Even Facebook

An innocent victim of the American War in Viet Nam

(Dana) Unsure of whether outgoing media is controlled in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, I opt to delay this post until we leave the country.  The people of Viet Nam are very kind.  The one-party government is far less warm-and-fuzzy.

In Hanoi, the imposing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a stark reminder that Viet Nam is a tightly-controlled society that reveres its “liberator.”  We relinquish our backpacks and cameras and join the line for the metal detector. During busy times, the line can stretch up to 5km!  Walking in single file, we pass unsmiling military guards in crisp white uniforms with rifles and bayonets. An adorable little Vietnamese girl with squeaky shoes must be picked up; noise is disrespectful.  On the way up the red rubber carpet, I make the mistake of commenting on the beauty of the marble and am shushed by one of the guards.  Andrew is moved forward when a small gap opens up between him and Greg.  Inside the main chamber, nine guards oversee a perfectly preserved “Uncle Ho” lying in repose in a well-lit glass case.  His pale skin virtually glows against the dark marble.  Now I know why Andrew told us that it’s illegal to put your hands in your pockets in the mausoleum!

Interestingly, our Hanoi itinerary includes the Mausoleum and multiple government-run craft factories but does not include Hoa Lo – what remains of the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  Fortunately, our guide accommodates my request.  Built in 1896 by the French to imprison Viet rebels, Hoa Lo became the prison for American pilot POWs including John McCain.  Most of the prison buildings have been torn down to make room for two high-rise buildings, but the rest have been turned into a museum.  Most of the exhibits glorify Viet inmates who suffered under horrid conditions, rations, abuse, diseases and complete mistreatment by the French.  In contrast, according to the exhibits, American POWs were treated incredibly well.  First the photos show the horrific destruction B-52s wreaked on civilians, churches and schools.  But then the Viet government asks visitors to believe the photos of the captured pilots decorating Christmas trees, plucking Christmas chickens, receiving souvenirs upon their departure, playing basketball and going to church.  We are getting a very one-sided explanation to what must have been a terrible time in Hanoi.

When it comes to The American War, the government-controlled message is as strong in the former South Vietnam as it is in the North.  This was apparent in both the Cu Chi tunnels (see Emma’s post) and Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum – a stop missing from our itinerary that we add.  Inside the museum, the message is clear: the war was US-driven, US-fought and rife with US-atrocities.  It was not a civil war, but a war of reunification.  Saigon didn’t fall; it was liberated.  We agree that the devastation to all involved was mind-numbing: the photos of dead soldiers and villagers, preserved fetuses deformed by Agent Orange and images of the beautiful landscape denuded by 74 million liters of chemicals.  The sadness is incredible.  And as Americans who did not live through the Cold War, it’s easy for me to agree that we shouldn’t have been there.  My heart aches for all those devastated by the conflict. I feel badly for the man who tells us that he cannot get a government job if he or any of his three previous generations come from the South (assumed to be American allies).  I try to understand that families are still looking for “hero remains.”  Despite the one-sided presentation, it’s easy to agree that war stinks.

The final reminder that The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam is a tightly controlled society: Facebook is banned.  Our girls are horrified.  We’ve seen crazy reverence for dead leaders and a one-sided explanation on a terrible war, but the ban on Facebook solidifies in the kids’ minds the constraints of a controlled society.   It makes us all miss home.

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One Response to “Even Facebook”

  1. Patricia Roushanaei 11. Mar, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Hey ‘s Dana –

    In the aftermath of Japan Sam wondered where your family might be and hoped that you are all safe and well. Your journey sounds incredible…. I just read a great book about that was set in Vietnam during the war – The Lotus Eaters – It’s fiction, but seemed to portray Vietnam from a local perspective. Enjoy, safe travels. Tell Alex Sam says hi.