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January 2000 - fair comment

Public Television Owes An Apology to American POWs of Vietnam War

By Henry Mark Holzer

As part of my research for a book I'm writing about Jane Fonda's July 1972 pilgrimage to Hanoi, I watched with great interest public television's November 2000 documentary Return With Honor, the inspiring story of U.S. airmen imprisoned in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

Immediately after the film was shown, PBS offered on its American Experience/Return With Honor Website a forum where viewers could ask questions of five of the former prisoners of war (POWs) and receive their answers.

In addition to the five, there was one other forum participant. Here is the bio PBS provided: "Bui Tin. Author of the important Following Ho Chi Minh: The Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel. Bui enlisted at age 18 in the Vietnamese People’s Army. He worked as a journalist and editor for the Communist army newspaper in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. In this position, Bui worked in close proximity to Ho Chi Minh - and the American POWs. In 1990, Bui made the dra matic decision to leave Vietnam forever and live as an exile, in order to express his growing
dissatisfaction with Vietnam's Communist leadership and political system.

However, despite Col Tin's alleged "growing dissatisfaction with Vietnam's Communist leadership and political system," his answers to forum questions parroted the Hanoi line on the war in general - and the POWs in particular - and, in doing so, he insulted every American ever held captive in Vietnam. For example: While Tin asserted that POWs were not tortured, the fact is that following repatriation, various Pentagon studies - and a plethora of POW memoirs - documented to a fare-thee-well the nature and extent of torture visited upon U.S. prisoners of the Viet
Cong and North Vietnamese. Space does not allow even the briefest survey of that torture here (though my Fonda book certainly will). However, the barbarism experienced by American POWs probably was unparalleled in modern times. I'm talking about food, sanitation, medical care, hygiene, confinement, indoctrination and propaganda, psychological warfare, restraint, torture and causally related suicide attempts.

Tin asserted that the POWs were well-treated with regard to food, clothing, reading material and the like and that punishment consisted only of being "forced into the tiny cells with their feet cuffed to the floor. Sometimes they were paraded/ walked in the streets, although that was done in order and without violence, only verbal attacks."

Patently untrue. As to food, in the south prisoners existed mostly on a sub-subsistence diet, a description of which would make some readers of this essay throw up. In the north, the food was not much better. Food in both places had one thing in common: the staple - rice - was shot through with rat feces. As to clothing, POWs in the south often wore
rags and went barefoot during their years in jungle camps. In the north, prisoners either roasted in the summer or froze in the winter. Mosquito nets, even when available to ward off the hordes of bloodsucking insects, often were withheld as a means of torture. As to books, as Tin implied, they virtually always were communist propaganda. There was no mail in the south and virtually none in the north; mail was used as yet another political weapon to coerce the POWs.

Tin's "tiny cells with their feet cuffed," indeed. The fact is that not only were cells tiny, they often were pitch black. Solitary confinement - sometimes as long as three years - was common. Leg stocks were tight and rusty, kept on sometimes for weeks while prisoners lay in their own urine and excrement.

But as untrue as all of Tin's statements are, perhaps the worst is that POWs were "paraded/walked in the streets." He is doubtless alluding to the infamous "Hanoi March," when American prisoners, in a long file, two-by-two, were marched through the streets of that enemy city to a stadium. On the way, they were surrounded and attacked by a
frenzy-driven mob that tried to kill, or at least maim, the POWs. Anyone who has seen pictures of those heroic Americans - shackled together, trying to hold their heads high as they marched - must necessarily despise men such as Tin, who deliberately whitewash what really happened to the POWs.

Public television has committed a grievous wrong by providing an international forum for Tin who, defector or not, remains a propagandist for communists who brutalized American prisoners, a man who is still telling lies about what happened to American POWs incarcerated in the jungle camps of the south and the prisons of the north.

Henry Mark Holzer is professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School and writes on issues of law and politics from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Subject: Insight Magazine article...Hank Holzer, author
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 22:01:32 -0700

The article is just as I wrote it, except the editor omitted my last sentence: "Public Television owes an apology to every American who was captive in Viet Nam."  This omission does not change the article.

If you can think of anyone else who might like to read the article, please pass this email on to them.



Subject: Hanoi Jane
Date: Mon, 9 Jul 2001 23:47:18 -0600
From: "" <>

HENRY MARK HOLZER --- Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn Law School, and former counsel to Ayn Rand --- is pleased to announce his forthcoming book, "AID AND COMFORT": JANE FONDA IN NORTH VIETNAM.  Further information may be found at http://www.HANOIJANE.NET