As regular readers of 3QD may remember, our own editor Morgan Meis was in Vietnam earlier this year to cover the 30th anniversary of the reunification of North and South Vietnam for the Virginia Quarterly Review. [See here.] He was briefly detained by security services there before being summarily deported. Now, we finally have a detailed account of what happened, by Morgan and his friend Tom Bissell in the Virginia Quarterly Review:
MORGAN—11 A.M., APRIL 28, HANOI:
…The phone rang. Nguyen went upstairs. We could hear him speak in growingly agitated Vietnamese, then he came down in a state of even greater agitation. “You’re being watched,” he told us. “Followed.”
Joe and I looked at each other. For some reason Joe was smiling, and then, even as the word followed stabbed at me with a little shiv of fear, I was smiling. There was a sense of converse accomplishment that the things we were doing here could matter enough for government tails to be dispatched, papers filed, operatives consulted. This feeling did not last long. Minutes later, eight Vietnamese men—five in drab olive uniforms that looked shipped from Leningrad in 1974, three in plainclothes, looking like anyone you might pass in the street—burst into Nguyen’s house and rushed into his living room. One man was videotaping the whole thing. They ordered Joe to stand back from his mounted camera and began questioning us. In an instant, the room was rich with the faintly stupefying air of bureaucratic wheels turning. God only knew what button of paranoia had been pushed, what man at what Party level in what city in what office had decided that some unknowable line had been crossed.
I tried to stand up and make the transition from feeling I had been caught doing something wrong to projecting a sense of outrage and indignation at a plainly absurd state of affairs, but the fact is Joe and I were terrified. These officials were the kind of officials who were good at being officials. They exuded officialness. They had a cool stance of authority, conducting themselves with an air of simultaneous annoyance and triumph. As it quickly became clear, their goal was to intimidate us into revealing our purpose, CIA- or Viet Kieu-dissident-related or otherwise. I looked over at Nguyen, an expert in affairs of stormtrooper management, and noticed a distinct glaze of concern on his face. Was Nguyen scared too?
“What are you doing here?” one of the stormtroopers asked. It was the fifth time he had asked this question. Not waiting for an answer, he asked another.
“How do you know Nguyen?”
“Through a friend in New York.”
I was utterly in the thrall of saving myself; I suddenly understood why captured revolutionaries ratted out their fellow insurrectionists, however beloved they might have once been. “Sam Henderson,” I said, and felt the disgrace in my throat.
“Where are your passports?”
My passport was in my pocket. But I had an idea. “At the hotel,” I said.
More here. [File photo of Morgan, not from Vietnam.]