1YoT: The Vietnam War – Part 3

Continuing from Part 1 in Saigon and Part 2 in Central Vietnam (if you haven’t read those, we recommend reading them first), we now come to our last war destination in Vietnam: Hanoi.

Hanoi

Hanoi, the former capital of North Vietnam and current capital of Vietnam, contains several significant war destinations, this not nearly as much action occurring up here. The destinations Inna and I visited were: Vietnam’s Military History Museum, Hoa Lo Prison (also known as the Hanoi Hilton), and Viet Cong’s military headquarters (codenamed D67).

Vietnam Military History Museum (not propagandistic)

Vietnam’s Military History Museum covered almost the entire the history of Vietnam, from its beginnings thousands of years ago through the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the museum was dedicated to non-Vietnam war history, with the overwhelming majority (I estimate 90%+) dedicated to the war.

This is how far back the museum goes: all the way to when primitive weapons like these were used.

Since this museum glosses over Vietnam’s pre-Vietnam War history, I will too. Basically, because Vietnam is in a strategic location (where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet), throughout its history empires have desired to conquer it. Most prominent were the Chinese, who controlled Vietnam for more than 1000 years. Vietnam gained independence from China in the 10th century, after which the country’s history consists of civil wars and attempted conquests by the Mongols, Chinese, Chams, and others. This continued until the colonial era, when Vietnam was overtaken by the French. The French ruled Vietnam for almost 100 years, until WWII broke out and the Japanese took over. After WWII, the French (backed by the US) tried to reassert their claim on Vietnam, but failed. While negotiating their exit, France split Vietnam in two, letting the north go communist while hoping to retain some influence over a capitalist south. This eventually led to the Vietnam War, which the communist north won, the result of which is a unified socialist Vietnam.

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This museum glosses over Vietnam’s pre-Vietnam War history so much that it doesn’t even mention the naval victory that resulted in its independence from China, an empire whose population was 57 times larger at the time. This battle, which took place near Ha Long Bay, is considered a tactical masterpiece and used strategies that were so effective that when the Mongols invaded 300 years later, Vietnam used the same strategy to repel them. Vietnam was actually the only mainland empire and one of only two empires in Eurasia (the other being Japan) to successfully repel the Mongols. This information has nothing to do with the miniature cannons and cannonballs pictured above.

This museum glosses over most of Vietnam’s history, but it had ton’s of Vietnam War exhibits, more than anywhere else in the country.

In my opinion, the most unique and interesting piece was this US pilot survival packet. The text on the right reads (in multiple languages, including Vietnamese): “I am a citizen of the United States of America. I do not speak your language. Misfortune forces me to seek your assistance in obtaining food, shelter and protection. Please take me to someone who will provide for my safety and see that I am returned to my people. My government will reward you.”

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Finally, like the War Remnants Museum, the exterior of this museum contained numerous aircraft, tanks, and other heavy weaponry.

Here are some of the aircraft.

And the heavy weaponry.

And the tanks.

Finally (for real this time), several more aircraft and tanks were tucked away behind the museum, the main display area lacking enough space to house them.

I’ve haven’t discussed much about the feel of Vietnam’s Military History Museum because it didn’t really have any. This museum was solely a display of exhibits and artifacts, with no opinions, emotions, biases, or anything to color the experience. I’ll be honest, while this probably is a better way to present history than the emotionally-charged War Remnants Museum or the propaganda-filled Hoa Lo prison, it wasn’t nearly as interesting.

Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton (propaganda level 3)

Originally built by the French to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, after Vietnam gained its independence, the Hoa Lo Prison was converted to an education (propaganda) center. It was converted back to a prison during the Vietnam War, this time holding US prisoners of war. Ever since its creation, the brutality and injustice that Hoa Lo represents has always made it an infamous place; first it was the symbol of French oppression against the Vietnamese and then it became the symbol for the Viet Cong’s inhumane treatment of American POWs.

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Here it is, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison. This prison was nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American POWs, a sarcastic reference to the torture and abuse that occurred here. Not that that’s what the Vietnamese government would have you believe; they claim Americans came up with the nickname because of how well they were treated. They state that “During the wartime in Vietnam when people faced numerous difficulties and shortages in their daily like, US prisoners of war including pilots were humanely treated by the Vietnamese Government which gave them the best possible living conditions.” Fuck you Vietnam, that’s some giant bullshit right there.

Inside the prison, only Vietnamese prisoners imprisoned by the French were depicted. No need to depict US soldiers in here, as it would probably just show them playing baseball, or getting massages, or something. 

Oh, and we also shouldn’t say “Vietnamese prisoners”, we should call them “patriotic and revolutionary prisoners”. After all, that’s what the Vietnamese government calls them, over and over in every single description.

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The propaganda in this place was crap but this item was pretty cool. I’d never seen an actual French guillotine before; it was much less bulky than I imagined.

That’s pretty much it from Hoa Lo Prison; there isn’t much to show since it was so filled with propaganda (also, a lot of it was destroyed in the 1990s). One interesting thing about this place: they advertise it as containing, among other things, former US presidential candidate John McCain’s flight suit (McCain was detained here). However, when we saw the suit, we learned that it was not McCain’s specific suit, it was just a suit of the same design. Lame Hoa Lo Prison, lame.

We should also note that South Vietnam had its own infamous prison: Con Dao. This prison was particularly known for its tiger cages, inhumane cages where prisoners were confined and tortured. The War Remnants Museum contained recreations of these cages, but unfortunately we missed them when we visited.

D67 (not propagandistic)

Inside the Citadel of Thuang Dong, the Viet Cong built an underground bunker that served as their headquarters during the war. The codename for this bunker was D67.

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The outside of D67, which looks just like any other building.

Inside was a conference room. Next to it was a long flight of stairs that led underground.

Down the stairs and through several blast doors was Viet Cong’s actual headquarters. Everything seemed to be presented as it was during the war, although I bet it was much dirtier and more cluttered and crowded then. Either way, going down here was pretty cool.

With this, we come to the end of our war tour of Vietnam. It was a lot I know, but as I said in the first post, the Vietnam War permeates this country, effecting almost every aspect of it. Everything but the Military History Museum was powerful (even the propaganda stuff, even if it was crap), all of it building to one question: did we, and by we I mean humans, learn our lesson? Unfortunately, I don’t believe nearly enough of us did.

Anyways, it’s time to move on! Happier topics, for up next is Bangkok!

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