Vietnam is a name that prior to visiting conjured up certain things in my brain. The pop culture references associated with this country are almost entirely associated with the war.
There are lots of them. Films such as Good Morning Vietnam, Apocalypse Now, Platoon were fairly influential at the time of their release. Music was another source with 19 (Paul Hardcastle), Camoflague (Stan Ridgeway), and perhaps the most famous one of all, War (Edwin Starr) that I chose to be the music title of this blog entry.
These tended to tell the story’s of the war from a very US centric point of view, even whether that was one that was for or against the conflict in Vietnam. Today we visited a much recommended attraction called The War Remnants Museum, located pointedly in a building that was previously home to the United States Information Agency.
Before you go, you suspect that the story that you will see if likely to be from a different point of view, when you realise that the current name of the museum has changed from the original “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” via “Exhibition for War Crimes and Aggression”, to the less provocative title it currently holds.
The change of name does not appear to have changed the content of the viewpoint that is displayed across the three floors of exhibits. The afternoon we spent walking round was, like COPE and the Khmer Rouge Genocide experiences, harrowing in parts.
The outer grounds of the museum contains a good selection of US Military hardware displayed with pride, almost as if its a trophy cabinet, that demonstrates that Vietnam took on the might of a superpower and won.
Without doubt the information shown within is subject to an extreme dose of propaganda by a single party communist state and never hints that there might have been aspects of the tactics employed by the North Vietnamese (and I am sure that there are many skeletons in that closet). Notwithstanding that, some of the information shown about the “war crimes” of the US is hard to read, and even harder to look at as the museum contains some graphic photographs.
One of the most memorable (and balanced) rooms was one dedicated to the photo journalists that put themselves in danger to provide images of the war to people and news agencies around the world. Some of the images are haunting, showing the true horrors of war first hand, and over 50 of these individuals ended up paying the ultimate sacrifice for their work and are remembered in a worthy tribute.
The aspect of the war that we knew least about and that most shocked us, was the evidence to show the extent to which the US developed, experimented and deployed chemical and biological weapons during the war. A couple of rooms are dedicated to this “Ecocide” and show the impacts during and after war, many of which are still evident today in large numbers of birth defects in parts of Vietnam. The photography accompanying this section takes a good deal of resolve to work your way through.
You leave knowing that the rhetoric you have seen is shown from a Vietnamese point of view, but there is enough evidence and information to shame the US for how they acted.
After an experience like this you need something to lift the spirits, and our evening with Vespa Adventures and our wonderful guide Depp did just that. A four hour city tour, combining street food visits and a pub crawl (with drinks included) all orchestrated from the back of a pack of 1960s Vespa’s that weaved, dashed and cut through the nighttime traffic and city lights was a wonderful way to say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City (or Siagon as the locals prefer).