Greenwich Time is running a series of articles by a young nitwit named Sarah Lipman who is touring Asia on the cheap and, while I admire her free-spirited adventourousness, I’m appalled at her ignorance.
The Hao Lo Prison is more famously known for the inmates American POWs it held during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the United State’s first ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson. Known by them as the Hanoi Hilton, it displays how American POWs — while prisoners — were still treated fairly, with access to packages from home and Christmas dinners.
What interested me most about the prison, and will continue to interest me throughout my stay in Vietnam, is the stark contrast between how as a U.S. student I learned about the war in Vietnam and how the “American War” will be portrayed in museums throughout the country.
Uh huh – great education you got there, Sarah.
Torture began in earnest the following day, when he was brought before three interrogators and about a dozen soldiers. He initially tried to stick to the textbook answers: name, rank, serial number, date of birth. But then the real pain was applied.
In a steady voice, Swindle described his torturers applying tourniquets to his arms with parachute cord. “They took the cord and cinched it so tightly above my elbows that it literally caused my hands to contract because of the pressure on the ligaments,” he said.
And that was only the beginning. Next they tied his arms behind his back with three men applying pressure on each side. “(They) pulled against each other until my arms, they folded them up my back and my hands went back to my neck,” he said.
Next the torturers wrapped cord around his body so it looked like he had no arms. They tied parachute cord around his thumbs, which were at the back of his head, and hoisted his body off the ground by throwing the cord over the rafters. Swindle said the technique pulled his shoulders out of socket.
“And it’s about that point where you think you’re insane, ’cause this is hurting quite badly, and there’s not a soul in the world that can help me,” he said.
That’s when he learned to lie, figuring he could give them just enough truth to make his lies believable. When the interrogators wanted Swindle to name the men in his squadron, he told them he couldn’t think in such pain. They’d have to loosen the ropes to get anything out of him. When they started to loosen his bindings, he gave them the names of his high-school football coach and assistant coach, saying that was is squadron commander and executive officer.
When they loosened the ropes some more, he gave them the names of his entire high-school football team as his squadron’s pilots. Swindle chuckled as he recalled a welcome-home gala several years later in his small south-Georgia hometown. “All those guys were in the audience,” he said. “And I said, ‘You better not ever go to North Vietnam, because they’re looking for you.'”
Swindle said the experience with the ropes from his second day in captivity was repeated four or five times before he was moved to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp in late December of that year. The lies were all about coping. Prisoners learned many different ways to cope in their tortured captivity. “You give in,” he said. “So don’t think you don’t give in. But it’s how you do it and what you give them.
In August 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain. He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery. Further injuries led to the beginning of a suicide attempt, stopped by guards. After four days, McCain made an anti-American propaganda “confession”. He has always felt that his statement was dishonorable, but as he later wrote, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.” Many American POWs were tortured and maltreated in order to extract “confessions” and propaganda statements, with many enduring even longer and worse treatment;virtually all of them eventually yielded something to their captors. McCain subsequently received two to three beatings weekly because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements.
McCain refused to meet with various anti-war groups seeking peace in Hanoi, wanting to give neither them nor the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory. From late 1969 onward, treatment of McCain and many of the other POWs became more tolerable, while McCain continued actively to resist the camp authorities. McCain and other prisoners cheered the U.S. “Christmas Bombing” campaign of December 1972, viewing it as a forceful measure to push North Vietnam to terms.
Altogether, McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years. He was released on March 14, 1973. His wartime injuries left McCain permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head.
But they got Christmas cards from their families!