There were in fact many Hanoi Hannahs who worked here at Radio Hanoi during the war between 1965 and 1973, but Thu Houng was the senior and most frequently heard Hannah. Together, with Nguyen Van Tung, they wrote and taped three commentaries a day for broadcast to the American troops. After the war, Hannah, or Thu Houng moved to Ho Chi Minh city in 1976 with her husband, an officer in the North Vietnam Army. Hannah began her career with Radio Hanoi in 1955, when North Vietnam as an independent country began broadcasting to the world in several languages. She had been an English student at Hanoi University and was hired as the first English voice of Radio Hanoi at age 25. Her broadcasts directed toward American soldiers began in 1965 just after the U.S. Marines landed at Da Nang.
She does not like being compared to Tokyo Rose of World War II. Yes, she had read about Tokyo Rose but never studied her broadcasts or tried to emulate her style. Tokyo Rose was Iva Toguri, an American-born Japanese caught in Tokyo after Pearl Harbor and forced to broadcast. (As with Hanoi Hannah, there was no single Tokyo Rose. Twenty-seven different English-speaking Asian women, most Americans, broadcast to American troops during the Pacific War. But it was Iva Toguri who was singled out by muckraking journalist Walter Winchell and with the enthusiastic support of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, she was convicted of treason. Iva Toguri spent eight years in prison before being pardoned by President Gerald Ford in 1977). Tokyo Rose had been folksy and down-home American in her broadcasts. Hanoi Hannah maintained a friendly but correct and distant approach with her listeners. There was always a Vietnamese formality just under the surface of her voice as she suggested defection might be a good idea.
Interviewing Hanoi Hannah was like being Dorothy parting the curtains hiding the Wizard of Oz. The great and terrible Hanoi Hannah behind the facade we [had] constructed turned out to be a mild-mannered announcer who spoke English and read Stars and Stripes. As they say, in wartime, truth is the first casualty. By zapping the truth through an ostrich-like policy censorship, deletions, and exaggerations U.S. Armed Forces Radio lost the trust of many GIs when they were most isolated and vulnerable to enemy propaganda. It wasn't that Hanoi Hannah always told the truth, she didn't. But she was most effective when she did tell the truth and U.S. Armed Forces Radio was fudging it. If we didn't know before, Vietnam should have taught us the communications are now so pervasive in this shrinking world that suppression of information is impossible. Accuracy and honesty in broadcasts are essential, not just because its morally right but because its practical, too.
After the war there was little recognition in Vietnam of her contribution to the war effort. Few of her countrymen have ever heard of her, there were no medals or honors and she herself modestly plays down her role in the war effort.
Don: "You know, you're better known in the U.S. than you are here. Has the government ever recognized your work? Did you ever get a medal?"
Hannah: "Everybody got a medal."
Don: "What did you hope to accomplish by your broadcasts?"
Hannah: "Well, I think that our earnest hope was the GIs would not participate in this war, that they would demand to go home. That they would see this war is not in the interests of the United States. I mean the people, the GI's, the families."
Don: "And what effect do you think you really had?
Hannah: "Well, we think the broadcasts did have some effect, because we see the antiwar movement in the U.S. building up, growing and so we think that our broadcast is a support to this antiwar movement. It's been over twenty years now. I am happy with what I've done."
Don: "How do you see Vietnam and its place in the world today?"
Hannah: "Its an interesting stage. We are approaching normality. Things are much improved. There's a policy now of opening the doors to the outside world . I'ts better for Vietnam and the world. Because our fight has been for such a long time we are isolated from the world, even after reconstruction we don't have much attention from people outside. Things are better now between the U.S. and Vietnam and I hope relations will continue to improve, to normalize."
Don: "Do you see any role for yourself to better relations with the U.S.?"
Hannah: "Well, I'm taking retirement now, but Id be happy to do something to help relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. I would like to see America some day."
Don: "What are you curious about in the U.S.?"
Hannah: "Its difficult to tell you. I just want to be a tourist and see the people and the land. I have always compared our traditions of liberty, like those of Abraham Lincoln and Ho Chi Minh. I just want to see it with my own eyes."
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