Posted by: Opey | June 5, 2007

From School Namesake to Coup Suspect

The story regarding the naming of a new Madison school took yet another wild turn yesterday. Over the past several months, debate has been ongoing over potential names for the school, with the leading candidate being Vang Pao Elementary School. The choice of that name brought about a wave of controversy when a book published by UW-Madison historian Alfred McCoy accused Pao of war crimes and drug trafficking during the war in Laos and Vietnam. Several meetings of the Madison School Board have been held, filled with input of citizens on both sides of the subject, and the board has virtually flip-flopped on its position regarding the name. First, they were strongly in favor of the name. Then they showed hesitation when McCoy’s views were expressed and backed up by the strength of McCoy’s two books: The Politics of Heroin In Southeast Asia and more recently A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. To view PDFs of McCoy’s charges against Vang Pao click these links: PDF1, PDF2, PDF3. Even with all the weight on the side against choosing Pao as the school’s namesake, the school board seemed to finally settle on the pro-Pao side when swayed by an outpouring of support by the Hmong community at a recent meeting. Things were relatively calm for a week or two, but then news broke that Pao is now under arrest, charged with attempting to overthrow the Laos government.  Now, I understand that the CIA most likely had a large part to play in the drug trafficking and execution activity of Pao’s forces, but I wouldn’t name a school after them either.  Now, with the news that Pao continues to attempt to end the Communist regime in Laos, his name needs to be removed from the school.  There are many great Hmong leaders out there that are just as deserving of the honor and recognition as Pao, and with less baggage.  Two possibilities include: Pa Kao Her (leader of the Hmong Chao Fa movement)  or Touby Lyfoung (Hmong political and military leader).  The list of charges against Pao have just become to overwhelming to ethically name a school after him.  He may be a great leader to the Hmong community, but he is not the best role model for school children to follow.  Stick with the choice of a Hmong name for the school, but choose a better candidate, one better suited to represent the Hmong people.

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