We’re not really museum people, at least not when we travel. Our repertoire of travel activities mostly includes walking until our feet hurt, looking at old buildings, and eating anything and everything we can get our hands on. So when we do go to museums, we usually do a nice walk-through, enjoy the air-conditioning, and politely skim a few of the written blurbs before getting back on the road.
So we were surprised to find ourselves intensely reading every word in the War Remnants Museum, which is mostly about the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War with a big focus on war crimes.
But even though we were invested and engaged, it didn’t make going through the exhibits easy. The descriptions and photos of the violent and brutal things the Americans did to the Vietnamese people (women and children included) were difficult to take in, even for Rose who was seeing the museum for a second time.
We were slightly aware of a low-key bias throughout all the exhibits, with the focus always being on the awful things the French and Americans did without any real discussion of the way the Vietnamese fought, but this was nothing compared to the bias we’d seen in some of the museums we visited in China, so we suppose we were prepared.
So while it was not the whole truth, this side of the war was definitely a truth, and one that needed to be told.
Perhaps the most moving (and horrific) part of the museum were the exhibits on Agent Orange, a chemical that the Americans used to destroy foliage where Vietnamese soldiers may be hiding and to destroy food crops that they claimed were “feeding the Viet Cong,” but most of which were feeding civilians.
Not only was the use of chemical warfare destructive to the land at the time, but it has had devastating health effects on people who were exposed to it and their children, including increased risk of cancers, birth defects, skin issues, and others.
Before coming to the museum, we noticed that most Vietnamese people were always willing to give money to solicitors on the street, especially those with a noticeable physical disability, while many tourists did not. We wonder now if the locals have a greater sympathy for those with disabilities considering the wide-spread effects that Agent Orange has had on their population.
For reference, the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange estimate that over 3 million people are suffering from diseases associated with exposure (though that number is debated as well.) We absolutely could be wrong and would hate to make assumptions, but it is a thought that occurred to us as we worked through the exhibit.
Overall, the museum made us realize how little we actually knew about the Vietnam War. Neither of us remember learning much about it in school, and gathered most of our information through movies and pop culture – probably not the best research material for so complex a subject. But now we’re inspired to find out more on our own. A friend of ours has recommended the Netflix documentary to us so perhaps we’ll start there.
Are there anymore resources that we should know about? Please let us know below!
Check out our most recent post from Southeast Asia about our crazy first night in Saigon.