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Hanoi Hilton - the prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

June 14th, 2008 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

The Hoa Lo Prison later known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton", was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

The name Hoa Lo, commonly translated as "fiery furnace" or even "Hell's hole", also means "stove". The name originated from the street name phố Hỏa Lò, due to the concentration of stores selling wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street from pre-colonial times.

The prison was built in Hanoi by the French, in dates ranging from 1886–1889 to 1898 to 1901, when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. It was intentioned to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners agitating for independence who were often subject to torture and execution. The French called the prison Maison Centrale - a usual term to denote prisons in France. It was located near Hanoi's French Quarter. A 1913 renovation expanded its capacity from 460 souls to 600. It was nevertheless often overcrowded, holding some 730 prisoners on a given day in 1916, a figure which would rise to 895 in 1922 and 1,430 in 1933. By 1954 it held more than 2000 people, and had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.

The central urban location of the prison also became part of its early character. During the 1910s through 1930s, street peddlers made an occupation of passing outside messages in through the jail's windows and tossing tobacco and opium over the walls; letters and packets would be thrown out to the street in the opposite direction. Within the prison itself, communication and ideas passed. Indeed, many of the future leading figures in Communist North Vietnam spent time in Maison Centrale during the 1930s and 1940s; in the end the prison served as an education center for revolutionary doctrine and activity, and it was kept around after the French left to mark its historical significance to the North Vietnamese.

After the Paris Peace Accords implementation, neither the United States nor its allies ever formally charged North Vietnam with the war crimes revealed to have been committed there. Extradition of North Vietnamese officials who had violated the Geneva Convention was not a condition of the U.S. withdrawal and ultimate abandonment of the South Vietnam government. The present government of Vietnam firmly holds to the view that the Hanoi Hilton was a prison for criminals, not POWs, and that those held in the Hanoi Hilton were "pirates" and "bandits" who had attacked Vietnam without authority.[citation needed]

After the war, Risner wrote the book Passing of the Night detailing his 7 years at the Hanoi Hilton. Indeed, a considerable literature emerged from released POWs after repatriation, depicting Hoa Lo and the other prisons as places where murder, beatings, broken bones, teeth and eardrums, dislocated limbs, starvation, serving of food contaminated with human and animal feces and medical neglect of infections and tropical disease occurred. These matter-of-fact details revealed in famous accounts by McCain (Faith of My Fathers), Denton, Alvarez, Day, Risner, Stockdale, Johnson and dozens of others.[citation needed] In addition, the Hanoi Hilton was depicted in the eponymous 1987 Hollywood movie The Hanoi Hilton.

Only part of the prison exists today as a museum. Most of it was demolished during mid-1990s construction of a high rise that now occupies most of the site. The interrogation room where many newly captured Americans were questioned (notorious among former prisoners as the "blue room") is now made up to look like a very comfortable, if spartan, barracks-style room. Displays in the room claim that Americans were treated well and not harmed (and even cite the nickname "Hanoi Hilton" as proof that inmates found the accommodations comparable to a hotel's). Former prisoners' published memoirs and oral histories broadcast on C-SPAN identify the room (and other nearby locales) as the site of numerous acts of torture.

There is now a Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, called the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, which opened in 1999. It was built decades after the Vietnam War was over, but Hilton carefully avoided reusing the dreaded name "Hanoi Hilton".

[Source: Wikipedia]

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