Marc Phillip Yablonka is a Burbank, California-based military journalist. His articles have appeared in the U.S. Military's Stars and Stripes, Army and Air Force Times, American Veteran, Vietnam magazine, Military Heritage, Soldier of Fortune and many others. He is the author of four books.
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Between 2001 and 2008, he served as a Public Affairs Officer, CW2, with the California State Military Reserve, support brigade to the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves. He also did two tours with the Sar-El unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. He earned a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and teaches English Composition and Creative Writing at Pasadena City College and Columbia College of Missouri's satellite campus on the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California.
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Having written four books all or in part about Vietnam, and having edited more than a hundred, I thought I knew pretty much everything about the subject. Marc Yablonka has shown me otherwise. Approaching the war from odd angles, interviewing people who had previously been neglected, bringing the warm light of his compassionate nature to this work, he has produced a new look at Vietnam that shows its human side. Hurrah for Marc Yablonka.
The history of the war in Laos is complicated, conflicted and often incorrect. Marc Yablonka did it differently. He allowed those who were there to tell their side of the story with a collection of anecdotal interviews. Laos described as a sleepy kingdom located in the middle of Southeast Asia, was unknown by most westerners. The war in French Indochina and eventually Vietnam brought to the forefront the perceived importance of this landlocked monarchy. The question remained whether the means, the devastation and spent blood and treasure, were worth the eventual result. The king and queen who were neutral were arrested and died of malnutrition in a primitive camp in northern Laos. The Pathet Lao lost every battle and won the war, and Laos became a communist country. The Hmong, who supported the Americans bravely and valiantly, were left dangling in an ill wind. The finger pointing continues, but America did not attack Laos or wage war against the Royal Lao government. Often described as the CIA secret war, Laos was America's secret war and in the early sixties, they were faced with a dilemma. America signed the 1962 Geneva Accords altruistically and departed with due diligence. But, North Vietnam didn't act accordingly and used neutral Laos to transport soldiers and war materials into South Vietnam to kill Americans supporting the South Vietnamese government. America continued responsibly and conducted photo recon flights to prove North Vietnam's violation. They responded by shooting down the recon aircraft. The solution was to react overtly and violate the Geneva Accords and incur the wrath of public opinion, walk away and leave the Pacific Rim in jeopardy, or attempt to stop them clandestinely. They chose the latter and placed a government owned airline called Air America into a military situation they were not prepared to handle. The administration described them as mercenaries to hide their true identity. Almost two hundred killed in action, and when the war was over, they were sent home with no benefits and no recognition hoping they would just fade away. America did not handle Air America correctly, but who is to blame for the travesty, death and misery in Laos? Only America brought thousands of Hmong and Lao refugees to America and allowed them to become doctors, attorneys and business people with freedom to worship as they pleased and to prosper. North Vietnam did not and weren't they too to blame? Who started the war in Southeast Asia? It wasn't America. Who placed loyal Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese in concentration camps where many perished? It wasn't America. Those who criticize Americans who fought for freedom in Southeast Asia do it in America, where they have the freedom of speech. They don't do it in Laos or North Vietnam. Why not? Every person who wants to know the truth about the war in Laos should read Marc's book Tears Across The Mekong.
Honor-Denied; The Truth About Air America And The CIA
In the early '70s I was the CO of a small select group of Green Berets stationed at a camp in Northern Thailand working for the CIA to train Hmong Commandos, and insert them back into Laos to conduct raids and ambushes on convoys headed south to Vietnam. A few years earlier I had trained and led Montagnards in Vietnam's Central Highlands. I found the Hmong and "Yard" tribesmen to be not much different in nature. They proved to be great warriors, demonstrating amazing bravery once trained, with loyalty both to us and their fellow tribesmen. They also possessed a remarkable sense of good humor despite lives of extreme abuse and hardships. Marc Phillip Yablonka lays it out chapter and verse better than anyone I have read on the subject. From a historical viewpoint it's well researched and methodical, extremely interesting, and yes, for me at least, still a little heartbreaking. I recall with great sadness the Hmong's warm humor and optimism, and how they looked upon us as saviors from a life of oppression. Or, maybe it was only because we treated them with respect, and as human beings. If you want to peek into the lives of people who have lived with strife and war, Yablonka captures it all. Unlike the high visibility of some parts of the world, this history will soon be lost without work such as Tears Across the Mekong. Yablonka's book should be mandatory reading for all high school students prior to graduation.
The Either Zone: U.S. Special Forces Project B-52, Project Delta