The Horrors of War
Day 803 - Part 2
One of the key places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City is The War Remnants Museum. We had been warned that the visit would be disturbing, but we felt it was essential to have a more comprehensive understanding of the country’s recent history.
The “Vietnam War” as the western world knows it, is called the “American War” here, which makes sense. Hollywood movies such as “Good Morning Vietnam” certainly don’t tell you the whole story. The USA was not really there to save Southern Vietnam from communism. It was far more complicated than that.
Not surprisingly, the exhibits at the War Remnants Museum were mainly focussing on Vietnam’s side of the story, but what the museum did successfully was to portray the devastation and suffering that war brings. When will we ever learn?
Before entering the museum, we walked through the courtyard with displays of various military tanks, fighter jets and bombs. Not my cup of tea, but Tim seemed interested in these big machines.
The ground floor exhibition described opposition to the war. Public disenchantment grew in America from a wide range of people, as it also did around the world. We were pleased to see a film of 10,000 protesters marching through London in 1968 opposing the American action in Vietnam.
The highly decorated Green Beret Donald W Duncan was one of the first American soldiers to publically expose American war crimes and he refused promotion and quit, travelling across America helping to build the Anti-War movement.
The exhibitions on the other floors were far more harrowing. Photos of innocent men, women and children pleading for their lives or being brutally murdered were on display, including pictures of captured Vietnamese soldiers being escorted to helicopters and thrown out from great heights, or being tied to tanks and dragged to their deaths. I couldn't bring myself to include any photos of this.
The most disturbing room was photos and films showing the effects of Agent Orange. In ten years, the US Military sprayed 80 million litres of toxic chemicals over nearly 26,000 villages covering areas more than 3 million hectares. 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to this gruesome chemical causing horrendous damage both internally and externally.
And it’s not just the people living at the time who suffered. The aftermaths of Agent Orange affected people’s genes to mutate causing mental and physical deformities. Currently, statistics show there are more than 150,000 victims of 2nd generation, 35,000 victims of 3rd generation and 2,000 victims of 4th generation sufferers in Vietnam. In addition, American and allied veterans and their families were also impacted.
We watched a video of a mother with three adult children all with severe mental illness and deformities. She was distraught imagining what will happen to them when she dies. I can’t even describe some of the other disturbing scenes.
The room was in silence as people wandered around, shocked at what they were seeing. Jac comforted a couple from Montreal in tears.
The next room showed paintings that children had drawn to represent Agent Orange and the story of the courageous Heather Morris Bowser, born handicapped. Her father was an infected US Vietnam veteran who died when he was just 50 years old of a stroke.
In this room, we met Jacob from Seattle (we keep meeting lovely people from this city!). He and Jac discussed the tragedy that was surrounding them. He told us that the American company who are still being sued for producing Agent Orange are now creating GM foods. Mmmm.
The “Requiem” photo gallery showed images taken by photojournalists killed in action from both sides of the conflict, including the incredibly brave English photojournalist Larry Burrows. He risked his life and finally was killed trying to get accurate pictorial representations out to the rest of the world. After capturing in film the distress of a soldier giving his comrade first aid to no avail, Burrows said “It's not easy to photograph a man dying in the arms of a fellow countryman... Was I simply capitalising on the other men's grief? I concluded that what I was doing would penetrate the hearts of those at home who are simply too indifferent.”
This museum certain ensured every visitor was no longer indifferent to the horror of war and the harrowing aftermath it brings.