Unlike the Thai, who spend countless sums of money on skin care products seeking eternal youth, I’ve never wanted to be young again. While I enjoyed my early adulthood, I’m thankful I was born before the age of online instant gratification, fake news, and modern-day right-wing propaganda. Despite my public school education in the debt-ridden 1970s when New York City was a cesspool of a city, we all still learned basic tenets of civics, history and current affairs; all of which are gone in this moron generation of Trump tweets and ignorance. Taught that America stands for freedom, democracy and all that’s good in the world, most of us grew up with a basic sense of patriotism. All of us understood there are three branches of the US government, knew what the first amendment was and believed our history teachers who taught us that we fought wars to spread democracy and fight evils like communism and fascism.
As we get older and perhaps more disheartened at a once mighty world leader sporting an ignoramus holding the nuclear codes, it’s easy enough to look back and yearn for “the good old days”. But unless you live in an overseas cave, expat life teaches you almost immediately that not everything they told you was true. In fact, sometimes it’s utter bullshit. Aside from obvious lessons like living in Malaysia and discovering that most Muslims could give a shit less about Americans and certainly don’t “hate us for our freedoms”, there’s a plethora of historical truths to unearth that I’d never know by staying in the homeland. As someone who loves learning and believes education shouldn’t stop when your work career ends, I’m always looking for travel experiences that fascinate but also drive home the message that history matters. While countless media stories explain why running the nation like a reality TV show is killing America’s future, nothing drives home a message like an in your face display of actual reality. And that’s why I’ll go on record as saying that Vietnam’s War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is the most historically important museum in Southeast Asia.
Without turning the blog into a political rag, let me offer up my basic disclaimer. While I’m obviously against an abusive manchild literally shredding and violating the Constitution with regularity as well as the rancid scumbag Republican senators that enable and allow it to go on, I’m not what they love to call a “libtard”, “snowflake” or even a “liberal”. Having voted for Democrats and Republicans before, I’m actually in favor of a fundamental change to the entire American political system that starts with the abolishment of lobbyists, the antiquated Electoral College and the failed experiment known as “the two-party system” that excludes viable third parties from making real headway. Using political action committees (PACs) and other elitist shit, the baby boomer politicians in both parties keep the nation’s economy chugging along by using consumer debt instead of productivity. But that’s another topic. My goal here is to open some minds through real education so let’s talk a bit about the museum.
Please be warned; the photos are graphic, disturbing and may not be suitable for all readers
Before delving into the grotesque illustrations of what’s in the museum, a bit of background. Unlike what you’ve been taught, the Vietnamese people refer to the Vietnam war as The American War of Aggression. Perhaps a bit too one-sided, the entire museum is presented strictly from a Communist government’s point of view. While it’s important to recognize and understand the war from their point of view, we found Vietnam to be quite different than other Southeast Asian nations. Officially known as The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the politics of Vietnam are defined by a single-party socialist republic framework, where the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam is the Party leader and head of the Politburo, holding the highest position in the one-party system. (definition from Wikipedia).
While Vietnamese people do vote and the party declared the last election fair, equitable and successful, the framework operates under a one-party system led by the Communist Party and espouses Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh thought. As I alluded to in my last post, the people clearly fear authority and none of our guides would speak freely about anything politically, either past or present. Almost comical, there’s a video presentation that was literally written like it’s still 1968 and comes off as such anti-American propagandist, you can hear the chuckles from visitors. But despite the ultra-nationalist viewpoint, the displays, signage, and artifacts in the museum are concisely displayed in almost perfect English. Having visited The Cambodian Mine Museum on a previous trip to Siam Reap, Diane and I already had familiarity with the devastation left behind by America on neighboring Cambodia thanks only to its unfortunate strategic geographic location. But they never taught us any of the grim historical reality surrounding misguided military decisions that killed. maimed and dismembered millions of innocent men, women, and children.
Also intentionally left out of my old history classes were the events that led up to American occupation in Southeast Asia. While politically complicated and officially listed as a necessary military action designed to prevent the spread of Communism, the real story involves the French. On May 7, 1954, the French-held garrison at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam fell after a four-month siege led by Vietnamese nationalist Ho Chi Minh. Unwilling to give up as colonialists, the museum describes a series of events over the ensuing ten years that involved the French working with Americans that eventually wound up escalating tensions. Learning that the French undermined the Vietnamese people, left and then used the Americans to figure out a solution to prevent a unified Communist Vietnamese state from taking hold, it painted a much clearer picture of why America wound up fighting the worst war in its history. (While not statistically the war with the most casualties, a walk through this museum might change your opinion if you think America acted responsibly).
Probably the most controversial and well known negative images from the Vietnam War involve the use of agent orange, a tactical herbicide used by the United States military. While many people now know the drug companies are disgracefully guilty for knowing the inhumane consequences of deploying a poison so damaging, it’s still being felt four generations later in parts of the Vietnamese population. I’d venture that not even far left liberals understand the magnitude of what America’s military did to an entire people. While drug company board members, scientists, and others with a vested interest in the manufacture of the dioxins argue they “followed a formula dictated by the US Government”, I dare any of them directly involved to visit the Agent Orange Aftermath Gallery and see how they feel about what they did. Interestingly (and shamefully), the museum points out that there were over 17 major companies directly involved in the production of poison dioxins although Monsanto and Dow Chemical usually bear most of the public’s angst.
Perhaps the most disturbing gallery in the museum, the thing most folks learn that nobody in the west ever talks about is how agent orange continues punishing through genetic defects for as many as four generations and although the numbers are finally beginning to diminish, some babies are born with horrifying dismemberments to this day. Understanding the necessity of the armed forces to follow orders, it’s probably fair to say that nobody spraying the chemicals understood that their actions would be deemed war crimes according to the conclusions of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal (also known as The International War Crimes Tribunal) at sessions in Stockholm and Copenhagen in 1967. Modeled around The Nuremberg Trials, the tribunal was founded by a philosopher and helped energize international opposition to colonialism and imperialism.
Intentionally presenting the following images individually instead of in a slideshow, take a good hard look and then reflect on the fact that America’s about to top $6 TRILLION on the 18-year-old “War on Terror“. And I make no apologies to any moron Trump supporters that support the fucking president saluting dictators like Putin and Kim Jong-Un.
If you’ve made it through those images, you’re probably thinking that’s the worst thing in this horrifying but astoundingly important museum. And so did we. But then there’s another gallery that’s even more disturbing. Reiterating once again that I fully respect all the brave men and women that serve to protect what’s left of the Trump shredded Constitution, the next set of images came from a gallery devoted to actual war crimes committed by American servicemen during the Vietnam War. Nothing I write can change one’s opinion about American military involvement in the world but despite millions of dumbass Americans that refuse to acknowledge or even recognize facts, the historical significance of events like those depicted below seems obvious to anyone calling themselves American. In my America, we don’t condone shit like what we did to innocent civilians.
Adding even another piece of historical information that you probably won’t find in most American history books, the museum devotes an entire area outside to “Crimes in Phu Qouk Prison”. Yet another disgusting chapter of US history, the prison was built in 1967-68 by U. S. Army Engineers for the detention of captured Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and soldiers. Two visits by the Red Cross in 1969 and 1972 found there was systematic torture of prisoners of war as well as corporal punishments used against prisoners of war going on for years. Famous for its use of “tiger cages”, the plaques explain all kinds of stuff you’d read about in Nazi Holocaust literature. (In our defense, the tiger cages were developed by the French). Again, if you’re complacent or fully supportive of spending 67% of the entire budget on the military while America’s infrastructure crumbles and national healthcare is available everywhere else in the world besides America, maybe these pictures can open your eyes a bit. I’ll even buy into the need for some military installations around the globe but if you think the kind of shit you see below wasn’t done under Cheney and wouldn’t be advocated in a heartbeat by Orangeman, you’re living under a rock.
There’s also an impressive collection of mostly US army machinery, helicoptors, guns and various other artifacts outside the museum that’s worth seeing if the displays inside didn’t disturb you too much. Or maybe tour the outside first. Either way, I touched on how our guide in Ho Chi Minh City was overbearing, insensitive and had no understanding of how a museum like this might be very personal to an American citizen. Originally telling us we needed to walk through the museum with a guide, which is a lie, she didn’t back off until I texted our trip coordinator. Not having done proper vacationing homework, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the museum or that it would be so emotionally touching that I’d need to spend extra time reflecting on how fucked up it sometimes feels to call yourself an American citizen.
While there are obviously two sides to every story, the Vietnam War appears to me as a blunderous and horribly terrible chapter of American history that haunts many veterans to this day. And then there’s the disgraceful treatment that the government affords to those who fought an Imperial War of Oppression while convincing millions of Americans that the Commies were coming to get us. Just like the Mexicans are coming to take your jobs and the Muslims are coming to blow you up. History is the most important aspect of our collective psyche yet sadly, it’s replaying itself as we speak while we allow an abusive president free reign of the world’s mightiest display of military strength.
Alienating all our allies while declaring “national emergencies” to make the nation racist, white and hateful represents the very worst of America, kind of like everything in this very worthwhile museum. And I don’t see much resistance other than Rolling Stone magazine and The New York Times opinion pieces on his imminent demise. Let’s hope the nightmare ends before another museum like this one reflects on Trump’s Global War on Sovereign Nations and Democracy.