Hanoi Hannah and Reflections on Detractors

I heard on NPR this week that Trinh Tri Ngo died this past week at age 87.

In her youth, Trinh had been one of the best known propagandists of the North Vietnamese Defense Ministry. Her sweet voice was broadcast three times a day, for thirty minutes at a time. American GI’s referred to Trinh as “Hanoi Hannah”.

” ‘Defect, GI. It is a very good idea to leave a sinking ship,’ she advised her U.S. listeners in one broadcast. ‘You know you cannot win this war.’

“The North Vietnamese Defense Ministry’s propaganda department wrote her scripts, she told the Voice of Vietnam. Their aim was to degrade U.S. troops’ will to fight, and convince them that their cause was unjust.”

In our days Mormons are familiar with a similar message: “Defect, young Mormon. It is a very good idea to leave the sinking ‘ship Zion’. Mormonism is bound to fail.” The aim of this propaganda is to degrade Mormons’ will to endure, to convince them their cause is hopelessly flawed.

A Heart Burning with Pride

I was a young girl during the Vietnam War, and I recall the pervasive sense of shame many felt at that time. One night I was still awake when the broadcast day ended.

In those days the final thing on the screen was the National Anthem and video of a waving American flag. As I had been trained to do, I stood when I heard the strains of the Anthem and placed my hand on my heart. In that moment my soul was filled with fierce pride for my country and I began to weep in defiance of the shamed zeitgeist of my day.

In similar fashion, there have been times when I lived in a state where I wasn’t sure of the gospel and the Church. I had seen those close to me abuse wife and family. I had heard things about Joseph Smith that disturbed me greatly. I was enveloped in the zeitgeist of doubt that afflicts too many in our day.

Yet though I thought the Church must be wrong, God spoke to me. Respecting my agency, He merely told me to stop kicking against the pricks. He told me I knew what was right, and that my faith was enough.

I decided to trust God, though my mind didn’t understand for decades. There were many times when I felt to sing the song of redeeming love, yet the intellectual wedge near my core remained through the years. And then I realized that the beauty and truth I knew was Godly had only existed in my life because of Joseph Smith and his teachings. The wedge dissolved. It left a void, as I still didn’t understand the history at that point. But as I searched the history without seeing through a lens of doubt, I was able to see things my former self could never have seen.

I could see a God who dearly desires all mankind to return to Him. I could see a Joseph Smith who wept for his people, who did everything in his power to save as many as would repent, a Joseph who would not betray the secrets of those penitent. I saw a Joseph who had died defending his God, the religion he had been commanded to restore, our freedom to believe, our peace from the doubt his defection would have caused, and the ability for every wife and every child to be sealed into the family of mankind.

One morning as I contemplated Joseph’s death, I became wracked with grief. I sobbed openly as I considered the history we might have had if Joseph had lived long enough to openly explain the doctrine and the pain many endured because Joseph was killed before that was possible. I wept for Emma and her family. I wept for Brigham, thrust untimely into leadership. I wept for my ancestors, torn between love for Emma and devotion to the Church Brigham led. And I wept for those in our day who remain ignorant of the honorable Joseph I know.

Lost Millennials

Wednesday I received an anguished e-mail from a friend, whose grandchildren have vigorously rejected Mormonism. They sent her a link to a website they felt would explain the obvious logic of their position. She was appalled.

“It was Korihor’s reasoning,” she wrote. “…many are drawn into this trap….crap.”

“Why would ANYONE follow a lantern that they didn’t know where they were leading them to?”
It is not so much that those “Korihors” attacking the gospel are telling lies (though they are doing that as well). It is that they are telling a distorted truth, much like the distorted truth Hanoi Hannah spread during the Vietnam War.
My friend thanked me again for my book and helping her see the history isn’t what her grandchildren think it is. But her heart is still broken for those who have currently chosen to abandon Mormonism, particularly those in her own family.
Always Tell the Truth
I grew up as one of many children. At a certain point in time we became expert at demeaning and scorning one another. As my mother listened to our vile treatment of one another, she knew she couldn’t simply tell us to stop. We were too many. And my mother has never believed in issuing ultimatums that she can’t enforce.
What she did instead was to tell us that we must stop insulting each other with lies. Every word that we said to one another had to be factual.
Instead of calling each other apes and accusing each other of having gorilla breath, we were silent for a short time. Then the vocabulary our foremothers gifted us with came to the rescue.
“Your follicles are oily!” we screamed. “Your epidermis is showing,” we sneered. But once we agreed to speak only the truth, the hysteria of our attacks upon one another largely dissipated.
I have noted that professional conferences tend to be respectful, even when there are vast differences between the positions taken by different individuals. The breakdown of courtesy we see in our day is associated with taking shortcuts with facts, being unwilling to consider that there may be something worthy of consideration in the position taken by the opposite side.
A commitment to telling truth has not ended all disputes in my family. Similarly, a commitment to acknowledging the truth and humanity of “the opposite side” will not end all disagreements about the gospel. But the tenor of the discourse can be improved by such courtesy. And where there are those unwilling to extend courtesy, it will become more obvious that they are the ones behaving like baboons with gorilla breath, without any need on the part of the faithful to point out the greasy follicles of their bare epidermis.
Hanoi Hannah: A Legacy and a Promise
Ultimately, few Americans were swayed by the Hanoi Hannah broadcasts. They recognized her for what she was.
Trinh Tri Ngo claimed she had no continued animosity towards America following the war. Her son ended up moving to America.
Vietnam has evolved from despised enemy to one of many nations that America considers friends.
In our day, as in the days of Nauvoo, there is great division between the believers and the detractors. But time heals many wounds. Just as Hanoi Hannah was able to walk away from the sweet venom of her broadcasts, we will be able to walk away from the hurtful discord. In time, if not in this life, we will express love for one another. It is God’s hope and mine that many, if not all, might return to their God and forsake the alienation and vitriol they embraced in life.
This entry was posted in General by Meg Stout. Bookmark the permalink.

About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

9 thoughts on “Hanoi Hannah and Reflections on Detractors

  1. One great advantage of only telling that which you know to be true is that it takes a moment to fact check yourself, and in that moment reason and/or charity often has a chance to shine. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped my finger from posting a comment or making a reply because I took that moment.

  2. Thanks for the post, Meg. I love this paragraph:

    “I decided to trust God, though my mind didn’t understand for decades. There were many times when I felt to sing the song of redeeming love, yet the intellectual wedge near my core remained through the years. And then I realized that the beauty and truth I knew was Godly had only existed in my life because of Joseph Smith and his teachings. The wedge dissolved. It left a void, as I still didn’t understand the history at that point. But as I searched the history without seeing through a lens of doubt, I was able to see things my former self could never have seen.”

    When I think of friends and family who have left the LDS faith or are having personal struggles with doctrine or social issues, the one commonality they all have is that they won’t trust God. They want answers they can Google or a study that proves such-and-such. And though this type of thinking isn’t new, it seems to be more pronounced in the age of having “answers” via a search engine.

    When you read the scriptures getting instant, verifiable answers isn’t the Lord’s normal way of doing thing. Countless times the Lord has given commandments to his prophets and members to do something and expects them to trust in Him and follow. It’s only AFTER they trusted in the Lord (and sometimes years or decades after) were they able to see the truth and the reason for commandments and rules–something that they were only able to see because they trusted in the Lord and moved forward with faith.

    Thanks again for giving me something to think about.

  3. Meg, Thanks for sharing this. I agree with Geoff B. that his is the best post by you that I have had the pleasure of reading. I ad I agree with James Stone that the paragraph where you said that you decided to trust God is the most powerful one in the post. That is something that I also decided during m own journey. I realized that there was always going to be a disconnect, a conflict between what the rational world of science was seeming to say versus the revealed words of God. I had to place my faith first, above reason, because I also realized that there was, is, and always will be in this mortal life so much more that we do not know as opposed to what we know, or think we know.
    And the decision to tell the truth is of the utmost importance. So often opinions are substituted for the actual truth. (Of course, sometimes I feel it is better to keep my mouth shut rather than to tell the unvarnished truth,)

    Glenn

  4. Thank you. We have always been impressed with your capacity for reasoning. This one, from the soul, replete with personal experiences from your journey, family, and especially your wise mother, is powerful and moving. I am reminded of such spiritually moving events in my own life and motivated to be a better defender of the faith.

Comments are closed.