(HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM) – There is one facet about being a journalist and that is the fact you never quite know what your story might be. In this case my story was a brief article about Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum. However, an interesting spin-off fact was generated based on conversations at the museum.
How clueless most western millennials are about the American-Vietnam War, the exodus of draft dodgers to Canada, the Canadian volunteers fighting alongside the Americans, and the participation of South Koreans, Australians, Thais, New Zealanders, and Pilipino fighting on the American side.
The museum recounts the struggle of the Vietnamese people against “foreign aggressive forces.” Initially, it was the French, who were defeated in 1954, and then Americans, who withdrew in 1972.
The Vietnamese deserve to tell the world their story and they do it in a compelling fashion. As the victor against the French and Americans they certainly could paint a picture of barbarians ravaging Vietnam. They don’t spare the propaganda, nor do they forget the war atrocities, such as My Lai and the use of Agent Orange, which was a deadly herbicide sprayed on jungles to defoliate the forest canopy over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
An independent tribunal of opinion in the Hague ruled that the use of Monsanto’s Agent Orange might be considered a war crime. As a minimum, the tribunal called the use of Agent Orange an ecocide.
As photos from the War Remnant Museum document, the spraying had horrendous effects on both the Americans and Vietnamese, causing birth defects. Kudos to the Vietnamese for revealing the double-edged sword of Agent Orange which affected Americans and Vietnamese alike.
Kudos also for conveying the message that the soldiers on the American side were, in many cases, brave and decent men caught in a struggle which was historically doomed to failure.
In a particularly riveting exhibit entitled Requiem, photographs captured the bravery, desperation, and fortitude of victor and vanquished alike. These photos were taken by Vietnamese war correspondents on both sides of the conflict.
It’s a form of homage to those correspondents who were killed, included 72 “revolutionary martyrs,” 16 from the US, 12 French, 4 Japanese, and 11 “Saigon regime” reporters, and to those who survived.
For Requiem, described as a collection of photographs of the “US aggressive war in Vietnam, photographers Tim Page and Horst Fass, both injured in the war, collected thousands of photographs and gifted the collection to the War Remnants Museum from the people of Kentucky in a spirit of “hope, healing, and history.”
The museum ranks as number 23 of the top 25 museums of the world. It was founded in September 1975 and is a member of the International Network of Museums for Peace and the International Council of Museums. There are nine permanent thematic exhibitions and various special collections. WRM has close to a million visitors each year and is a must see while visiting Ho Chi Minh City.
In addition to Requiem, the permanent collection includes Historical Truths, Vietnam War and Peace, Agent Orange During the Vietnam War, War Crimes, Agent Orange Effects, Imprisonment System During the Vietnam War, International Support for the Vietnamese People in their Resistance War, and an open air exhibition of American weaponry used during the war.
The effect of a visit to the War Remnants Museum is sobering if not disturbing and graphic. Many exiting the museum look to be in a state of shock and some are in tears. The Americans have their Vietnam War Monument in Washington, DC, which is a sad and reflective tribute to the nearly 60,000 American soldiers who died. I suppose the Vietnamese have this museum as a reminder of the savagery of the conflict.
It conveys a powerful message that the Vietnamese are not to be messed with by foreign powers.
There is a quote on a wall by JE Dulles, the US Secretary of State in 1953, that stopping communism in Vietnam is “part of our vital interests in the Western Pacific.” This is highly reminiscent of President Trump’s recent statement that the American bombing of a Syrian air force base was protecting “American interests.”
It is interesting that, as communism has faded, the new bug-a-boo of terrorism justifies American retaliatory action. It is equally interesting that, before America stepped into the shoes of the defeated French, it had provided $555 million in support of France’s war effort in 1954. The support was $52 million just four years earlier.
In any case, the victor gets to tell their story and, generally, it is not as lopsided as it could have been.
(War Remnants Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan, District Three, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)