Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Silent War

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran this article about the Silent War in Laos--the Vietnam companion war that Americans never heard about because it was masterminded by the CIA and was fought by local mercenaries who were promised various things by the US government. (Things, of course, that never happened.)

The article talks about the lives of the surviving mercenaries and their descendents, who have to live on the run and in hiding from the government they betrayed in order to help the US (and which they were never freed from). It's amazing to me that 30 years have gone by and not only has the US never coughed up what they promised (shocker) but the political situation in Laos has STILL not changed at all.

A really smart book about this that I read recently and that will probably change your life if you read it--THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN, by Anne Fadiman. Fadiman talks about the Hmong refugee community in Southern California and the Silent War they were escaping (the book is actually about an epileptic baby and intercultural medical politics around treating her--the book is rich in things to think about and is a really wonderful read, to boot).

On slightly different but related subjects, I also recently read Amy Tan's SAVING FISH FROM DROWINING, which is about the very similar government persecution of minorty groups in Burma. Although poor Amy Tan's book disappoints pplot-wise, the beginning is a really nicely done reflection on Burmese ethnic politics and I would say it is worth reading for that reason alone.

I think it's really easy for Americans to forget the unmitigated damage our government did in Southeast Asia. Of course we're not responsible for this, but we do suffer the stigma of the sins our government has committed, and we are stuck with the legacy of hatred that will follow us through many parts of the world. So it's worth reading up on.

Incidentally, I wanted to do an Editorial Ass's Top 3 on books about minority people in Southeast Asia, but I've only read two. Can someone offer a third?


angelle said...

i heart southeast asia. but i don't have a good book on minority peoples to tell you about, at least not one i can think of off the top of my head. one day i'll write one, and then u can put it on your list. hee hee hee!

Kelsey said...

I read that neighboring Cambodia is the most bombed country in the history of the world and that includes Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I was in Cambodia this past Spring and I visited several villages where people live in mine fields. Cattle and people are blown up by mines and unexploded ordinances. The really shocking part is that most of the bombs were dropped by the USA.

The Writers' Group said...

My heart was broken by The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram (September 2007/Random House). Read the prologue, weep, read the entries, weep more, then read about the discovery of the diary and the presentation of it to Thuy's mother and cry your poor heart away. What a shame.


Xarissa said...

I ran straight to my Burma activist friends, and though I haven't read these for myself, they are vouched for by some readers with excellent taste and a good idea of what's going on in SEA right now:

From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe. He is Padaung, and he spent a long time hiding from the military in the jungle before he finally made it over the Thai border. He eventually became the first Burmese to earn a degree in English Lit from Cambridge, and the book is his memoir.

Finding George Orwell in Burma, by Emma Larkin: not necessarily
ethnic minority focused but really great.

Edith Mirante's Down the Rat Hole: story of a Western black-belt journalist and her travels in the country doing activism and reporting work.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, a lot of things happened under the cover of the jungle that folks would like to keep hidden, like the lost ruins of the jungle cities.

booklady said...

I haven't read it yet, but First They Killed My Father is supposed to be incredible.

moonrat said...

thanks for the suggestions, all. the To Be Read list grows ever more formidable.

lauramanivong said...

My husband played with some of those live bombs Kelsey mentioned, but he was one of the lucky ones. I just sold my first novel to HarperCollins about a Lao boy who escapes his country and endures years in a Thai refugee camp. It's an upper middle grade novel due out in Jan 2010 and is based loosely on my husband's experiences.

Two books I read that may interest you...

I LITTLE SLAVE, A PRISON MEMOIR FROM COMMUNIST LAOS, written by the father of my husband's closest friend from Na Pho refugee camp. It details the Laotian death camps, torture, refugees and survival, and the author Bounsang Khamkeo writes beautifully about such a tragic time, and holds nothing back.

The other is INDOCHINA'S REFUGEES, ORAL HISTORIES FROM LAOS, CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM, by Joanna C. Scott. My father-in-law's name is listed in an appendix of seminarists of Camp 04. He spent 12 years as a prisoner there.