Vang Pao Elementary School: Remarks to the Madison School Board on May 7, 2007

The decision to name the new school after General Vang Pao was necessary and proper, although difficult.
The board did its job well. Remember that when you evaluate the reactions of some parts of the community.
The reactions are not about the process. Three months of notice and opportunities to comment was sufficient process.
They are not about “localness”. Many of our schools are named after non-local figures.
They are not about new information. Professor McCoy’s allegations about Vang Pao are old news, 2002 news.
They are not about the persuasiveness of Professor McCoy’s allegations. He spent a short time in Laos. His evidence is thin.
In contrast, Dr. Jane Hamilton Merritt spent many years in Laos and interviewed more than a thousand people. She has concluded that McCoy’s allegations are baseless. She has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Pulitizer Prize for her human rights reporting from Laos. The weight of the evidence is on Dr. Jane’s side.
And you have the testimony of Hmong people from our community and state who contradict Professor McCoy.
Instead, I believe that the reaction is an expression of the deep discomfort that many of us feel when forced to remember the Vietnam War and it is about our denial.
We want to remember the anti-war movement.
We do not want to remember the government lies, assassinations, covert wars, use of napalm and Agent Orange or the loss of so many, many lives. It was a shameful war, one that we’d like to forget.
However, we owe it to our children to learn the lessons of that war and we must tell them how and why Hmong people became part of our community.
Forgetting is not an option for the Hmong. They are here now, living productive lives. They owe much to General Vang Pao for their survival and better fortunes. He gave them the unit and the strength that they needed during the covert war and after our government abandoned them to the repressive Laotian regime after the fall of Saigon.
And we owe the Hmong—just as surely as we owe our own Vietnam War veterans—recognition and inclusion at long last.
Please stay the course on this decision.