“Black GI, is it fair to serve more than the white Americans who sent you here?” In a flashback in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, that message is read out loud by “Hanoi Hannah” (played by Veronica Ngo) and beamed across Vietnam to Black American troops. And while Da 5 Bloods portrays a semi-fictional group of Vietnam veterans, the character of Hanoi Hannah and the radio propaganda broadcasted to incite conflict among American troops were one hundred percent real.
“Hanoi Hannah” was Trinh Thi Ngo, a Hanoi-born radio host who worked for Voice of Vietnam, a national radio station launched in 1945. Ngo joined the station in 1955 and was responsible for reading the English news broadcasts. (Ngo learned through a private tutor and by watching American movies such as Gone with the Wind.) By 1965, the station began broadcasting propaganda written by the North Vietnamese Army.
VOV broadcasts encouraged desertion and mutiny among American military ranks. As in Da 5 Bloods, they would also highlight racial violence in America and the demographic discrepancies between Black American civilians and Black soldiers serving and dying in Vietnam; 11 percent of the U.S. population vs. (at times) 23 percent of U.S. combat troops. The insinuation: who are you dying for? You are dying for the oppressors.
The propaganda tactic was also used by the Germans in WWI, during which time black soldiers were not integrated into white military units. (It wouldn’t be until 1948 when Harry Truman signed an executive order that the U.S. military became officially desegregated; still, only Vietnam marked the U.S. military’s first racially integrated campaign.) Later last year, HBO’s Watchmen depicted such instances where German plans would drop leaflets, highlighting American hypocrisy, calling for desertion: “What is Democracy?” one read. “Personal Freedom, all citizens enjoying the same rights socially and before the law! Do you enjoy the same rights as the white people do in America, the land of Freedom and Democracy?”
Of course, even by Vietnam, racial integration hardly meant peace or equality between ranks, and reports describe black and white soldiers in conflict with one another, even killing each other. In 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a group of white soldiers at Camp Ranh Bay dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes and paraded around base; other soldiers celebrated by hoisting the Confederate flag.
With all this internal conflict as backdrop, Hanoi Hannah continued to encourage divisiveness, calling for soldiers to “frag” (kill) their commanding officers.
But Ngo wasn’t just a propaganda broadcaster. She also broke news stories of events both in Vietnam and in America, including the Detroit riots of 1967 and the My Lai Massacre in 1968—Ngo the first source from which American GI’s would learn of these events, though, they erroneously dismissed the latter as propaganda. (In a later interview with the New York Times, Ngo explained where she received her news: “The U.S. Army Stars and Stripes [military newspaper]. We read from it. We had it flown in every day. We also read Newsweek, Time and several other newspapers. We took remarks of American journalists and put them in our broadcasts, especially about casualties.”) Propaganda aside, Ngo was doing actual reporting on events to which even the American public couldn't yet understand. (It would take months for the events of the My Lai Massacre to reach American news media.)
After the war, Ngo moved to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). She died in 2016 at the age of 85.
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