Sunday 16 December 2018

Obituary: Trinh Thi Ngo

Silken-voiced 'Hanoi Hannah' who urged GIs to go home

Voice of communism: Trinh Thi Ngo hosted three propaganda broadcasts a day on North Vietnamese radio
Voice of communism: Trinh Thi Ngo hosted three propaganda broadcasts a day on North Vietnamese radio

Trinh Thi Ngo, who has died aged 85, was, for a generation of American troops serving in Indochina, better known as "Hanoi Hannah", the silken-voiced propagandist on North Vietnamese radio, the Voice of Vietnam, who tried to convince GIs, in impeccable English, that they should lay down their arms and go home.

At the height of the war, broadcasting under the name Thu Huong ("Autumn Fragrance"), Trinh Thi Ngo hosted three 30-minute programmes a day, interspersing rock tunes such as the Animals' We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and anti-war songs such as Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone (both banned on US Armed Forces Radio) with lists of the names and hometowns of GIs killed in action and messages, to exploit the ambivalence felt by servicemen about the war.

"How are you, GI Joe?" ran one such broadcast in 1967. "It seems to me that most of you are poorly informed about the going of the war, to say nothing about a correct explanation of your presence over here. Nothing is more confusing than to be ordered into a war to die or to be maimed for life without the faintest idea of what's going on."

She broadcast messages from anti-war activists such as Jane Fonda, reported demonstrations around the world and sought to stir up racial tensions within US forces by playing up news of race riots at home. She was popular listening for American soldiers, who enjoyed the music, though less popular with US commanders, who failed to end the broadcasts by bombing a transmitter in Hanoi. Though most GIs were said to find her often inaccurate reports of the war entertaining, some confessed to being disconcerted by the impression that North Vietnamese spies must be everywhere. In fact most of her "intelligence" reports came from publications such as Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.

Trinh Thi Ngo's broadcasts lasted from 1965 until the Americans left in humiliation a decade later.

Trinh Thi Ngo was born in Hanoi, in French Indochina, on November 26, 1930, and was an unlikely candidate to become the voice of communism. Born into what she described as a "nationalist bourgeois family", she was the daughter of a prosperous glass factory owner and learned English from private tutors, perfecting her command of the language by watching French-subtitled Hollywood films. After independence in 1954 and the division of Vietnam into Communist North and non-Communist South, she joined the state-run northern-based Voice of Vietnam and in 1965, following America's intervention, was chosen to broadcast to US troops as Thu Huong.

After the war, Trinh Thi Ngo, a slightly built, elegant woman, moved to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) with her husband, working in television until her retirement in 1987. She claimed never to have joined the Communist Party, arguing that her motivations had been patriotic rather than political: "I talk to them about the traditions of the Vietnamese, to resist aggression. I want... to do a little bit to demoralise them so that they will refuse to fight."

She claimed not to have felt any hatred towards the American people and in later life expressed the hope that she might one day visit the land of her former enemies: "San Francisco has always been a dream. And the Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood, I'd love to see them, too."

She and her husband had a daughter and a son. Trinh Thi Ngo died on September 30.


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