Learning about the Vietnam War

June 15, 2011
War Remnants Museum - HCMC

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.

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

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!

Down B52 museum

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.

Have you trave

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  • Reply Dana July 7, 2011 at 11:57

    Hey! I stumbled upon this post. How’ve ya been, Jerick? San ka na? hahaha.

  • Reply Francis June 18, 2011 at 21:39

    Common! Hahaha! Even we don’t have that much in our history classes, there we’re a lot of movies that whose themes are revolving on this. Even Rambo’s plot I guess was inspired by this chunk of history 😛

    • Reply Jerick June 19, 2011 at 15:19

      Indeed! I never learned about Vietnam War even though it happened just across the Philippines. It sometimes strange that an event as big as this had appeared to have been almost forgotten at least for this generation.

  • Reply Riya June 16, 2011 at 20:53

    It is always a pleasure to learn about the rather tumultuous past of a country, and how its people surpassed unfathomable events. Traveling helps us experience the country, its culture, first hand. It gives us the advantage of talking (or writing) about what we learn from a persepctive similar to those of the people involved. Traveling is a learning experience that I hope many people would appreciate and take advantage more. 🙂

    • Reply Jerick June 19, 2011 at 15:18

      Indeed! – I think learning about something from where it had happened is better than reading about it Thanks btw for having this experience with me, haha. 🙂

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