In glaring contrast to Saigon, Hanoi is clean—much cleaner than New York, for example. The sidewalks are swept, there is no refuse piled up, and a matinal sprinkler truck comes through, washing down the streets. In the somewhat gloomy lobby of the hotel, where foreign correspondents sit conferring with their interpreters, like clients murmuring with their lawyers on the benches of a courtroom, a strong smell of furniture polish rises from the worn furniture. The abundant archaic towels in the bathroom are stiff from many launderings—in cold water, probably, and a harsh soap. Sanitation is almost a fetish, imbued with political fervor: wiping the slate clean. In Hanoi, there are no prostitutes on the streets (the claim is that they have all been reformed), no ragged children with sores. It is rare to see a child with a dirty face, though children themselves are fairly rare, most having been evacuated to the country, where their parents visit them on weekends.
The fiercer animals in the zoo—lions and tigers—have been evacuated too or, rather, turned loose in the mountain forests. According to a Western news agency, the severely rationed economy could not spare fresh meat to feed them—good news for the Pentagon, since, if true, it proved that the war was “hurting.” Mr. Phan of the Peace Committee, who volunteered the story, told it differently. He said they sent the dangerous animals away in case an air strike should wreck their cages and let them escape into the streets. I prefer Mr. Phan’s explanation, delivered with big grave eyes. It has its amusing side like the thought, hilarious for children, of an elephant escaping from the circus. Yet of course the problem is serious and confronts any city under bombing, just as much as what to do with the pictures in the museums. In World War II, what happened to the animals in the London Zoo? Where did they put them?
Nor—excuse me—is it unthinkable that the US Navy or the Air Force would consider bombing a zoo. The model leper colony of Quyn Lap was bombed not just once—which might have been an accident—but thirty-nine times; I have seen photographs of the pandemonic scenes as doctors and attendants sought to carry lepers to safety on their backs and on stretchers—limbs wasted to stumps, arms ending in knobs. One-hundred-and-sixty secluded buildings, housing more than 2,000 lepers, were demolished (I apologize for using North Vietnamese statistics, but the Americans have not supplied any); the first raid netted 139 dead, some, it is said, machine-gunned as they scattered. “But what could be the motive?” Americans protest. “What is the point of bombing a model leper colony?” I do not know the motive but I know the result: the surviving lepers have been distributed to ordinary district and provincial hospitals, where they are, to put it mildly, a problem, a pathetic menace to public health. If you bomb lepers, why draw the line at captive lions and tigers, who could be quite a menace…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.