Burriss: Hanoi: Will history repeat?

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HANOI, Vietnam -- As far back as the Continental Congress the question of what is true in government and media has bedeviled the public. How do you really know who to trust, what are the actual facts, and how much spin is being applied? And perhaps most importantly, what if you are only given one side? How do you know what the truth actually is?

I've been visiting several Vietnam War-era sites around Hanoi and to say there is a very different view of the war would be an understatement. In fact, American visitors are warned they may find the descriptions of the war disturbing. Not that they are particularly graphic, but that the stories will seriously conflict with what we consider to be the truth.

For example, a propaganda film widely distributed during the war talks about American campaigns of aerial bombardment terrorizing elderly peasants valiantly defending their homeland. Curiously, the same film illustrates various booby-traps used by the Viet Cong, devices most of us would consider inhumane.

A display at the remains of the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison describes how American airmen were simply "arrest-ed," then humanely imprisoned until their release in 1973.

These views of history are the ones the people of Vietnam are most familiar with, so they are the ones they tend to believe.

The American view, and the stories we tell, are, of course, completely different. We get one version, and the Vietnamese get another version.

It's been said history is written by the winners. But that's not really true because both winners and losers have the chance to tell their sides of events, and historical archives and records are generally available for anyone interested enough to find them.

So perhaps a better aphorism we should recall is those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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Larry Burriss
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