I thought I knew a thing or two about the Vietnam War. After all my country was involved, and my dad served two tours with the Royal Australian Air Force as an Air Defence Guard (ADG). And of course I’d seen the movies, the classics like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Then I went to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and very quickly realised I knew nothing at all.
It’s impossible to prepare for the graphic imagery you see in the various exhibition rooms dedicated to different facets of the war. Like the Agent Orange Room where pictures of deformed adults and children a generation or two after those originally infected by the insidious chemicals is a reminder that while the war is over, the effects are still being felt hard today. To ram home the point there are three foetuses on display, deformed as a result of the dioxins found in Agent Orange preserved in jars just in case the images on the walls don’t quite have the required impact. It wasn’t just the Vietnamese who were effected by Agent Orange, a lot of American soldiers were also caught under this chemical rain, their children subsequently born with shocking deformations or without limbs. The sickening part is the companies that produced Agent Orange have compensated the American soldiers and their families, but have won a court case so they don’t have to compensate the Vietnamese.
The outside courtyard area is filled with war machines with signage that informs you in no uncertain terms what carnage can be caused, such as the flame throwing tank that has an effective kill distance of over 130 metres. Makes you wonder what sort of person imagines these machines, then designs and builds them to wreak havoc on millions of unsuspecting, innocent civilians as was the case in this particular war. Then there’s the ‘tiger cages’, replicas of the prisons in which the South Vietnamese government kept political prisoners. Torture, degradation, humiliation and death were a daily occurrence in these sadistic chambers at Phu Quoc and Con Son Islands.
I took my almost two-year old boy Jack with me because he can’t possibly understand or even comprehend what the museum is all about. In fact he wasn’t even interested in coming into the exhibition rooms on the first and second floors. However if he was just a little older, and able to understand what the images on the walls meant, I wouldn’t have taken him and I wouldn’t recommend you take your children either. There’s a children’s playroom available for one parent to supervise their children while the other explores the exhibitions. Sarah was more than happy to do this while I soaked up the photos on the walls that hit me like a ton of bricks everywhere I looked.
There’s no doubt the museum is unbalanced, clearly anti-American with the soldiers of Uncle Sam portrayed as barbaric and morally bankrupt who put no value on the lives of any Vietnamese soldiers or citizens they came across. Many Americans and Europeans claim it’s wrong to have such a one-sided display while glorifying their own victory, but I’ve been to a few war museums around the world and not many are balanced. At least it’s not called the ‘Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes’ any more, and as they say, history is written by the victors. It’s also important to note that most of the sickening images on display are actually supplied by American sources.
Regardless of your view on the version told by the Vietnamese, the images accurately and graphically portray the horrors of the conflict and no visit to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without a visit to the War Remnants Museum. Half a million people visit the museum every year and at only 15,000VND to enter, it’s an absolute bargain.