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  • Hog’s Exit: Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA by Gayle L. Morrison
  • Karen S. Harper
Hog’s Exit: Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA. By Gayle L. Morrison. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2013. 552 pp. Hardbound, $68.00; Softbound, $31.96.

Jerry “Hog” Daniels is a fascinating subject for an oral history research project because of his larger-than-life personality and the historical and cultural sweep of his experiences. Born in 1941, Daniels became a Montana smokejumper at the age of seventeen; by 1970, he was the CIA Chief of Operations/Advisor for Hmong guerilla leader General Vang Pao in Long Cheng, Laos; by 1979, he was a disillusioned State Department immigration caseworker for Hmong refugees; and, finally, in 1982, his life was cut short by a mysterious death in Thailand. After his death, he was honored with a three-day traditional Hmong funeral, unprecedented for a non-Hmong, in his hometown of Missoula, Montana. In her book, Hog’s Exit, Gayle Morrison uses a unique, creative analytical model that weaves Daniels’s complex story together using extensive oral histories augmented by maps, international news articles, State Department documents, and personal letters that help the reader get a better sense of Daniels. Take, for example, one of Daniels’s letters from 1975, which serves as a window into his character and viewpoints, as well as the dire Hmong refugee situation: “Larry, needless to fucking say, I have been left here [in Thailand] holding the proverbial bag. Everyone along the line, regardless of which government I deal with or Volags or UN, etc., all now say, Hmong, Who? I will never forgive the cocksucking religious organizations as they have not (nor ever did) a fucking thing when the going got rough. … As you can most likely assume, from above, I have lost faith in most of mankind” (128).

Morrison, as an independent researcher, interviewed almost one hundred people for Hog’s Exit. In 1984, she began with Hmong refugees living in the US whom the CIA had recruited in Laos during the Vietnam War, refugees traumatized by their war experiences and who had serious trust issues with Americans. Morrison gained the refugees’ confidence in multiple ways: first, through her service to them as a social worker; second, by studying Hmong culture and [End Page 372] enlisting a team of translators to assist with the nuances of the Hmong language; third, and perhaps most important, by returning to her narrators many times to delve more deeply into their memories and then meticulously reviewing the volumes of transcripts with narrators for accuracy. This effort to secure narrators’ trust extended into Morrison’s work with members of other diverse and secretive groups, such as CIA employees, Air America pilots, and rough Montana outdoorsmen. For example, Morrison attended Air America annual reunions for two decades; she also spent years in Missoula, Montana, researching smoke-jumpers and Montana outdoor culture, which convinced Daniels’s family and rowdy friends to help her with Daniels’s biography.

One of the many achievements of Hog’s Exit is Morrison’s masterful presentation of two organizing themes told in a parallel format: the Hmong funeral rituals and Hog’s life story. The book starts with the mystery of Daniels’s death and his Hmong friends’ decision to perform a Hmong funeral. Subsequent chapters describe the progression of funeral rituals, alternating with chapters on the evolution of Daniels’s life, including his commitment to the Hmong. As CIA operative Glenn Hale notes, “In the Agency, they have a saying, ‘going native.’ I believe Jerry did that, went native. … You get up there and you recognize the important part you play in the puzzle. … And so you have a dedication to make it as good as you can. … He loved the Meo [Hmong] and vice versa. So he took care of them and stayed there, really at the expense of his career with the Agency” (54). Within this dual-themed structure, Morrison also explores the Vietnam War era in Laos and its continuing consequences, attempting to flesh out many questions such as: Who were the players and what was the role of the CIA in...