Historic “Truths”: The Other Version of the Vietnam War
Any war museum that has a wing called “Historic Truths” should immediately be recognized as a propaganda tool. And that’s exactly what Saigon’s War Remnants Museum is. It’s an anti-America propoganda campaign, smearing the U.S. as a war-mongering country and painting Vietnam as a peace-loving utopia. War is never that black and white. Still, the War Remnants Museum is a heck of an interesting place to visit.
WHAT WE LEARNED IN SCHOOL
Most of what I learned about the Vietnam War in high school didn’t focus on the war itself. It focused on the American public’s response to the war – protests and marches that increased in both frequency and intensity as the war dragged on. We never learned about tactics or strategies or major battles like we did with WW1 or WW2. (On a sidenote, having gone to Syracuse University for grad school, I learned about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution since President LBJ delivered his speech on the steps of the building in which I attended class every day.)
I suspect this is true for most American students who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. The U.S. government went to war in Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism before it took hold in South Vietnam.
We learned that we sent our troops over there, we fought a war that lasted many years, and then we brought them home. Hurray!! American troops came home because they won the war. Chalk one up for Uncle Sam!
If the intended goal of the Vietnam War was to stop the spread of Communism, then America lost. Vietnam is now a Communist country – of that, there is no doubt. American troops were on the ground in mid-1955, and the Vietnam War lasted from early-1965 to mid-1973. Two years after U.S. troops pulled out, a North Vietnamese tank rolled into the government headquarters of South Vietnam, and, on April 30, 1975, Vietnam became one nation. One Communist nation.
April 30 is now a major holiday in Vietnam, called Liberation Day. Coincidentally, we were in Vietnam during the holiday, but not in one of the major cities.
ENTERING THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
The War Remnants Museum is considered one of the top places to visit in this incredibly busy, hectic city. We were only in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) 2 full days, and we put this at the top of our list. The museum has some old American military vehicles outside, from small planes to tanks. But it’s inside that the museum gets interesting.
The first display that you come to is the Declaration of Independence. Not the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence. The American one. “We hold these truths to be self evident…” It’s a powerful statement, but it’s also the beginning of the propaganda campaign. Not surprisingly, the next group of pictures show American soldiers committing atrocities on the Vietnamese people. We saw these sorts of pictures repeatedly throughout the museum. There was not a single picture of Vietnamese soldiers committing any war crimes that I can remember. It’s the most one-sided account of history we’ve come across.
Oh, and it’s not called the Vietnam War here. It’s called the American Aggressive War in Vietnam.
THE WING OF HISTORIC TRUTHS
Seriously?!? You’re trying to build an unbiased museum, and you label a part of it “Historic Truths?!” No use trying to disguise the smear campaign here.
The museum has all sorts of American guns and weapons on display, as well as pieces of American airplanes that were shot down. I just wanted to point this out because I found the name of this wing more than a bit ridiculous.
SO WHY IS THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM EVEN WORTH GOING TO?
It’s worth checking out this museum for two reasons. First, the museum has an excellent collection of wartime pictures from photographers on both sides. Many of these photographers were killed during the war. Their pictures are as real as it gets. You see young boys forced to become men in the lethal environment of war. You see what it was like for American and Vietnamese troops. In essence, you see what the war was really like. The labels for these photographs have only the date and location. No piece of propaganda or anything like that. The pictures are incredible.
The second reason it’s worth seeing this museum is to learn about Agent Orange. I remember reading one or two paragraphs about it in my history book in high school. That’s not nearly enough. Pardon my language for a moment, but that sh!t did some serious damage to generations of Vietnamese families. The pictures are heartbreaking. Children born with severely malformed limbs or no limbs at all. Eyes that cannot see. Legs that cannot walk. You realize very quickly why chemical weapons should never be used again. For the same reason it’s important to see Auschwitz and the Killing Fields, it’s important to learn about Agent Orange. You don’t have to visit the War Remnants Museum to read about it, but it’s definitely worth doing a few quick web searches to learn more. You can start reading here and here.
OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
You definitely have to know what you’re walking into. Sure, it claims to be a museum, and there are certainly some very interesting lessons to learn here. But accepting the museum’s version of the War would be a mistake. The truth is somewhere between what you learned in school and what the museum represents.
War is inherently immoral, regardless of the intended aims of the Geneva Convention. It involves people killing people, and there’s never quite enough justification to make that work on a large scale. Visiting the War Remnants Museum reminds us that, regardless of which side you’re on or what cause you support, war is absolute hell.
I believe that’s true regardless of who’s fighting for what or what time period of military history we’re talking about. It is exactly for that reason that war museums and memorials are important, including the War Remnants Museum. They teach us about what we should strive to avoid at all costs.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this article and, if you’ve been, the War Remnants Museum. Leave a comment or shoot us an email.