Sunday, 12 February 2017
When the "white mice" came knocking on the door: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975
The White Mice
There was a pounding on the door which woke me up out of a very deep sleep. In fact I wasn't properly awake when this pounding spread to the back door as well. I got up, still half asleep, picked up my revolver which I kept loaded under the bed and went to the front door. I forget the time but it was probably some ungodly hour of the night. I called out something, someone answered. Neither party understood the other. I decided they couldn't be robbers making so much noise and opened the door. They were a rag tag bunch of I don't know what, all armed, but I seem to remember hearing the word police. I kept my revolver bracketed on the one I thought was in charge whilst they searched my house. It occured to my somewhat befuddled mind that I was living in a police state.
The next day I discussed it with my Decca friends. They explained that in theory the police were searching for deserters. They did this regularly and it was a fairly acceptable activity in a country at war. My maid's husband was a draft dodger, (she lived the other side of the pond), which was the same thing. However it was also harassment against foreigners who had more money than they did and therefore more girl friends etc. The object was to arrest said girl friends and to have the foreigners bail them out the next morning thus augmenting their meagre wages.
They couldn't touch us; well not usually. They were under a great disadvantage. All this was to change after 1968, but more on that later. This went on for some time when I decided I had had enough. Anyway my landlord was a police officer and we came to some agreement and the raids stopped. In Vietnam at that time each household had a family book. In this book was listed everybody living in that house, vetted by the police. All overnight visitors had to be vetted too. In Vietnam you could be stopped if you were travelling with a girl in a taxi and she was not your wife. This was on grounds of morality (or rather lack of it) in public transport. It did not apply to private cars. (This was largely limited to Saigon). I'm not sure why private cars were considered less immoral. Houses were private but perhaps this was on security grounds and not moral ones.
I was entirely ignorant of all this, and anyway we were officially living on our base. Apart from the fact it was entirely alien to my Anglo Saxon sense of liberty. I can't remember any Americans being too happy about it either. In any case we all felt above or outside any laws that existed. That is the way it was. Later when I became a resident not related to the military I did conform. I'm not making any apologies here but I do not think we in general and I myself in particular was always very agreeable people. We did trample on local customs, mostly through ignorance often through arrogance. I do though have this somewhat naïve opinion that police should behave in a civilised manner. The term ‘white mice’ was used to refer to the civil police whose uniform was white and it was said whose courage was questionable.