At the beginning of the week, we went to the war remnants museum as a group. Before we went, some of us voiced our concerns about being a relatively large group of American students in a museum about the war we had with Vietnam. We were assured that we would be treated like every other patron, which we were for the most part. The overall experience was totally overwhelming. It’s one thing to read about the Vietnam war and see a few photos of soldiers in the jungle while sitting at home in the states. It’s another thing entirely to look at photographs taken by photojournalists who lost their lives in the war while standing in Vietnam. Several times we noted signs that read “the last taken by _____, minutes before he was killed saving his friend”. Theirs was totally different experience than the journalists today who have to register where they’re going and remain largely objective and distant from the subject.
The museum featured several exhibits entitled/featuring “War Atrocities” and “Agent Orange”. These were the hardest rooms to walk through. Knowing that we’re American 20-somethings going through a museum that so deeply affected the generations before us was a truly powerful thing. It was surreal to be negative affects we had on this country that we’re starting to fall in love with. Several times, I was overwhelmed with sadness not only for what had happened to the Vietnamese people, but for the American boys who carried out these acts. What kind of place must they have been in order to abandon their values like that?
That being said, it was a museum in Vietnam, so the exhibits largely featured the Vietnamese forces as victims and not aggressors. I would really like to see a museum in America about the war.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were a bizarre experience. In our english class we decided that the only justifiable reason that the Vietnamese could exploit a battleground where hundreds of men and women (Vietnamese and American alike) had died was the desperate state of the people in the surrounding village. As we drove closer to the outdoor museum, the houses got shabbier and shabbier, finally becoming no more than a tin roof and four walls. The Cu Chi Tunnels exhibit brings in a lot of tourists and their money.
Some of the areas of the park seemed mundane at the time but were pretty chilling when I thought about them later on. There was a rusted out tank in the middle of the jungle where people could take photos and children could climb and play. We didn’t stop to think at the time that that tank was American, and the crew that operated it probably died before it sat in Cu Chi to rust.
Other things were overwhelming even at the time. There was an area where visitors could try out assault riffles. For roughly $3 one could shoot over a large ditch at a target. During our entire hike around the tunnel exhibits, we could hear gunfire in the background. It was scary to think that 30 years ago this would have been the norm, as well. There was an exhibit on the traps the VC set for American soldiers. The tour guide neglected to share with the group what we already learned back home: the spikes made of rusted metal that were usually hidden behind doors or under leaves were often smeared with human excrement, leading to serious infection in the American and South Vietnamese soldiers that were unfortunate enough to encounter them. Behind the actual traps was a graphic mural depicting soldiers in American uniforms getting stuck in the traps.
Please do not think that my entire experience has been anti-American or about a Nationalistic Vietnam. These people are hospitable and lovely, always willing to help this group of American tourists. These two sites just had an effect on me, so I wanted to share my experiences. I’ll write something more upbeat next time, I swear!