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January 31, 2004

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Where is the tallest flagpole in Vietnam? Smack in the country's middle at Hue. We find it there as we explore this city that once served as the capital of Vietnam from 1802-1945 under the Imperial Dynasty of the Nguyen. This is a place of dead emperors, a forbidden city, and rough history. The Forbidden Purple City and Citadel has dominated downtown for the last 2 centuries. Asian emperors love 'forbidden cities' and the Nguyen emperors established theirs at Hue instead of Hanoi because they had just succeeded in uniting North and South under one house - modern Vietnam (as we know its borders) was taking shape. The name 'Hue' evolved from the Vietnamese word for 'harmony.' This wasn't a harmonious place during the American War. The film 'Full Metal Jacket' was based on military actions here. The North Vietnamese and VC captured Hue during the Tet offensive and held the city for 3 1/2 weeks before American forces fought them off. By then the Communists had executed over 3000 "collaborators." Forbidden history of the Forbidden City.
The seven stories of the Thien Mu Pagoda are among the most famed in Vietnam. The structure has stood for 4 centuries, dedicated to the country's prosperity.
Lying in a garage beside the Thien Mu Pagoda is the Austin motorcar that carried monk Thich Quang Duc to his self immolation at Saigon. The public burning has remained one of the strongest personal protests in history. The band, Rage Against the Machine, features this picture on an album cover.
Tourism to the rescue! During the hard line communist years of 1975-1990, the government regarded ancient sights as politically incorrect reminders of an imperial past. The ancient tombs of past emperors were left to rot and decay. The government changed its mind with the onset of tourism (money is green, not red) and declared the old ruins at Hue "national treasures.".