We understand that many listeners were offended by the end of our Yellow Rain story. Since we take that conversation with our listeners seriously, let me just tell you a little bit about what we were thinking ... and what we were not thinking. First, it was not our intent to minimize the suffering of the Hmong people, quite the opposite. In fact, the point of the story -- if the story can be said to have a point -- is that these kinds of forensic or scientific investigations into the truth of a situation invariably end up being myopic. They miss and sometimes even obscure hugely important realities. Like a genocide.
That's not a point we set out to make. It's something that arose organically when our producer, Pat Walters, realized, and then openly admitted on tape, that he felt he'd missed something. That is why we included the lengthy and painful exchange with Kao Kalia Yang, even though it may not have been flattering to us. Our goal in our ending conversation was not to be pedantic or insensitive but to be transparent. That was an honest in-the-moment conversation about honest differences.
All that said, the thing I'd most like to respond to is accusations that we were cavalier in our response to the pain that Kalia and her uncle Eng were expressing.
We were all profoundly troubled by the interview with Kalia and Eng. Before heading into the studio, we argued with one another for weeks about what it meant to us personally and what it meant for the story. If we gave the impression that we approached the ending conversation casually, without much consideration or sensitivity, that's on us. And that is something I'd like to correct. So I've inserted a line in the story that puts our ending conversation in a bit more context.
And I would like to say one thing, forcefully: even with the emotional heat of that moment, I would urge people not to dismiss Robert's point. The label "chemical weapon" is not just semantics. The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop.
What happened in Southeast Asia following the end of the Vietnam war is a huge, complicated story -- and of course there's a lot more to it than what we included in this one radio piece. For more on Kalia's story, and that of the Hmong, check out her book The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir.