Letting Our Friends Down

You've seen on television in recent weeks the scenes of the helicopters evacuating Americans from the embassy rooftop in Saigon. Military action in Vietnam came to an end just thirty years ago last month. Unfortunately, for one loyal American ally, it marked just the beginning of even greater troubles. In the 1960s, the United States needed a way to keep North Vietnam from re- supplying its troops in the South through neighboring Laos without violating Laotian neutrality. So, it recruited an ethnic group called the Hmong to fight the Communists. By 1969, more than 18,000 Hmong soldiers had been killed. They did this because they loved freedom and believed us when we said that we would always be there for them. We weren't. After Vietnam and Laos fell to the Communists, their new governments vowed to wipe out the Hmong, and tens of thousands of Hmong died fleeing the Communists. Credible reports of chemical weapons usage were explained away in the Western press as "bee feces" raining down on the Hmong. Sure. While 250,000 Hmong eventually made it to the United States, a similar number remained in Laos, and millions more are in Vietnam and Southern China. Their status as ethnic and political outsiders has made life especially rough. Now, there are reports of yet another reason for these governments to persecute the Hmong: their faith. By some estimates, half of the Hmong in Vietnam have become Christians, with nearly all of the conversions coming in the last thirty years. This last part is important because, under Vietnamese law, only those Hmong who converted before the end of French rule in 1954 are officially recognized as Christians. The rest are regarded as subversives. The persecution of the Hmong Christians starts with confiscating Bibles and quickly escalates from there. The fortunate Hmong are "only" fined the equivalent of four months' salary and have their livestock confiscated. Beatings, imprisonment, and torture are commonplace. For some, the torture includes drug injections. A witness said that "those that were injected said that they experienced symptoms of chest pains, headaches, and a loss of feeling in their limbs." Even worse, there are reports of worshippers being attacked with chemical weapons. The chemical agent is said to cause "seizures and uncontrollable shaking." More than one hundred worshippers at two separate services required medical attention after the attacks. Given the history of the Hmong, and now adding their Christianity, it's not hard to believe these accounts. Two weeks ago, the U.S. government announced an agreement that it had finally concluded with Vietnam on religious liberty. The announcement was accompanied by the release of six Hmong Christians from prison. Good. In the agreement, the Vietnamese government promised an end to the "forced renunciation of Christian faith." Despite this commitment, Human Rights Watch reports that such forced renunciations are still occurring among the Hmong and other ethnic minorities. That highlights the real issue: Will Vietnam's "commitments" amount to more than words? That's where we come in. Christians need to keep the pressure on our government to keep the pressure on Vietnam. This time, we should we keep our word to the Hmong.


Chuck Colson


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