Madison school board member Carol Carstensen is having second thoughts about the board's unanimous vote to name a new Madison elementary school for Genereal Vang Pao, a Hmong leader and U.S. ally during the Vietnam War.
Reacting to a report on The Daily Page that Pao was linked to war crimes and the heroin trade in southeast Asia, Carstensen said Friday "that information was not something I had access to until after we made the decision."
Carstensen says she'd like to make a motion to reconsider the decision at Monday's board meeting, but can't find a second. "Nobody sounds like they're interested in revisiting the issue."
She has some optimism that the new board that will be sworn in later this month will revisit the naming decision. Retiring school board member Shwaw Vang has been a passionate advocate for naming the new school for Pao.
"He's very, very upset at the idea that we would reconsider the decision," says Carstensen. Vang could not be reached for comment.
Carstensen would would like to see the board make a statement that it is committed to naming the school for a representative of the Hmong community, "but I do think we have to have a complete discussion of the issues that have been raised."
The veteran school board member says her own support of the school naming was prompted by a March hearing when an outpouring of Madison's Hmong community testified "how important the general was and how they thought it was necessary to name the new school for the general as a reflection of the of the contribution the Hmong have made to Madison," she says. "It was very impressive."
Vang Pao led the CIA's secret Hmong army in the Laotian highlands in the 1960s and 1970s until the anti-communist fight collapsed in 1975 and Vang Pao was evacuated to the U.S. He later emerged as a leader of the sizable Hmong population that followed him here.
His army's involvement in the opium trade is detailed in UW-Madison historian Alfred McCoy's epochal study, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity In The Global Drug Trade, which was first published in 1972 (as The Politics Of Heroin In Southeast Asia) and subsequently twice revised, last in 2003.
McCoy's account of Vang Pao's activities helped derail the Hmong community's efforts in 2002 to have a city park named after the general.