Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hanoi Hilton

Day 347
Nicole and I were up around 11 and took our time getting ourselves ready. Nicole has a bit of a phaphing problem as she puts it and I often spend quite a bit of time waiting for her. While she did that I marked the places on the map that we wanted to visit.

The traffic in Hanoi is out of control. There aren't many traffic lights and the ones that are there are new and often ignored. Crossing the street is very scary. The touts are also very agressive. When we didn't buy from one guy he ran off screaming "f-you, f-you" to us. Every time we looked at the map it would take us some time to get rid of all the people who wanted to "help" us. In the end we went into a cafe and got some cake. While we ate we tried to memorize our route.

When we reached the Hao Lo Prison it was closed for lunch and we went to a nearby mall for lunch. This was very western and just what we needed.

Hoa Lo Prison in infamous for several reasons. The prison was opened in 1896 by the French to hold Vietnamese who fought against colonial rule. Thousands were imprisoned and tortured here. Most were continuously shackled by one leg. There were separate sections for women with and without children. There were several escape attempts and several made it out. The English in this section was really scanty and it didn't take long to get through.

In 1954 French Colonial rule ended. Hoa Lo became a state prison. From Aug 1964 to March of 1973 the prison was used to detain American Pilots who had been shot down in North Vietnam. This section was really difficult to read. It was just a pack of lies. There were a few movies to watch. One said something like the POW's were happy to have ended up in Hoa Lo and over time came to agree that the American cause was illegal. Another said they were taught things that even Vietnamese children know, a picture showed them sweeping. It also said that they were fed well and never tortured. There was a section on John McCain. They had a picture of his downed plane and some of his personal effects. McCain tried to commit suicide twice here and can no longer raise his arms over his head due to the treatment he received here. None of this was mentioned. They did show a picture from about a decade ago of him returning and looking at his old uniform.

After a bit I couldn't take it anymore and just left. I sat in a courtyard while Nicole finished. Later on I did some research on Wikipedia. I don't know a whole lot about the Vietnam war and wanted to make sure that what I did remember from school was right.
The Hanoi Hilton (as Hoa Lo was called) was merely one site used by the North Vietnamese Army to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen. Although North Vietnam was a signatory of the 1949 Geneva Convention, which demanded "decent and humane treatment" of prisoners of war, the North Vietnamese saw U.S. bombing attacks against them as "crimes against humanity". As a consequence, severe torture methods were employed. The aim of the torture was usually not acquiring military information rather, it was to break the will of the prisoners,. The goal of the North Vietnamese was to get written or recorded statements from the prisoners that criticized U.S. conduct of the war and praised how the North Vietnamese treated them. Such POW statements would be viewed as a propaganda victory in the battle to sway world and U.S. domestic opinion against the U.S. war effort. In the end, North Vietnamese torture was sufficiently brutal and prolonged that virtually every American POW so subjected made a statement of some kind at some time. It's amazing to me that none of the brutality was remembered at all. I wonder how long it will take before they will start telling actual history and not their version of it.

By the time we were done at Hoa Lo it was too late to go to any of the other places we wanted to visit. Instead we wandered back slowly and window shopped in the silk district.

For dinner that night we went to an Irish pub, there wasn't much going on though so we moved on quickly. We did a bit of a pub crawl but ended up spending most of our night in a place called 1/2 Man 1/2 Noodle. It was a bit late when we headed back to our hotel.

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