Posts Tagged With: Vietnam war propaganda

Checking in at the Hanoi Hilton

For a pacifist, I have a strange fascination with military history; always have. I have read numerous books on The Vietnam War and have already visited numerous sites on our trip to Vietnam. My favorite part is seeing the government’s spin and propaganda on the war. I went to one Museum that was propaganda-free; boring. However, that was not the case at the Hanoi Hilton, the propaganda was over the top. It was basically the complete opposite of everything I have read about the conditions and treatment of US prisoners held there.

The Hanoi Hilton

The Hanoi Hilton

The Hanoi Hilton was a sarcastic name given by US pilots to this infamous prison during the war. American pilots shot down were held here, including senator John McCain. It is now a museum; the first part is dedicated to the brutal treatment the Vietnamese suffered under French rule after World War 2. The second part is dedicated to The American War and how well the US prisoners were treated.

Pictures of of pilots gardening, playing basketball, and raising chickens in the prison yard. Pictures of them playing chess, billiards and hanging out, laughing in a large communal dorm room. Displays of items the prisoners had while incarcerated: Winston cigarettes, Vicks cough drops, hand-held fans, winter and summer clothing. They did not show the solitary confinement cells that pilots were held in.

Vietnamese propaganda poster from the war

Vietnamese propaganda poster from the war

Photos of pilots receiving medical care in a hospital, and a list of rules for prisoners including how they had to inform guards in the morning if they didn’t feel well, so they can get immediate treatment. John McCain did not receive any care for days for his serious injuries after being shot down; not until the Vietnamese found out his father was a four star admiral and McCain could be use for propaganda purposes.

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A video showed pilots released after the war, before returning home receiving souvenirs from officials. They looked confused as they accepted these gifts for their time in prison. I chuckled out loud at this, people looked at me like I was crazy. The video did not show the forced confessions of the pilots or how after being shot down the pilots were marched through the streets of Hanoi, being abused by people that lined the streets.

I realize that I have been subjected to my own government’s spin on the war and I have tried to keep a open mind. I also know that North Vietnamese prisoners were treated brutally by both Americans and the South Vietnamese army. Cutting through the propaganda of both countries and coming to the truth is difficult, but one thing is for certain, it was a dirty and ugly war and atrocities were committed by both sides.

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Categories: SE Asia - March 2016 | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Cu Chi tunnels

During the Vietnam war, the Vietcong built enormous underground tunnel systems to hide from American bombs and troops. Not only fighters, but entire villages moved underground. We visited the Cu Chi tunnels, 40 kilometers outside of Saigon.

We wandered along the paths, careful not to step off, due to unexploded ordnance, past B-52 bomb craters, trenches, and secret entrances. The hundreds of kilometers of tunnels were built with simple hand tools and ingenuity. They were multi-level including hospitals, family rooms, kitchens, all deep underground. The complex stretched all over the area including under a nearby US base, where the Vietcong stole their supplies.

Tunnel entrance

Tunnel entrance

We came to a small clearing, our guide brushed away some leaves to reveal a perfectly concealed entrance. I squeezed myself into the tiny entrance, my shoulders barely fitting, and awkwardly dropped the lid above me. I was in complete darkness. The space was enlarged from its original size, but it was still so small I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get out.

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We went underground into tunnels that had also been expanded 30% from the war years. The guide immediately took off and we had to scramble on all fours to keep up, banging heads and elbows. It was hot and claustrophobic; we only traveled a hundred meters and I couldn’t wait to get out. Brave GI’s called tunnel rats used to volunteer to venture into the tunnel alone to rout out the Vietcong. Unimaginable. Brave doesn’t even cover the heroism of these men.

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The ingenuity of the Vietcong was amazing. If the Americans used gas, they had deep rooms the gas couldn’t reach. If the Americans used water to flood them, they could divert it out into the Saigon River. When they brought sniffer dogs, the Vietcong spread stolen GI soap and spread it around secret entrances to confuse them. They even created wore their sandals backwards to hide their real tracks from the enemy and the various medieval traps they created were disturbing.

 

The Vietcong only came out after dark; the Americans owned the day; they owned the night. The hardship and sacrifices they made is something I cannot fathom. They were in it to win it, no matter what it took.

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When we came across a burned-out American tank, pock-marked with bullet holes, it really hits home. This was not a typical tourist attraction. Hundreds of both American and Vietnamese died on the ground you are walking on. They were shot, bombed, burned and buried alive under your feet. This is hallowed ground, a reminder of the hardship and brutality that both sides endured and still have to live with.

On the firing line with a AK-47

On the firing line with a AK-47

 

Categories: SE Asia - March 2016 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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