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Return to Vietnam 2008
Vietnam 2008 -- The Hanoi Hilton

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The Ha Long Prison, in downtown Hanoi near the former French Quarter, gained infamy as the "Hanoi Hilton", sarcastically so-named by the American
Hanoi Hilton EntranceHanoi Hilton Entrance
pilots who had been shot down over North Vietnam and were incarcerated – and tortured – there during the Vietnam War (aka "The American War" in Vietnam) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was originally built by the French over a period of years stretching from 1886 to 1901 and was used by them to jail and torture Vietnamese dissidents, political prisoners who were agitating for independence for their country. In true colonialist fashion, the French were having nothing to do with such crazy talk, and ended up imprisoning in subhuman conditions as many as 2000 prisoners at one time.

I was surprised at how small it was, with a land area not much larger than the typical suburban lot. But then I learned that the prison today covers only about a third of its original footprint, the majority of the "missing" pieces having been torn down in the early 1990s to make room for a modern high-rise office building. In particular, the wing of the prison that once housed American POWs is gone.

Click on the thumbnail to the left to see a picture of the
Thumbail Hanoi Hilton in 1970
Hanoi Hilton 1970
prison in 1970, taken by US Air Force reconnaissance. The red outline contains approximately the size and dimensions of the prison today. The area inside the walls, filled with trees, that is closest to the camera is now the site of the high-rise, and the yellow arrow points to the entrance on the far side.

Inside the prison are some displays of US POW artifacts, including John McCain's flight suit and parachute, and
John McCain's Flight Suit & Parachute
John McCain's Flight Suit & Parachute
a series of propaganda photos showing happy and smiling Americans. But I guess, since they won the war, they can pretty much write their own history of it…

Several other rooms had life-size clay models of prisoners chained together and lying on a long series of wooden slatted platforms. All of these models are, of course, Vietnamese in appearance and are intended to show the abhorrent treatment they received from their French overlords.

The original guillotine is still there, and the once-sharp blade edge looks suspiciously as though it still had some dried blood on it. I can't imagine that would still be the case, some 70 years after it was last used, though, so they must to a little "doctoring" periodically to keep the dried blood looking fresh.