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Ciaran and Ruth's Worldwide Adventures

War Remnants

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 9 January 2008 | Views [1126]

It's all about the war. Well, maybe it's our obsession, but it seems that everything's about the war. Every government building has a remnant of the war at its front. Some are Vietnamese planes or weapons. More are American. Maybe they were careless, or maybe in their haste they forgot, but there's certainly a large amount of American hardware in Vietnam serving as a reminder of their defeat 30 years ago. Some is destroyed, which I suppose gives its own message. Much of it, particularly those in the forecourts of the museums, appears to be in sufficiently good repair to serve some cause or other if called into action tomorrow.

Most museums here treat the war in one way or other. Some, like the Museum of Vietnamese History give a more complete view of the ancient history of this troubled country, while others like the War Remnants Museum focus clearly on the American war. Previouly named the War Crimes Museum it serves as a blatant reminder of the methods used by the Americans in their time here. We're no fools, and we know that there's more than one side to any war. Every side does tell its own story. The Americans in their Pearl Harbour Memorial make no reference that I could find to their war crimes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similarly the Vietnamese say nothing here of their treatment of the Americans. However, the war was faught here, and as happens in time of war, the majority of the casualties were civilian. Two million civilians perished, twice the number of Vietnamese military to die. Many, many more civilians suffered a sickening fate, and their story is told through captioned photographs in the War Remnants Museum. By some distance the starkest exhibit is the pair of jars containing mutated foetuses, their mutations a result of the infamous Agent Orange - a vicious concoction of chemicals which harmed as many Americans as others. The photographs of napalm burns and bodies punctured by pellets turn the stomach. The war, unsurprisingly, made psychopaths of men. Pictures of laughing soldiers in front of the heads of the conquered hang on the walls alongside strips of photographs showing bodies dragged behind truck and dropped from helicopters. Pulitzer Prize winning snaps and others feature, including one of a group of women holding children photographed before their execution. The photographer's caption read that he called to ask the soldiers to wait, took his picture, then turned and didn't look back. Maybe it's all propaganda. Hardly all.

A room exclusively set aside to tell the story of the press has a picture of Larry Burrows, an American reporter with an uncanny resemblance to an unshaven Sam Smyth, on his last report two days before his death. That's next door to the room entitled Historic Truths - a typically Communist title, more photgraphs, more stories.

The zoo offers a bit of an escape from the war story. The picture outside the gate advertising it presents an image of a leafy savannah populated with jolly creatures, great and small. Upon (only a little) closer inspection it's clear that the photograph is badly altered - so much so that there's a slightly upside down deer just to the left of a pair of giraffes, all magically levitating over a lake. Not being certain that it was Photoshopped, we went in hoping to witness these mysteriously gifted animals. Sadly, we saw only a few lonely, sleepy and bored beasts - elephants, giraffes and some horned things. Not many visitors. Not much else.

We started the day by seeking out a temple. It has been our experience that this only ever leads to disappointment. And in this respect we were not disappointed. If you follow. The Jade Emperor Pagoda on the outskirts of the city took a good half hour walk over broken footpaths and through throngs of locals. No westerners to be seen - we mention this only because there's usually hoardes around the noteworthy tourist spots. No problem. Upon finding its incense smelling location we toured briefly, saw everything to be seen and left. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do in these places. Pray maybe. Once you see them though, what else is there to do? Apart from leave.

Back outside to the madness of crossing a road the width of a Boeing 747, hoping against hope that all the motorists are aware of the custom of not knocking down tourists. It seems widely accepted, but you can't be sure. We saw one American trying to explain in irate English to a grinning local the function of a zebra crossing. Not much impact.

Tomorrow is for shopping, but the rest of today requires only relaxation by the pool, finding a restaurant for dinner and leafing through the Quiet American - Graham Greene's tale of life in Vietnam. I'm not sure what will be more interesting - the story of Vietnam, or the story of a quiet American.

Tags: Sightseeing


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