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War Remnants Museum, Saigon

This museum was one that we'd heard about and wanted to see. I originally put this in a post about our travels through Vietnam, but it is too large, and deserves a posting of its own. 

Now, I'd heard things about the museum, that it is very biased against the US, which is understandable, considering the Commies won. I was expecting this to some degree. I was surprised by how biased it truly was, though. The museum was actually fairly small, the first floor had a couple of galleries, and the second had a couple exhibitions, including one about US photographers who took iconic pictures of the battels. The first floor was divided between an exhibition of photos showing various graphic scenes, from dead bodies to people being "interrogated" or beaten, and then a section dedicated to the people whose lives and future children were dramatically altered by the usage of Agent Orange, a defoliant used to destroy the forest so that American forces could see what was shooting at them. The use of Agent Orange was unacceptable, as it used dioxins that are highly lethal against humans in even tiny amounts. The photos had less of an impact on me, though. They were terrible and graphic, but the accompanying captions never failed to place the blame squarely on US forces, despite the lack of a single picture that had a US soldier pointing a gun at someone. The captions referred to the US as "fascists" and "imperialists," and talked about how they murdered women and children on a frequent basis. Propaganda is propaganda, even when used in a situation such as a Vietnam War museum. For me, the war speaks enough for itself; it was a terrible waste, a stain on America's standing in the global community as well as its morals. It was the definition of excessive force, as we dropped more tonnage of explosives than any other war, including WWII. It was an undefined slaughter, of both American lives (58,000 killed) as well as Vietnamese (3 million died, over the 11 year period of the civil war, from both sides). America wasn't responsible for nearly that total of carnage on the Vietamese side, as the "democratic" southern government and the Communist north inflicted massive casualties on each other. Still, it was a war that we shouldn't have been involved in, nor should we have gone anywhere near Cambodia, where our bombings led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and one of the century's most horrendous genocides. Some might argue that Vietnam was a proxy war, that we were indirectly fighting the Chinese and Russians (which we were), but that was no excuse for our involvement, which did nothing to prevent Communism and only caused death and destruction; Communism was quite capable itself to bring about its end.

While I don't defend our actions in Vietnam, it was still interesting to see how the war is portrayed in Vietnam today. As I mentioned, there were lots of pictures of dead bodies, there were stories of massacres where one person miraculously survived, and of course it was the US that pulled the trigger in all such situations. What was lacking was any evidence these were victims of US actions. Even more glaringly absent were any pictures or even mention of the atrocities that were committed not only against US POWs and soldiers, but against their fellow Vietnamese, by the Viet Cong. There was a replication of the prison used to keep VC POWs, and it looked dark and dank (though not so much when compared to those of Germany), but there was no mention of the Hanoi Hilton or other VC camps where torture and murder of inmates is well-documented. All of this was convienently missing. Another aspect I found interesting was the exhibition of gestures of support by other nations, namely Communist countries and European countries. There were plenty of quotes from European officials condemning what was going on, and what stood out, glaringly, were quotes from French officials. This seemed rather hypocritical, considering that for the better part of a century, France had subjugated, often cruelly, Vietnam as one of it colonies, taking its riches and leaving a huge vacuum of power when they left. That set the stage for the civil war to start, leading later to the Vietnam war. Seems like there should be times when people should consider their own past before they speak out against someone else. You know what they say, check for that plank in your own eye...

So, the museum really was important to visit, to gain a perspective we hadn't had before. Besides, there was a lot of history, much of which that was honestly presented, that showed just how terrible and tragic this war was. Regardless of its politics, of the motives of the various powers involved, and of the fact that no awards for decency and humanity were handed out, the people that suffered were the young and the innocent, the soldiers of both sides, the civilians of Vietnam. I'm reading a book now from the perspective of a VC soldier, and as he reflects after the war, when again Vietnam is about to be thrust into war with China, that it is the old guys, the politicians, the ones in power with no personal connection to the carnage of war, who agitate for it. The soldiers, on all sides, just want to survive.

Until next time, be safe.


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