I grew up knowing only a silhouette of the Vietnam War.
Despite the close proximity of the Philippines, there was hardly any mention of the war on our history school books. It ended a decade before I was born but it seemed like a forgotten episode at least when I was in school.
Growing older, I started learning about the war from its “Hollywood” representation – Apocalypse Now, Miss Saigon and various TV documentaries.
I”ve read up a bit a few weeks before I left for Vietnam. It’s always good to know the history of a country and understand where the place you are visiting today had come from.
The war was between the Communist DRV (North Vietnam) and the US-backed anti-communist South-Vietnam government. Eventually after a few decades of fighting, the Communist north defeated the south reuniting the whole of Vietnam under communist rule.
In Ho Chi Minh, the main tourist sites have a connection with the events surrounding the two-decade struggle. Amidst the bustling streets and crowded markets, it’s hard to think that a few decades ago, so much history had happened on where we were standing. There are two main sites in HCMC that I found interesting.
The Reunification Palace (then Independence Palace), where a tank crashed its gate signalling the surrender of South Vietnam. It”s now a museum with the interior remaining similar from how it looked 30 years ago.
Another place is the War Remnants Museum – a few blocks away from the Reunification Palace.
It displayed old helicopters, planes, tanks and Chinook choppers used at the war. While inside, the museum showcased photographs and various artefacts all aimed on showing the aftermath of a war that forever changed the lives of the people affected.
There were foetuses of Agent Orange victims, shrapnel from downed B52 planes, different ammunitions and a collection of hundreds of photos usually of victims and the areas devastated.
It’s interesting to note that the Vietnam War was the first war placed under constant viewing (and scrutiny) from the global media. Amidst the hundreds of photos, I particularly like this one – a precise photo of a falling B52 bomber plane taken when the plane was crashing mid-air. Kudos to the photographer!
The War Remnants museum may not be the best venue to get your facts straight as information had been skewed towards their communist government and an anti-American sentiment. But we can’t deny that these events happened – towns got bombed, families lost love ones, and futures forever shaped.
The outcome of a war is often written by the victorious side, but the aftermath, nevertheless, had disastrous consequences on both sides. The horrors of war existed on both sides and this is what was missing at the museum. Indeed, the US and its allies (including the Philippines) have brought destruction to Vietnam, but there have been attacks by the DRV particularly to their fellow Vietnamese, that were not shown. I understand that this is a government-run museum aiming to position themselves better in the society. But what I felt was that there is a reactive often aggressive response rather than a peaceful intention to move forward.
But if you ask any common Vietnamese, there’s no sense of retaliation against Americans or to anyone else, but rather the spirit and attitude that it’s time to move forward and look forward into the future.
What I enjoy about travelling is that it gives you an opportunity to learn outside a book, classroom or the press. There are far much lessons and experiences to gain from seeing the old structures from time past, looking on how a community thrives with their present lives and how people you meet are continuing to shape up their futures.
Truly, travel is part of the university of life.
PS: I’ve found out that even the Philippines sent 10,000 troops to support the war in Vietnam of course backing up the Americans – and this struck me the most. We grew learning barely nothing about the war even though 10,000 of our own troops went.
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