When you are in Vietnam you cannot leave the country without visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I hear you think, that's a bold statement. But the 1955-1975 war is one of the most important occurrences in the history of Vietnam. The War Remnants Museum displays multiple exhibitions about this war and also a bit about the French occupation. It's a top tourist attraction in Vietnam and gives about half a million visitors each year an inside what Vietnamese people have experienced during these periods. Although the objectivity of this museum can be argued, most of the works are plain facts and will definitely make you think how such tragic events can happen. And how people are able to cause such horror upon others.
The museum opened doors right after the war on the 9th of September 1975. Originally called "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government", in 1990 the name was changed to "Museum of American War Crimes" and not until July 1995 the current name "War Remnants Museum" became effective.
American war equipment on the courtyard
The Vietnam war in short:
Fought between the communistic North-Vietnam and the government of South-Vietnam. In the north, there was Ho Chi Minh who wanted freedom for all Vietnamese and started fighting against the French in 1945 who occupied Vietnam at that time. When the war advanced in favor of Ho Chi Minh, the USA became concerned. Mainly because of the growing communist in Southeast Asia. In 1950 the Americans started sending troops to South-Vietnam. The French lost a major battle in 1954 and after that, the war still went on for 20 years. Causing around 60.000 American victims and nearly 2 million Vietnamese.
The museum exists out of a 3-storey building with a big courtyard. Outside on the courtyard, you will find many different types of military equipment like tanks, planes, and helicopters. I'm not an expert on types, but I googled some for the ones that are interested. You can find at least an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, UH-1 (Huey), M48 Patton tank, an AT-37 Dragonfly attack bomber, an F-5A fighter and a CH-47 (Chinook) and probably many more.
Side of a Huey helicopter
Weaponery on an American helicopter
Further on the courtyard are some replicas of holdings cells and the gruesome tiger cages. Also, there are some pictures and information about the prisoners who were held on the island of Con Dao. One of the most tragic artifacts out there is an original guillotine that was shipped from French during the occupation to suppress the Vietnamese during the resistance war in the early 20th century.
Tiger cages. Up to 14(!) would sometimes be put in such barbwire cages..
Press and propaganda showing hatred and protest to the war
The first floor is mainly about propaganda and posters that represent hatred and protest to the war. The collection shows posters from many different countries. We even found one from our home country:
War photos and journalists
On the second floor, you will mostly find many war photo's. The highlight is the Requiem Exhibition by Tim Page and Horst Faas about photos that are made by photographers who actually died in the war. Each photo has a fact card that describes what you see. A lot of photos or described events can be found quite shocking. At least I found a bunch of them pretty confronting with how far people go and what they are able to do (to others).
Agent Orange exhibitions
It surely is not getting better one floor higher up the building. Mainly information and photos about the use of the Agent Orange and similar toxics. Especially the aftermath photos of the effect of these toxins and the use of napalm on, not only the country but especially on the population are really confronting. Nowadays, families still coop with abnormalities during the birth of their children (even in the 3rd grade after the war). Missing limbs, abnormal faces, and double knees. Common abnormalities that still occur this day.
I tried not to show you too many of the exhibitions inside this museum because I feel that you need to witness it yourself. It's different viewing these images on a computer compared to actually being in the country and this museum.
As mentioned before this museum mainly shows a unilateral view of the war, but the works that are presented are still very important. And with nowadays accessibility to a wide spectrum of information it's getting better and better to understand what actually happened. At least for parts of the story. The photos and items are confronting and sometimes horrifying. But this museum surely helps us to remember such events and hopefully prevents us from making the same mistake(s) in the future.
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