Hanoi Jane never stayed
at The Hanoi Hilton
8, 1995 18:22
21:37 Especen Hotel #11; Hanoi-Vietnam :: 5 MAY 95
Vietnam is a country, no longer a war, but it is the other context
that continues its position at the forefront of the American mind, just
ahead of the phrase 'boat people'. Media images create these contexts
by reporting little else. I regret not being in Canada to see Peter Arnett's
CNN coverage of the 20th Anniversary of Vietnamese reunification, which
he undoubtedly referred to as 'the fall of Saigon'. I wonder how much
depth and breadth he brought to the report; did he report a milestone
in the country's history and the significance of the event to its people
or simply lick American wounds and retell the first post-war tragedy of
American military muscle.
Sadly, I arrived a day too late in Ho Chi Minh City to observe
the event myself. Having grown up in the United States--I was just weeks
shy of 14 living in New England the day Saigon ignominiously fell--seeing
the grisly realities on the nightly news (Walter Cronkite assured me,
"That's the way it is"), reading Time and Life magazine throughout
the latter years of conflict, Vietnam--the war--remains on the periphery
of my consciousness.
I remember Kent State, another anniversary coming up, and the
grisly images on the television accompanied by the words napalm, Viet-Cong,
Tet, Mekong, Mig, MIA, POW. 'Hanoi' Jane (Fonda) raised her voice on behalf
of North Vietnam and ending the war even as she was denied a visit to
the American POW's being tortured in the notorious 'Hanoi Hilton'. I remember
a little of that. I remember that Tricky Dick Nixon promised an end then
presided over an expansion. That US planes apparently dropped more bombs
in Indo-China than fell throughout all of WWII. I remember the funny conical
shaped hats differently than the ones I see now, shading the beautiful
faces of a people still called 'gooks' back home: buried within the patterns
of my mind those hats conjure the association 'guerrilla'. My time amongst
hats and people spurs new associations.
I was not quite too young to be affected by it. Gladly, I was
too young to die for it. If drafted, I would never have fought, but used
my Canadian citizenship as legally justifiable means of joining ROTC,
Run Off To Canada. The only moral justification necessary being my conscience.
Years later, when Jimmy Carter re-instituted the draft in response to
Soviet aggression in Afghanistan I, being of eligible age, registered
knowing that again ROTC was my escape hatch. The world does not need a
one-nation police force, it was rotten enough when there were two, and
I certainly have no intention of joining such a self-righteously hypocritical
My friend Tom told me a story, perhaps an urban legend, of an
American General meeting with a Vietnamese General sometime after Viet-Cong
tanks crashed the embassy gates.
The American told his counterpart, "You know, we
really kicked your butts all over Vietnam. Our kill ratio in the field
was 20-1, in the skies we shot down 35 jets for every one we lost, and
for every tank you destroyed we got 50."
"Yes," replied the other, "but that is
I made the numbers up, but there's no doubt as to American military
prowess, just as there is no doubt as to who ducked out of Saigon with
their tail between their legs.
It is 20 years later and it amazes me how Americans soothe themselves
still with the same kind of arguments that created the mess in the first
place. In USA Today a letter to the editors claimed the US didn't really
lose the war since an armistice had been signed that the North
subsequently ignored, waiting until the US had lost its political resolve
to maintain democracy in Indo-China. Besides, if America failed to meet
its original objectives in Vietnam, it would eventually win the War Against
Communism so both Vietnam and Korea should be looked at as early triumphant
displays of committed opposition to communist expansion. In fact, checking
the development of a Vietnam unified under hammer & sickle can be
directly connected to the later 'collapse of communism'.
The 1973 Paris Agreement was largely a face-saving gesture for
the US. It provided for a cease-fire, the establishment of a National
Council of Reconciliation and Concord (whatever that is), the complete
withdrawal of American troops (which the American public had long been
clamoring for), and the return of 509 American POWs. I remember the news
footage of their return, many on stretchers or in wheel chairs. The agreement
made no requirement of the estimated 200,000 North Vietnamese troops then
in the South to withdraw. How serious a 'peace treaty' is that?
On the morning of April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks crashed
the palace gates and a Viet Cong officer made his way to an ornate 2nd
floor reception hall. A South Vietnamese general, who had become head
of state just 43 hours earlier, awaited them there. "I have been
waiting", the general said, "since early this morning to transfer
power to you." The VC officer replied, "There is no question
of your transferring power, you cannot give up what you do not have."
Patrick. -- Responses Sought --
Our people long ago established Vietnam as an independent
nation with its own civilisation. We have our own mountains and our own
rivers, our own customs and traditions, and these are different from those
of the foreign country to the north. . . We have sometimes been weak and
sometimes powerful, but at no time have we suffered from a lack of heroes.
- Nguyen Trai
from Binh Ngo Dai Cao (Great Proclamation)
Written in 1428 after Le Loi won Vietnamese independence from