‘The joint chief of staff have noted the evidences of renewed vitality and increased effectiveness of the Chinese Nationalist Forces. We recommend the implementation of a program of special covert operations designed to interfere with Communist Activities in South East Asia.’
Three white men entered the mountains.
Bill Young was a missionary’s son born in Burma who spoke Shan, Burmese, Laos and the local dialect of Lahu, who worshipped him as the white deity jamaw. As a CIA operative, he recruited men from the Hmong, Lahu and Akha villages he passed between Thailand and Northern Laos, skirmishing with the Pathet Laos and Viet Cong they encountered along the way.
Young and his hilltribe militia travelled up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail, between the smoking craters and uninterrupted supply lines to the muddy women and children who emerged from the darkness of the jungle to fill those mortared trails with earth.
Pop Buell was a retired farmer from Indiana. He came to teach the Hmong tribes how to pray and how to grow, even if the crop happened to be opium. The quantities of opium from those swidden forest plantations increased as Pop Buell streamlined their agriculture and substituted opium with US branded morphine.
'If you're gonna grow it, grow it good. But don't anyone smoke the stuff.'
Later, CIA paramilitary officer Anthony Poeshepny led the Hmong in lightning advances that leapt from mountain to mountain, capturing comrades and cadres, offering money to the villagers for the ear of every communist soldier they could bring back. Often, he would send an envelope of these ears to the embassy in Vientiane, marking his body counts. To echo fear through the valley and mountain passes, Poeshepny dropped the severed heads of captured soldiers into communist villages.
Pregnant women feared the wandering spirits of all those headless bodies left behind in Poeshepny’s midnight raids. Lonely cries from the forest would signal the presence of hungry ghosts with glowing red viscera and lupine fangs, attracted by the placenta of unborn children. The villagers would build spiky bamboo fences around their huts, convinced that its trailing intestines would be caught in the spines.
To fight an invisible war, you need invisible soldiers, and in those poppy covered mountains and impenetrable green valleys, the Hmong tribes invisibility in the eyes of the state allowed it to become a shadow army for the CIA.
The Pathet Laos captured the Plain of Jars cutting off supply lines to the villages. To feed their invisible army, the CIA dropped rice, chickens, pigs and water buffalo to the isolated soldiers and transported raw opium back to their corrupt allies.
On the slopes of Mong Hsat, the blackness of night absorbed the sound of the C-47 aircraft as Olive waited for the weekly deliveries of 'hard rice'; rifles, machine guns and ammunition with US markings to arm her rebel army. From the dying heat of the afternoon emerged a cold war order which made brothers and sisters of opium farmers, drug lords and states.