The War Remnants Museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City. Last Sunday I went with a friend to check it out.
I heard that the museum gave a rather one sided perspective of the war. The government also has a reputation for being less than truthful. I’d talked with vietnamese people who, after finishing school, had later discovered many things taught to them in school were simply not correct. So I was interested to see the sort of story this museum would tell.
This is what you see right as you walk into the museum grounds.
When entering the building it is not very obvious where to start.
Throughout the museum you see displays of US military stuff including Mortar launcher, bazookas, rifles, uniforms, etc..
We eventually found a poster with a recommended order in which to view the exhibits, starting with The Historic Truths room.
This is the first thing you see in the Historic Truths room. This is an excerpt from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence in 1945. It reads:
Vietnam has the right to enjoy freedom and independence and has really become a free and independent country. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their liberty and independence.
According to the museum, this is roughly how the war started:
In 1945, Vietnam declares its independence from French Colonialism. The US doesn’t like this so they try to subvert the new Government by helping other vietnamese organizations cause trouble. This goes on until 1954 when the Geneva Accords recognized Vietnam as an independent country. The French pull out but the US doubles down eventually starting a military conflict with the new Vietnamese government which escalated into the Vietnam War.
Now, I am not that familiar with the US’s version of events but what I think is important is that right off the bat, you get this picture of the meddlesome and aggressive US trying to subvert the freedom of the Vietnamese people. (I am inclined to think that there is some truth to this actually.)
So the story continues in the next room which is filled with photos of the war. Many of the images were collected from journalists who were killed in action. Which I think is really cool. Here are some of those photos. Sorry for the poor photo of a framed picture quality.
There was also a whole section dedicated to Agent Orange. For those who dont know, Agent Orange was a chemical that the US used for deforestation. It was mean to make it harder for the Vietnamese to hide in the jungle by basically destroying all the plants. It caused a lot of health problems and genetic mutations to people who were exposed to it. Pretty messed up stuff.
Then on the next floor there was another exhibit with lots of pictures and displays of weapons and things.
Now here is one of the strongest anti-American messages in the whole museum.
When I saw and read this, it gave me chills. It just all sunk in. The entire message of this place. A light turned on in my head. I looked around and realized I had not seen a single image of a vietnamese soldier, nor a vietnamese weapon, vehicle, or anything that reminded people that there was another side to all this.
The Americans were the ones with weapons and soldiers. The photos, the quotes, the hypocrisy of statements about life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, next to the horrible images and artifacts of war. Wow.
There are some things that I took from this experience.
First off, the story that this place tells is as interesting as the careful way that it tells it. I cant think of any other place like this that is so strongly one sided in its message.
Second, in America, its easy to become flippant in the way we talk about war. America, for all its greatness, has directly caused a lot of suffering, and the death of many innocent people. War and the violence that America feels so justified in preparing for and funding ruins lives. And in spite of how one sided this museum’s message was, I don’t think it was wrong to say that America caused a lot of suffering and did some terrible things in the Vietnam War. Its important to remember that the effects of war and violence often goes far beyond its intended targets.
Overall, the War Remnant Museum was a very interesting experience, and it’s inspired me to research on the other side of the story. I recommend it to anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh city.