Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam, and Propaganda

Hi folks.

I have been trying to limit myself to five posts a week. I know that soon I will be back in full time work and the time I have spent on the blog of late will be greatly diminished, and even with the free time I have right now, I struggle to keep up. Wednesday is supposed to be my day off. I have been working on the latest of my Short Journey ebooks – on Vietnam. You can expect it in the next week or two, though, and I was writing about Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi and after doing some research into it online I discovered a bit of the story behind the place that I didn’t have when I visited.

The exterior.

The exterior.

Communism and propaganda have always been synonymous, I guess. In Shanghai there is a museum dedicated to propaganda posters building idealism in the philosophy and attacking the west. The conflict of the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam involving America, which of course to the west is often known as the ‘Vietnam War’, is not known as such in Vietnam. It’s the American War. Hoa Lo Prison was infamous as a place of torture, not for information but for statements from American prisoners praising their captors basically. Here is what I have written in ‘Short Journeys: Vietnam’. Take a look and I would love some comments.




This was an interesting one. A touch ‘proganda-ry’, you could say (if you chose to understate), but worth a visit and the entrance of 10, 000 Dong. Opened in the late 1800s, the French kept Vietnamese prisoners here and it was a touch notorious shall we say for being, well, a pretty crappy place to be imprisoned in. And that’s compared to other jails of the era!


I was not familiar with the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ before I visited, and I was surprised to see many comments displayed from American prisoners of war who had been imprisoned here in the 1960s and 1970s saying that it was basically a pretty terrific prison. This included a comment by Senator John McCain. Research shows that this was not the case, that prisoners were actually tortured to the point that they made these comments publicly. The Geneva Convention was not adhered to has the North Vietnamese regime embarked on a propaganda war I guess to make America look bad at the time.

A mural inside the prison

A mural inside the prison

Shackled mannikins

Shackled mannikins

The prison itself IS interesting, if completely one-sided. It’s possibly unfair of me to back just one side of the story. However, should you be in anyway related to someone who fought in that war, you would be best advised to skip the Hoa Lo Prison as it will surely raise your ire. There are some interesting displays and a bunch of manikins shackled, and an interesting mural which don’t touch on the American conflict in Vietnam. For those unlikely to be offended by the fact that today they are still peddling the lies of 30-40 years ago, the way propaganda is reproduced even to this day is fairly interesting.


A rather gruesome reminder of what happened under French occupation.

A rather gruesome reminder of what happened under French occupation.

Propaganda is still used in Vietnam, more or less. Another example is the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I imagine for some, it’s difficult to stomach. On the other hand, some might be thinking ‘right on’. They say the victors write the stories. This is Vietnam, and they present their events, and what they want outsiders to believe. I’m no ‘pro-America’ dude, let me state that, I protested the Iraq War and I am not a fan of their politics and the way their culture has been  injected to the rest of the world, but I find it hard to agree with what I saw at Hoa Lo. What do you think? Very keen for comments!

2 replies »

  1. I don’t know much (anything!) about the propaganda manufactured by Vietnam about the US invasion and occupation – but we should never forget that it WAS an invasion and occupation, and US propaganda defending its actions was therefore inexcusable. I don’t know much (anything!) about the conditions inside prisons in Vietnam today, but I wonder if they could be worse than the conditions in Guantanamo and Bagram. Invasion does tend to bring out the worst in the offending armies.

    I’m a human-rights advocate, and I would never say that an invaded country should be cut some slack for atrocities it commits. Atrocities are unforgivable, full stop. But they are perhaps more understandable when committed against invaders and occupiers. If I were Vietnamese, I would find it extremely hard to forgive France, Britain (briefly, after WWII) and the US and its allies for their military actions. I would expect some expressions of remorse from nationals of those nations, when I met them.

    • I absolutely agree with you – but anyone heading to Vietnam that MIGHT be offended should steer clear, that was basically what I was trying to say, not who is right and who is wrong. I was trying to comment without getting political, always a tall order in these cases. Thanks so much for your input and for reading!

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