Jane Hamilton-Merritt (born 1947) is a photojournalist, war correspondent, author, and human rights advocate who covered the Vietnam War and has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work on behalf of the Hmong people of Laos. In 1999 she was inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame and the Explorer's Club.
Education and teaching
Jane Hamilton-Merritt was born in 1947 in Indiana not far from Fort Wayne. She attended Ball State University in Muncie, where she received both a B.A. and an M.A. degree. She went on to get a Ph.D. in Southeast Asia Studies at Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Hamilton-Merritt was a tenured professor at Southern Connecticut State University, where she taught journalism for nearly two decades (1979–97). In 1991–92 she was a visiting faculty fellow at Yale University.
Photojournalism and advocacy
Hamilton-Merritt went to Vietnam as a free-lance war correspondent, spending six years covering aspects of the Vietnam War. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for her series on young soldiers. She won the Inland Daily Press Association’s Grand Prize Trophy for her frontline war coverage. Over the course of her career, her work has been published in such prominent newspapers as the Washington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, among many others.
Hamilton-Merritt is best known for the work she has done on behalf of the Laotian Hmong people, who were U.S. allies in the Vietnam War before being largely forgotten in the aftermath. In 1980, she broke the story of chemical and biological warfare in Laos in Reader’s Digest. She has testified before Congress about chemical and biological warfare, genocide, refugee issues, and the plight of the Hmong people. She has also worked as an adviser to American school systems with large numbers of Hmong children. Beginning in the early 1990s, she has worked to stop forced repatriation of Hmong political refugees from camps in Thailand back to Laos, on the grounds that this puts them at great risk of execution or slavery.
In 1993, she published a book on the Hmong people, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret War for Laos, 1942-1992 (1993). It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in History.
For her work on bringing international recognition of the Hmong people's situation and recent history, Hamilton-Merritt was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1998 and 2000). Burke Marshall of Yale Law School wrote in support of her nomination:
- “They (the Hmong) are a people who have been deeply damaged and wronged by history and by the actions of great nations...and for whom there is no compensation, no recourse except for the inexplicable intervention of the exceptional, virtually unique, voice and body of Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt.”
In 1997, Hamilton-Merritt resigned from teaching in order to work full-time for the resettlement of 20,000 Hmong living near Bangkok, Thailand.
She is the editor of Indiana University's Vietnam War Era Classics Series.
- A Meditator's Diary: A Western Woman's Unique Experiences in Thailand's Monasteries (2001)
- Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret War for Laos, 1942-1992 (1993)
- "Gas Warfare in Laos: Communism's Drive to Annihilate a People" (1980)