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Thursday, November 10, 2011

War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City



The "Vietnam War" is one of the most infamous events of recent times. Told to us by a telling number of movies made in Hollywood which heightened only the conflict through the eyes of the Americans. I grew up watching the films by Oliver Stone ("Platoon"), Francis Ford Coppolla ("Apocalypse Now") and Stanley Kubrick ("Full Metal Jacket") of how the war besieged the innocence of young Americans drafted into the battlefields of Vietnam. Truth to be told, the war is more terrifying and harrowing if looked from the eyes and the experiences of the Vietnamese people, 3 million of whom (2 million civilians) died in the senseless conflict brought upon from former US President Dwight Eisenhower's unfounded "domino theory" paranoia in Asia.

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Visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh has further reinforced my prior knowledge about US atrocities during the Vietnam War. Popular culture has brought into our consciousness the existence and use of "Agent Orange", I remember REM having a song called "Orange Crush" which poetically discusses America's flirtation with chemical warfare. 

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one of the famous "Life" magazine cover
The museum is located at  28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3. My brother and I hopped into a motorcycle from District 1 during the afternoon we arrived from Phnom Penh. The Museum is three floors big with eight themed rooms that highlights the different aspects of the Vietnam War.

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some photographs that war correspondents took.
Among the themed rooms were the one that showcases the amazing photographs taken by the very best war journalists of the time. Many of whom such as Larry Burrows, Robert Capa, Henri Huet have died either in war related accidents or in crossfire.

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The one that stands out though, was the Agent Orange themed room, where photographs and studies made later on shows the extent of the damage caused by "Agent Orange". Originally used by the Americans to spray on Vietnamese forests in order to burn plants and trees, thereby rendering the Vietcongs with no place to hide, has produced not only an environment catastrophe, but a health hazard to Vietnamese civilians and future generations by causing birth defects and even death to infants born even long after the war has ended.

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portraits of war journalists, many of whom died covering the war
The youth of America living in the 60's and into the 70's was forever changed by the war. More than 50,000 US soldiers died and many more were wounded, but it does not change the fact that the damage was worser on the Vietnamese side. Considering its their sovereignty that was violated by the United States committment to enter in a war against the communist North Vietnamese forces.

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a realization that came too late. JFK's Sec. of Defense McNamara's admission
While looking at the disturbing images, I saw many western foreigners with a look of shock visible on their faces. I asked my brother what could have been the reaction of American tourists when they go inside here. They will perhaps see for themselves the extent of the damage done by the flawed foreign policy of the United States to a nation like Vietnam.

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The evils of "Agent Orange"
As relations with the United States eventually restored and the wounds of war healed at some point, it is important that such reminders be put on display so current and future generations will be forever reminded that such harrowing events transpired in order to attain the peace that reigns in Vietnam today. The "VC's" as the "Charlies" would refer to, fought bravely amidst indiscriminate carpet bombing, chemical warfare and even massacres of whole villages as later on admitted by a former US Senator and Presidential contender. Bob Kerrey, admitted in 2001 of his participation in leading a group of Navy Seals into a peasant village in Than Phong, Vietnam. An episode that eventually spiraled into the "Thang Phong Massacre" one of the most heinous crimes against civilians committed during the Vietnam War.

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"This is history" I keep reminding myself and I know that the Vietnamese people nowadays knows that and they do not harbor any hatred towards the Americans, same way as we have forgiven the Japanese from the war they waged against us during WWII.

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That was war, and this is today, where generally "Peace" reigns enough for people like me to travel without war-like prohibition in a country like Vietnam. As I keenly observed a mixed race couple of a Vietnamese woman and her Southern American boyfriend, the wounds of war has already healed, as unerving the museums's display had on me. I felt a tinge of celebratory mood for living in this period and being in Saigon without the bombs dropping from the sky, but in a city that has embraced diversity and common kinships with people coming from all over the world.

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arrogance of US Military 
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Left Vietnam in utmost ruins
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with their "weapons of mass destruction"
With all the images registering in my head. I hear a hymn of Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" in my head. Soldiers died from both sides, in a terrible and violent death. Civilian weren't spared as well, while the leaders of both sides contemplate whether War is neccessary, we could only look back on the history of the Vietnam War with shock and displeasure, to make sure it wont happen again either in our own country or somewhere else.

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A woman looks at the images of babies affected by the lasting effects of Agent Orange
In war there are no victors as the age old adage suggests. Only sufferings and grief. The War Remnants Museum is a fitting place to get yourself reminded of the painful past, while at the same time appreciate the kind of harmony most of the world experiences today. As the other tourists flocked out of the museum and the sky starts to hammer a heavy downpour. I felt glad as I walked with my brother back to district one, amidst a rain of water from the sky, I looked up, drenched in rainwater and muttered to myself how thankful I am it wasn't bombs that was falling from the sky that day.

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