War May Be Hell, But …

Not to discredit Dr. Brian C. Halpern, who is profiled in Wednesday’s New York Times for his efforts to help train doctors in Vietnam, or to advocate the bombings of hospitals, but the good doctor regurgitates one of the hoariest exaggerations of the Vietnam War: that the bombing of Hanoi approached Dresden-like proportions and killed scores of innocent babies at the Bach Mai hospital. “It’s one of the largest hospitals in Vietnam, and in 1972, in the Christmas bombings, we destroyed their pediatric ward and killed all the inhabitants,” Dr. Halpern told the Times. “It’s a 1,000-bed hospital, but there is more than one patient to a bed.”

The attack on the hospital was good for quite a lot of anti-war spin–Jane Fonda had her picture taken in the rubble after the bombing, and in January of 1973 cast members of 17 Broadway shows donated a day’s pay to contribute to the fund established to rebuild the hospital. But doctors present at the time say that almost all of the patients had been evacuated to the countryside. According to Hanoi’s Health Minister, Min Nguyen Van Tin (as well as several witnesses), total casualties were about 23, mainly doctors and medical professionals. Witnesses at the time did not mention the destruction of a pediatric ward.

The hospital is currently a stop on the bike tours going through the area. To give hyperbole its due, the outcry against the bombing attracted the help of relief organizations, who helped rebuild the hospital. But just to set the record straight: not kids and not thousands.

Eliza Truitt (with thanks to Charles Krohn for spotting the item)