AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 25

Chi Mai reports everything she has done to brainwash James Fisher. The colonel asks her to write down all the facts. It takes her four days to finish the detailed report. The colonel spends two days studying it. Chi Mai has the chance to visit the capital city. She notices that Hanoi is flooded with merchandise made in Saigon, and foreign products smuggled in via Saigon by sailors who have been to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. She can even see US military equipment such as canteens, knapsacks, fatigues, sold on the sidewalks of Hanoi. She misses James Fisher. Hanoi no longer has any appeal for her. It’s not because the capital is still poor and has not been reconstructed after the war. The main reason is that there is an emptiness in her heart. She looks at all the young men in Hanoi in an indifferent manner. Even the vivacious Russian specialists she meets in the streets have nothing to interest her. The only wonderful man she has met after Boris Ilitch Kanazev is James Fisher. She has loved a man condemned and hated by her regime. It was that stupid ideology which forced her to be separated from the Russian Boris, just to lead her into this sentimental adventure with the American James. Chi Mai had to bow her head in her first adventure. In the second journey, she knows how to hold her head high. However, Chi Mai dares not openly challenge the regime. She only secretly stamps its doctrine under her feet.

Lying in her room, Chi Mai lets her mind float to the cold cell in the middle of the forest in Thanh Hoa province. She misses James. She longs to go back to that miserable prison camp where she has found her real happiness. Chi Mai is anxiously waiting for the decision of her superior. She once told James that she was playing a minor role in the huge machinery of government in her country. Chi Mai is thinking of what she should do to get herself out of the troublous net that may fall on her at any moment because of her involvement with James. She is wondering whether the colonel will still trust her to continue handling James’ case. Chi Mai knows for sure that if the case is transferred to another investigator, he will either meet a tragic death or be allowed to return to America like a vegetable, being totally brainwashed. More than anybody, Chi Mai understands the police techniques very well. She doesn’t have the heart to apply them fully to James. And that’s why she has lost the qualities of a communist.

Eight days after Chi Mai submits her report, she is called to headquarters. Chi Mai is nervous and worried. Sitting in the reception area outside of the colonel’s office, she anxiously waits for her turn. Never in her life has Chi Mai been so afraid of the colonel. She has the feeling he knows all about what has passed between James and her. Communists, especially the communist police, should have no compassion for their enemies. Chi Mai has been trained to subdue compassion and feeling, to be totally loyal to the Party. The few months at the prison camp in the forest have proved that training to be worthless. A flash of common sense at the right time, and all the ropes restraining a person can be cut loose. The person is able to regain their human dignity and dares to decide their own destiny. When people have decided to stand above all ideologies, they will be able to love and live as proud human beings. The mysterious flash of common sense drives away the darkness of her hatred and prejudices. It was a revelation. Just like a person being exposed to daylight after being in a dark dungeon for months dares not open the eyes to face it, Chi Mai doesn’t know how to deal with her present situation. Her worry is not so much for herself, but for James.

The door opens, and the colonel asks her in. She sits on the other side of his desk. His face is stern, and he doesn’t receive her with the warm manner like the day she returned from Paris. Her fear increases. The old man puts out his cigarette, adjusts his spectacles, and looks straight at her.

– “Is there something that’s troubling you?”

She denies.

– “No, sir. Nothing.”

The colonel smiles.

– “Any problem should be resolved, he suggests. If a person can’t, his comrades can help. If they are not able, the Party will get involved.”

He jerks his chin up.

– “After your error with that guy Boris Kanazev, you haven’t received any warning, have you?”

Chi Mai is alerted. Having graduated from the KGB training, she realizes it is necessary to use her intelligence to outwit her boss. She smiles gladly.

– “No, sir. Thank you for reminding me of my mistake. Since then, I haven’t had any similar errors, and it’s been ten years already.”

He asks,

– “You really forgot that incident, didn’t you?”

She replies, trying to be emotional.

– “Yes, uncle. Once being saved and forgiven by the Party, I have loved and been loyal to nobody but the Party.”

The colonel nods approvingly.

– “ As a friend of your father, and also your comrade, Chi Mai, I’d like to have an informal talk with you.”

Chi Mai folds her arms.

– “Thank you, sir.”

The old man lights another cigarette. He exhales and sighs.

– “Our young people who were sent to East Europe and the Soviet Union have been corrupted by the lifestyles over there. Most of them are children of our leaders in the Central Committee. They have had inappropriate relationships with the reactionaries in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Because of inexperience and ignorance, they have been deceived by the revisionists who are backed by Western governments. Moreover, they have become so accustomed to the cultures and social systems of those countries that they have begun to criticize our leaders in Vietnam as conservative and outdated. They request that our leaders change to an open-door policy, and allow them to love freely. They are dressed in queer clothing, wear their hair long, and play crazy music. Even worse, they demand that leadership be transferred to them. Some of them have escaped to Western Europe and married the French and German people. I guess you have had the opportunities to notice that.”

She replies gently,

– “Yes, uncle.”

The colonel removes his spectacles, and looks at her. – “You deserve the love and support of the Party. A communist may err but should never lose his or her qualities and become corrupt by forgetting their class and failing to discern who their enemies are. As communists, we should only love and be loyal to our Party. The Party has nourished you and given you the chance to study, preparing you for leadership in the near future. You will replace people like your father and me to be in the leadership of the proletarian government.”

The old man puts on his spectacles again.

– “I’d like you to go home and write a criticism of yourself. Bring it to me tomorrow.”

She asks,

– “From what period, sir?”

The colonel says,

– “From the day you first arrived in the Soviet Union.”

Then he stands up.

– “Let me see you to the door.”

Chi Mai leaves her boss’ office, completely bewildered. He never once mentioned her report on the assignment to brainwash James Fisher. It seems to her that he was getting suspicious of her. He even had her write a self-criticism “from the day you first arrived in the Soviet Union.” That means she will have to write about the time at Ly Ba So prison camp too. Chi Mai is not afraid for herself. She is afraid for James. If her boss decides to have her replaced, James will either suffer a tragic death or live a life in humiliation. Chi Mai knows as a fact that with the brainwashing techniques of the communists, nobody will be a normal human being again.

And now she is going to go through the self-criticism process. She arrives home, unable to drink or eat anything. After an hour feeling weary and depressed, Chi Mai sits down at the table to write.

Looking at the pack of paper in front of her, Chi Mai feels sorry for James. She has tortured him repeatedly by having him write the account of his life over and over again. Up to the point he almost went crazy and wrote nonsensical things just to fill the sheet. The purpose of this torture is to make the prisoner forget what he has written, and no longer believe in what he’s writing. At last, he no longer dares to hide what he has intended to hide. The prisoner will give up and surrender at the moment his body is exhausted and his head is going to explode. As for James Fisher, the purpose of the writing torture was to destroy his honesty and to glorify the cause of communism. James is fortunate enough to escape that trap. Most of the prisoners who undergo that torture are caught in the net.

Out of frustration with James, Chi Mai was reading the account of his childhood. She had read his file and his original declaration. The reason why she had him write his account over and over again was to torture him and to lead him into the trap. That was all. Chi Mai wouldn’t have read his account if she had been successful with him at first. But she had failed in both her gentle effort to persuade him and her physical punishments to subdue him. In an attempt to discover James’ weakest point, Chi Mai reread the first statement he had written at her office. The police training she had learned taught her that the prisoner’s first statement is always the most accurate. So in order to incriminate him, it’s imperative that the person be asked to write about something over and over again until he forgets what he has written earlier.

What destiny has brought James to her? What destiny made him write about his passionate feelings during the most confusing moments? What destiny brought back memories about Boris Kanazev at the moment she was most frustrated with James? And what destiny has brought him right into her heart?

Chi Mai begins to write. She writes with all honesty about the unfortunate affair between her and Boris. The honesty stops right there. She lies that she no longer loves Boris. Neither does she think about him. She also states that she considers the relationship a shame for her communist career. From the point she saw blood coming out from James’ ear and nose, Chi Mai is completely lying. She can no longer be truthful; for her regime doesn’t act on the principle. She can only, from now on, be truthful to herself.

Chi Mai submits the self-criticism to her boss the next day. She returns home, and anxiously waits for him to call. Chi Mai has experienced moments of tension. What if the Party knows she has lied to them? What if they exclude her from the Party? Chi Mai suddenly shudders, thinking about the reports of Ly Ba So prison camp warden about her. “I’ve often read reports about her” the colonel has said. What did he write about her in his reports? Like all communist party members, Chi Mai constantly lives in a state of doubt. Communist doctrines have taught their followers to spy on one another. Chi Mai is so stressed that she has to take some sedatives. She wants to sleep, hoping it may help her forget all the troubles she fears are going to come.

Her boss calls her in the following Saturday. Today he doesn’t look so stern.

– “I’ve read your self-criticism.”

– “Thank you.”

– “Don’t feel bad being asked to write it. When Uncle Ho was alive, he used to write it every day. He has taught us that criticism and self-criticism help us make progress.”

– “Yes sir.”

– “Actually, besides the Boris Kanazev incident, you’ve not had any shortcomings.”

– “Thank you, uncle.”

– “I’ve noticed your exceptional efforts in overcoming the difficulties at Ly Ba So camp.”

– “Thank you, uncle.”

The colonel says the thing she has longed to hear.

– “Your detailed report on James Fisher is very good. I commend you for stopping at the right moment.”

He looks straight at her.

– “Quite a special case, isn’t it?”

She says,

– “Yes, sir.”

– “It’s very difficult to brainwash those Christians. Their brains are filled with fallacies about Jesus. Being in prison, they dream of miracles by their God and Savior.”

– “Uncle, my Yankee prisoner often talks about his Bible.”

– “Of course. He may even tell you that his Lord is being shackled with him too. But don’t you think we shall give up on him.”

– “I’m waiting for your instructions, sir.”

The boss frowns.

– “Make him work hard — I mean really hard– in the field. Give him very little to eat. He won’t surrender, maybe, but his stomach will, for sure. The cells in his body will make him surrender. He will give up in shame just for a morsel of food.”

Chi Mai asks,

– “ What if he is still stubborn?”

The colonel grins.

– “There will be no other way.”

He bites his lip for a moment, and says,

– “It will be difficult for us to explain to the world why we still hold prisoners after the war. Be harsher with him, on your return there.”

Chi Mai feels she needs to hide her joy and excitement. She asks,

– “Sir, do you want me to finish this assignment?”

He nods,

– “Who else? If he still resists, get rid of him after two weeks. You should set up as though he was wounded, and was buried hastily by his comrades. Just put a bullet in his head and throw him into some hole in the forest. Some day, you may be the one who will guide the Yankees to search for the MIA’s. Then we’ll sell his bones.”

He looks straight at her again.

– “You yourself will get rid of him, and mark his grave. The Party wants to give you this assignment as a token of our trust in you.”

Chi Mai feels a chill running up her spine. The colonel continues,

– “After this, take a few weeks of vacation in Saigon. Then go back to Paris for your new promotion. Come back to my office this afternoon for the letter order. You are going to Ly Ba So tomorrow.”

Chi Mai gives out a sigh of relief as she leaves the colonel’s office. She feels fortunate because they haven’t found out what is in her mind. Chi Mai can’t wait to see James again. Rushing downtown to buy a carton of Winston, a few bottles of Whiskey, some six packs of Coca-Cola, and a few other necessary items, she feels herself rejuvenated with a pure, child-like joy. After she finishes packing, Chi Mai returns to headquarters to get her letter order. She hasn’t stopped worrying. Who knows? The colonel may change his mind at the last minute and assign another person to handle the case.

Unable to sleep, Chi Mai waits for morning to come. The moments of waiting are really cold. Many things come to her mind. If she ever had to kill James, Chi Mai would give him the gentlest death. She has stuffed her backpack with all the money in her savings. All through the night, the telephone at her home does not ring. That means everything is fine with her boss’es plan for her. At 5 AM, the chauffeur arrives to pick her up.

—> 26

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