Who was Hanoi Hannah?

1.0 Introduction

This article provides an overview of Trịnh Thị Ngọ, also known as Thu Hương and Hanoi Hannah, was a Vietnamese radio personality best known for her work during the Vietnam War, when she made English-language broadcasts for North Vietnam directed at United States (US) troops.

2.0 Early Life

  • Ngọ was born in Hanoi in 1931.
  • Her father, Trịnh Định Kính, was a successful businessman who owned the largest glass factory in French Indochina.
  • She later stated that she grew eager to learn English because of her desire to watch her favourite films such as Gone with the Wind without subtitles.
  • Her family provided her with private lessons in English.
  • In 1955, when she was 24 years old, she joined the Voice of Vietnam radio station and was chosen to read the English language newscast aimed at listeners in Asia’s English-speaking countries.
  • One of her tutors and mentors at the station was Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett.
  • At this time, she adopted the alias Thu Hương, meaning ‘autumn fragrance’, as it was easier and shorter for her non-Vietnamese listeners.

3.0 Career

  • During the Vietnam War, Ngọ became famous among US soldiers for her propaganda broadcasts on Radio Hanoi.
  • Her scripts were written by the North Vietnamese Army and were intended to frighten and shame the soldiers into leaving their posts.
  • She made three broadcasts a day, reading a list of newly killed or imprisoned Americans, and playing popular US anti-war songs in an effort to incite feelings of nostalgia and homesickness, attempting to persuade US GIs that the US involvement in the Vietnam War was unjust and immoral.
  • US Navy ships and personnel were also targeted in her broadcasts, with Ngọ reading out the names of crew members and saying that they were all going to die. She also received and played recorded messages from Americans who were against the war, saying later that she thought these messages were the most effective of all as “Americans will believe their own people rather than the adversary.”
  • Few if any desertions are thought to have happened because of her propaganda work and the soldiers “hooted at her scare tactics”.
  • They were sometimes impressed, however, when she mentioned the correct location of their unit (when they would “give a toast to her and throw beer cans at the radio”), named US casualties and welcomed Navy ships into port with their correct arrival details and crew members’ names.
  • There were exaggerated legends of her omniscience, with rumours that she would give clues about everything from specific future North Vietnamese attacks to soldiers’ girlfriends cheating on them at home.
  • In reality, most of her information came from publications such as the US military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
  • It has been claimed that US forces in Vietnam distrusted the US Armed Forces Radio bulletins, and listened to Ngọ’s bulletins for information from the US.
  • Ngọ’s broadcasts ran for a total of eight (8) years, with her final broadcasts airing in 1973, when most of the American forces were leaving.
  • In interviews in later years, she consistently stated that she agreed with the purpose of the scripts and never deviated from them; she believed that America should not have sent troops to Vietnam and should have allowed the country to resolve its situation itself.

4.0 Later Life

  • In 1975, after the war, Ngọ moved to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) with her husband.
  • She was offered a job on HCMC Television, but she chose to stay at home and take care of her husband, who had suffered a stroke.
  • She died in Ho Chi Minh City on 30 September 2016 at the age of 85.
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