The War Remnants Museum was formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes and even though the name has been “softened” the exhibition offers a very different perspective on the tribulations the Vietnamese people have experienced at the hands of foreign aggressors.
As a westerner my knowledge of what I till now had known as the “Vietnam War” was primarily gleaned from American movies and popular litterature. Upon entering the museum however I became acutely aware of the fact that I had never experienced the Vietnamese side of the story and poignantly one of the first things I noticed, was that here the war is not called the “Vietnam War” but rather the “Resistance War Against America”.
The museum primarily depicts the horrible effects of war on civilians and gives voice to a plethora of innocent victims of foreign aggression. From the inmates of the French and South Vietnamese prisons that were interned in so called “tiger cages” and executed by guillotine, to the civilians killed in massacres and bombings and the millions of civilians born with birth defects as a result of the American use of Agent Orange during the war.
Walking through the museum is a humbling experience and at one point I had to sit down and collect myself, as tears were streaming down my face. It is a strange feeling starting in the grounds around the actual museum building and seeing replicas of inhumane cells and cages accompanied by pictures of tortured prisoners and then moving on to American war planes and a huge Chinook helicopter surrounded by Howitzers and tanks.
Upon entering the building you are met by hundreds of photographs accompanied by descriptions and names of the victims pictured. It is impossible not to be disgusted at the fact that we humans wage war, seemingly oblivious to the human cost. For in the end who pays the price of war if not civilians?
I left the museum feeling downcast but also in awe of the Vietnamese people that despite all I had seen, still seem to be extremely welcoming to foreigners and in general exude a visible optimism. When I asked a Vietnamese man why they aren’t more suspicious and negative towards foreigners, he said “That is all in the past. We Vietnamese prefer to focus on the future”.