Saturday, January 10, 2009

Flashback: Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Loa) and Government Propaganda

Now this was a strange experience.

We visited the prison where John McCain was held as a prisoner during the Vietnam war. Another of many sobering experiences.

But most interesting was the way that bias and information control works.

First, the prison was built by the French. It was used by the imperial government to imprison, torture, and execute political dissidents. There was a vivid history presented, and it was indeed horrifying. This continued to be true until the early fifties, I believe.

But there was irony as well. This prison was used to house POW's in the American War. Now, I'm not going to get into who was right and wrong, as that war is a hot button issue and (although I love hot button issues) now isn't the time. I will say that most people can acknowledge that it wasn't a clear good guys versus the bad guys scenario. It ruined a lot of people in America, and a lot more people in Vietnam, and it is safe to say it was an ugly time.

Given that, I appreciate hearing the other side of the story. We certainly were exposed to that at the War Museum, and at the Reunification Palace. But here we were exposed to blatantly false propaganda.

The prison was nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by the POW's, and this was done ironically. This is touted in the brochure as evidence that the prison was humane. We were told that it was free of torture, and was an example of humane treatment of prisoners. Fascinating, given that McCain tried to kill himself twice and cannot lift his hands over his shoulders because of the torture he underwent.

It gets you thinking. How much is hidden by governments... How this is even more obvious when the governments control information and the press, as in a Communist country. But how we do it too, especially when it comes to national security--we truly tend to think the ends justify the means. But we all end up acting barbarically and covering it up with near hilarity in the end.

It's like the Japanese refusal to apologize for war crimes against the Chinese to save face, or the denials that Abu Gharaib has anything to do with political leaders, etc. Humans are humans the world wide, and they are capable of great good. But they are capable of great ugliness too, and then they act like children who got caught stealing.

It makes you think.

Shackles used to hold prisoners in a mass cell.
Uniform worn by John McCain when he was captured by the North Vietnamese.
Photo of North Vietnamese capturing/rescuing John McCain from the water after his plane was shot down.

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