionally, the Jurchen clans did not become unified until 17th century. After unification, they renamed themselves “Manchu” and then ruled China for 3 centuries as the Qing Dynasty.
Despite their minority origins, the Qing were unsympathetic to the plight of other ethnic groups in China. However, the Hmong people defied the oppression of their Manchu overlords. As a result, the Qing labeled the Hmong as ‘Miao’ (‘barbarian’ or ‘savage’) and targeted them for genocide. Therefore, some of the Hmong migrated to SE Asia and resettled in Northern Vietnam and Laos.
Hmong People Resettle in Northern Vietnam
In Vietnam, the Hmong people make up just over 1% of the population and they are classified as one of 54 ethnic minority groups. Additionally, the Hmong people are very diverse and they have many sub-ethnic groups such as the Flower Hmong, Black Hmong, Blue Hmong and several others.
Hmong Allies During Indochina Wars
In Indochina, the Hmong people became allies of the French colonists in the first Indochina war. Unfortunately, the first Indochina war raged for 10 years and the Hmong fought valiantly for their new friends. However, the French surrendered and left the Hmong behind to fend for themselves. As a result, their future in Northern Vietnam became very unstable because they faced the wrath Vietnamese army.
Indeed, the plight of the Hmong people did not go unnoticed by the CIA. Unfortunately, the Americans actively recruited the Hmong and they once again became allied with foreign invaders. Additionally, the US military recruited them on a much larger scale as compared to the first Indochina War.
Objectives of the Hmong Fighters
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a vital supply line for the Viet Cong fighters in the south. As a result, disruption of the Ho Chi Minh trail was the primary objective of the Americans. However, the Americans had limited success engaging the Vietnamese resistance fighters in ground warfare. Therefore, the US Military recruited the Hmong fighters to serve as ground forces acting on behalf of the US military during the “secret war” in Laos. The Americans were now free to conduct gratuitous carpet bombing of Northern Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos working in unison with the Hmong on the ground.
Surrender of the US Military
The massive destruction they caused was ultimately ineffective because in the end the US military gave up. As a result, the Hmong people would once again face the wrath of the Vietnamese army. However, in Laos they also faced the wrath of the Pathet Lao.
The result was another humanitarian disaster and a mass migration of over 300,000 refugees. Although the US eventually agreed to relocate 100,000 refugees to the US, most were left behind to fend for themselves. Indeed, many of the thousands left behind are living in fear hiding in the jungles of Laos and Thailand.
The Hmong People are American Heroes
The US Military widely respected the Hmong fighters and their efforts were at times heroic. Indeed, they had saved many downed US pilots from certain death and an estimated 12,000 Hmong fighters would lose their lives in the “secret war”.
However, the US government still does not recognize their existence. As a result, the US Government continues to withhold military honors from Hmong veterans and also refuses to acknowledge or assist those who are still left to suffer.
The abandoned US allies who remained in Vietnam also faced persecution at best and at worst death. Those who were able, fled to Laos and Thailand to meet their uncertain fate. Additionally, the ones who remained in Vietnam still face persecution today.