Cablegate: (Sbu) Hanoi Museums Continue to Defame the United States,

DE RUEHHI #1747/01 1920755
R 110755Z JUL 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

HANOI 00001747 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: Pol Assistant recently surveyed the
depiction of the United States in Hanoi's main military and
political museums. Exhibits at most military service and political
museums cast a negative image of U.S. involvement during the Vietnam
War, but the denigration is on par with standard GVN propaganda. By
contrast, an exhibition at a museum devoted to the history of the
Communist revolution in Vietnam accuses the U.S. military of wartime
atrocities through the deliberate misrepresentation of artifacts and
images, while the exhibit at the former "Hanoi Hilton" praises the
model behavior of Vietnamese authorities towards U.S. prisoners
without mention of North Vietnamese torture of GIs. Despite the
continued bias of Hanoi's anti-United States exhibitions, they
appear to be largely ignored by the Vietnamese public, most of whom
were born after 1975. Nonetheless, we consider the depictions
inappropriate and will approach GVN authorities about developing
displays more appropriate to the current bilateral relationship.
End Summary and Comment.

2. (SBU) Pol Assistant recently visited the National Museum of
Vietnamese History (History Museum), the Museum of Vietnamese
Revolution (MVR), Hoa Lo Prison Historic Vestige (Hoa Lo Prison,
a.k.a. the "Hanoi Hilton"), the Military History Museum (Army
Museum), the Ho Chi Minh Museum (HCM Museum) and the "B-52 Victory"
Museum (Air Force Museum) to evaluate the state of displays about
the United States. On June 28, Pol Assistant visited the History
Museum and the MVR in Hanoi. Located in the historic center of the
city, both museums appear poorly staffed and ill-maintained. Apart
from a group of about 20 Vietnamese soldiers touring the MVR, there
were very few visitors at either museum. Focusing on Vietnam's
ancient history, the History Museum has on display numerous
paintings, sculptures and other artifacts predating the French
colonial period. The only reference to the United States in the
museum is contained in a caption commenting on Vietnam's Declaration
of Independence, which borrows its first line from the U.S.
Declaration of Independence.

Accusations of U.S. War Crimes

3. (SBU) With a significant number of photos, war objects and
"torture instruments," the MVR traces Vietnam's "independence
movement" during the 20th century. An entire section of the museum
is dedicated to the "American War" and revisits U.S. involvement
from 1955 with the arrival of American military advisors in South
Vietnam, to 1973 with the departure of U.S. military personnel after
the Paris Agreement. There is no recognition of South Vietnam's
legitimate existence or of the willing participation of millions of
southern Vietnamese in the war. A sign at the entrance of the
section identifies the United States as an authoritarian occupying
force, which launched "a destructive war against Vietnam." While
the initial pictures on display are not particularly objectionable,
the captions often provide a dishonest representation of innocuous
situations. For instance, a photo of a U.S. officer disembarking
from an airplane is described as "American military advisor arrives
in Saigon to discuss plans for aggression." Likewise, a picture of
a meeting between U.S. and South Vietnamese officials is depicted as
"American military advisors command Saigon's vassal regime and
puppet army."

4. (SBU) Furthermore, out-of-context descriptions allege human
rights abuses and war crimes by the U.S. military. For example,
obvious pictures of public political demonstrations, construction of
strategic hamlets and Viet Cong prisoners of war are respectively
labeled as "mass arrests", "forced relocation" and "reeducation of
Vietnamese civilians." One caption suggests that "a U.S. soldier
sets fire to a village and massacres a great number of people,"
although the photo merely show an individual standing next to a hut
with a lighter. Similarly, a picture of an anti-war protest, where
a monk immolates himself, is entitled "American repression of
Buddhism." Captions of a variety of objects also serve to criticize
U.S. military operations. Rotted shackles are used as evidence of
the brutality of U.S. officials and described as "chains used by
Americans to lock prisoners...Vietnamese experienced barbarous
torture by the American administration." Under the combined
displays of bombshells and anti-toxic masks, a caption reads:
"American planes spread toxic chemicals," while next to it a broken
Catholic cross is displayed as "American bombed religious sites."

5. (SBU) Without providing any historical perspective or objective
view, the MVR's showing also lacks the customary intellectual rigor
of permanent exhibits. Most of the pictures are not dated, no
sources are mentioned and items do not correspond to captions.
While the Vietnamese subtitles are translated in both English and
French, the latter version often presents an even more biased
description of U.S. conduct than the English translation. Under a
picture displaying a dead corpse next to a U.S. tank and soldiers,
the English caption simply reads: "Americans kill Vietnamese
villager," whereas the French description states: "Americans conduct

HANOI 00001747 002.2 OF 002

atrocious human killing of innocent Vietnamese villager."

"Humane Treatment" for U.S. Prisoners

6. (SBU) On July 5, Pol Assistant visited Hoa Lo Prison, the
infamous "Hanoi Hilton," located in the heart of Hanoi's central
district. The renovated site only preserves the southwest corner of
the original French-built penitentiary which was converted from a
train station. The museum mostly relates the execrable living
environment of Vietnamese prisoners jailed in the facility during
the French colonial period. Only the last two exhibition rooms
address the North Vietnamese detention of U.S. servicemen in the
facility. These rooms depict "the comfortable life U.S. prisoners
enjoyed during the Vietnam War." Pictures of captured U.S. pilots
playing volleyball and billiards, attending church service,
celebrating Christmas and receiving medical treatment are displayed
next to a sign stating: "Such is the life of U.S. prisoners in
camps. All of them benefit the same advantage (sic); the lenient and
humane policy of the Government of the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam." Replicas of daily-life items (cooking tools, leather
shoes and hand-knitted sweaters) are also exhibited in a corner of
the room, with a sign proclaiming: "During the war, the national
economy was difficult but the Vietnamese government created the best
living conditions to U.S. pilots." There is no mention of
Vietnamese torture of U.S. servicemen in the facility. One wall
showcases pictures of famous U.S. servicemen held in the facility,
including Senator John McCain, Admiral John Stockdale and Ambassador
Pete Peterson.

7. (SBU) The section also provides the usual GVN points about U.S.
"wrongdoings" during the war and the "altruism" of the Vietnamese
people. A large notice at the entrance of the other showroom claims
that the "U.S. government carried out sabotage warfare by airforce
and naval force (sic) against the people in the North of Vietnam,"
but the first photo of the room displays Hanoi residents rescuing
downed pilots. Pol Assistant listened in to a conversation between
Western visitors and a museum tour guide, who attempted to stimulate
a discussion by contrasting the decent treatment received by U.S.
prisoners and the suffering of the Vietnamese people. While the
group of visitors remained evasive and reserved, other tour guides
appeared more successful in engaging tourists with the standard
comments at the end of each guided visit.

Vietnamese Standard Propaganda and Nationalism
--------------------------------------------- -

8. (SBU) Pol Assistant also toured the Army, HCM and Air Force
Museums. Large groups of provincial Vietnamese (Note: Most of the
tour buses originated from Central Vietnamese cities. End Note.)
visited the Army and HCM Museums, whereas no visitors were at the
Air Force Museum. Moderately well-maintained, each museum's exhibit
provides the standard GVN propaganda on the Vietnam War and blames
the "American aggression for the suffering of Vietnamese people."
Signs throughout the Army and Air Forces Museums denounce "the
cruelty of the Americans and the Diem Regime," but unlike the MVR,
there are no excessive allegations of torture and very few items
dealing with the issue. Exalting the strength and the ingeniousness
of the North Vietnamese armed forces, the Army and Air Force
Museums' exhibitions also have on display captured U.S. tanks and
wreckages of B-52 bombers. The HCM Museum mainly showcases the life
and work of HCM, with only a few pictures of "worldwide anti-war
protests." The only other serious reference to the United States is
a display of an Indian Communist newspaper (New Age) front page
glorifying HCM and asserting: "Nixon bows to heroism and humanity,
Vietnam triumphs."


9. (SBU) The different exhibits in Hanoi museums still demonstrate
the GVN's unwillingness to acknowledge its own failings during the
war or provide an objective view of Vietnam's history.
Nevertheless, these exhibitions do not substantially harm the image
of the United States, since none appear to appeal to the general
Vietnamese audience. With the exception of provincial Vietnamese
tourists visiting Hanoi, very few Vietnamese seem to take a serious
interest in these exhibits, as evidenced by the low number of
visitors and the aging, poorly-staffed museums. On the other hand,
these depictions are not appropriate for the current bilateral
relationship. We will approach the GVN about developing displays
that better reflect the positive trend in U.S.-Vietnam ties. In
light of our success last year in winning back from the Vietnamese
the Great Seals that used to hang in our then Embassy in Saigon and
in an unknown U.S. Consulate in the south, we may be able to get
some traction in this issue. End Comment.


© Scoop Media

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