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?
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.