A generation of young people in Sweden and elsewhere has received its basic education on the Vietnam War from Hollywood, with films like Rambo and The Deer Hunter which depict the Vietnamese as evil communists who do terrible and inexplicable things to innocent Americans abroad. One exception is Heaven and Earth, a film based on the autobiographical books of the Vietnamese-American, Le Ly Hayslip. But even that modest corrective has been misrepresented in the widely-read TV guide of Swedens most influential daily newspaper, as the following letter from Ms. Hayslip points out.
Her efforts to explain illustrate one of the major difficulties with mis- and disinformation, once it has become established: It usually takes much more time and editorial space to correct it than to casually repeat it. It also requires the serious attention of editors and their publics. After all, a few throwaway lines in a TV guide. . . . What does it matter, and who cares?
* * *
It is through the seemingly harmless repetition of
such bits of disinformation that misleading myths
are built up and established in the public mind.
Editor, TV Guide
105 15 Stockholm
I was gladdened to learn from fans in Sweden that your national television channel recently broadcast, for the third or fourth time, Oliver Stones film based on my life story, Heaven and Earth. I regard it as a great honor that the film has been broadcast in Sweden and in other countries, so that people in all parts of the world can learn more about the wars that have afflicted Vietnam and its people in the past.
I am afraid, however, that the presentation of the film in Dagens Nyheters TV guide gave a very misleading impression of the American War, my people and my own experiences. According to the translation I have received, the film was presented in your guide as follows:
Le Ly grew up in the countryside of Vietnam during the 1950s and 60s. After being raped and tortured by the resistance movement, she flees to Sanoi, where she becomes unemployed after becoming pregnant by her employer. She is forced to find her own way to support herself. Much the same description was given in an accompanying feature article, with the additional comment that, FNL arrived in her village in 1963, upon which Le Lys brother left home.
It is true that I was raped by a young man from a neighboring village who happened to be in the FNL (so was I), but definitely not by the resistance movement. Unfortunately, such crimes are committed on all sides in wartime, as we have learned from more recent tragedies, and even in peacetime. In recent years, for example, there have been several reported cases of U.S. soldiers raping young Japanese girls and women on Okinawa.
The fact is that rape, torture and brutality were far more frequently committed by soldiers of the United States and its "South Vietnamese" puppet regime than by the FNL. The infamous massacre at Song My/My Lai was just one of many similar events, as we have recently been reminded by disclosures of Senator Bob Kerrey s responsibility for the slaughter of innocent civilians in the Mekong Delta region.
The FNL, which is more properly referred to as a liberation movement, was supported by the overwhelming majority of the people, including my own family. To a great extent, the FNL was the people, as several studies commissioned by the U.S. government during the war pointed out.
As a young girl, I served the FNL and was eventually arrested on suspicion of doing so by the puppet government. It was at the hands of the South Vietnamese army that I experienced the torture depicted in the film. I was released after three days, thanks to the intervention of an influential relative. But this caused suspicion among my comrades in the FNL, because it was very unusual for anyone-- even a little girl like me-- to be released so soon, or without being physically and mentally destroyed. Against my will, I was caught in the middle of suspicions on both sides, and was eventually forced to flee to the occupied city of Danang, and then to Saigon (not Sanoi, which I presume is an accidental blending of Saigon and Hanoi).
The reference to my brother who left home is also very misleading. I actually have two brothers, the older having in 1955 moved to the north, where he joined the Communist Party and fought to liberate the south. My younger brother, Sau Ban, left home because my parents did not want him to fight on either side, and especially not for the puppet government. But our hearts were always with our beloved uncle Ho Chi Minh and the cause of liberation. Eventually, Sau Ban joined the FNL near Saigon. He was killed by U.S. troops while on his way home to prepare for the Tet offensive of 1968.
No doubt some of the confusion is due to the fact that the film, which is necessarily condensed, does not reflect the exact sequence of events in every respect. Anyone who is interested in all the facts will find them in the two books on which the film is based, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace.
I was also dismayed to learn that Swedish television broadcast The Deer Hunter just two days after Heaven and Earth. I understand that Michael Ciminos film, which is notorious for its portrayal of U.S. soldiers as innocent victims and the Vietnamese as sadistic monsters (the reality, of course, was something very different) has been broadcast several times in Sweden without any warning about its grotesque propaganda message.
Dagens Nyheters presentation of the film, for example, notes only that the scene in the prison camp where Christopher Walken is forced to play Russian roulette is one of the most powerful ever filmed. In reality, there were millions of powerful scenes during the American War, and in most of them the victims were Vietnamese.
Everyone who has read my books or heard me speak knows that I have always worked for reconciliation between all parties to the war. But that can never be achieved with lies and distortions. During nearly a century of colonial oppression and thirty years of cruel war to gain our independence, my country and my people have endured unimaginable suffering. More than a quarter-century after the American Wars formal conclusion, the earth and water are still poisoned, with devastating effects on human health and the environment. Innocent children and adults are still being killed and disabled by land mines, unexploded ordnance and other remnants of the war, and this will continue far into the future.
It is therefore very hurtful when influential media such as Dagens Nyheter continue to spread disinformation about our history and our national character. Some may feel that what is written in a TV guide is of little importance. But I am certain that more people, especially those in younger generations, today get their impressions of Vietnam and the American War from Hollywood films and what is written about them, than from more reliable sources. It is through the seemingly harmless repetition of such bits of disinformation that misleading myths are built up and established in the public mind.
I take it for granted that it was never Dagens Nyheters intention to spread anti-Vietnam propaganda. But having unintentionally done so, I also take it for granted that you will publish this correction in a prominent place, and strive to be more accurate in the future. I know that there are many people in your country with a good understanding of these issues and I urge you to consult them in all such matters. Of course, you are very welcome to consult me at any time.
Yours in peace,
Le Ly Hayslip