Not in My Name: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

A statue made out of shrapnel titled Mother

A statue made out of shrapnel titled Mother

Originally, I had no intentions of visiting The War Remnants Museum. A co-worker familiar with Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) insisted that I go. After my Ho Chi Minh meltdown, I found myself hurrying into a cab and making my way to the museum before it closed.

Bluntly put, the museum was horrifying. A tribute to the Vietnam War, known as the American War in Vietnam, it has three exhibit floors.

As a teacher and someone who has to check her own over-protective nature at the door (helicopter mom in training I am ashamed to admit), I wouldn’t bring anyone under the age of 18 to the museum. I wouldn’t bring my too tough NYC high schoolers to that exhibit.

But, it’s necessary. War is ugly and brutal and devastating. Can a movie with a crescendoing soundtrack ever really capture that?

The room painted tangerine orange was cheery in color only. The photos of people Agent Orange deformed thanks to the US’s shameful use of the chemical left me feeling like I would have nightmares.

I didn’t know that a human face could look like it had melted and pooled around a person’s neck.

I didn’t know a back could arch so much

and that generations were still being born with severe birth defects.

There were photos of babies long abandoned because of their birth defects; parents struggling to raise their severely intellectually and physically disabled children the best way they knew how and despair.

Battlefield scenes left me gasping. Here a child crying as soldiers take his father off to be shot. There a soldier holding a man’s torso still wrapped in a burned and holey shirt like one would hold a plastic bag ripping under the weight of too many soup cans.

I got hot. Began to sweat. My heat flash stood in sharp contrast to the goosebumps that marched across my chest when walking around an exhibit that showed international protests against the Vietnam War.

Could people tell that I was American without me even saying a word?

My country did this? In my name?

No.

When I stepped back into the sunlight after the museum closed, I had to breathe. Take a moment. Think. War has affected too many people. I’m too cynical to be a complete pacifist, but this war? This war made me want to chant peace from morning to night. This museum made me want to shroud myself in white and pray for forgiveness. It made me wonder if we as humans are ever truly capable of learning from our mistakes.

And as the sun shone down on me, the answer that came to my mind left me with dry eyes and a weeping heart.

It left me with Ho Chi Minh.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Not in My Name: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

  1. What you describe is one of the reasons I joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War while a cadet at the Air Force Academy in the fall of 1971. I am now a lifetime member of that organization.

    Unfortunately, our country is very good at going to war and very bad at considering the consequences for other peoples, those of the countries invaded and destroyed. We are also very bad at accepting responsibility for what we’ve done.

    There are days that make me wonder if we will ever learn from our mistakes, and then I remember my brothers and sisters of VVAW, among many others, who taught me what they had learned and also taught me how to struggle for peace and justice.

    • First off, let me start by apologizing. I stopped blogging for a moment, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have responded to your comment earlier! I appreciate the comment that you wrote here (like I appreciate all of your comments). It’s a relief to hear that there exist organizations such as VVAW because I was horrified at what I saw. I’m becoming more of a cynic, so I don’t know how much we’ve learned. We as US citizens have to do a better job of being informed citizens (instead of just informed about the latest reality TV show drama) and holding those who are elected accountable. Our track record with that, admitting when we’re wrong, and looking at the long term consequences is horrendous. We’ll have to do better somehow! Thank you for your continued visits, words, and support. I hope all is well in Brazil.

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