After 4 weeks, I finally arrived in the giant metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. This city is big, loud, and busy! The streets are packed with thousands of motorbikes. I’m not sure why, but the Vietnamese seem to love their motorbikes more than the other nation in the region. I think every human being might own one in the country, babies included. Colleen took off to Bali after a day so I had a few days alone in the big city. I spent my days wandering the streets and alleyways, enjoying egg drop coffees and cheap pho. Its a good way to live. I didn’t do anything too interesting in the city, but instead spent my time watching the people go about their daily lives and soaking in the Vietnamese culture.
However, one site that was worth the price of entry was The War Remnants Museum. I’m a huge history buff, so I can literally spend days in museums. Twentieth century US Foreign policy is something I’m always keen to learn more about, and a museum dedicated to a war the US effectively lost, created by the victor was particularly interesting. I obviously expected the museum to have a bias. When it was first opened it was actually called The Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes (as in puppet governments, not an army of Pinocchios). And while it certainly did not paint the American GIs in the prettiest of lights, I found the information to be relatively fair. While it featured the typical museum material junk such as old weaponry, uniforms, and stories of bravery (N Vietnamese bravery of course), it also had some beautiful exhibits. One of the more powerful sections featured the photography of journalists who had lost their lives during the conflict. These journalist came from all over the world, and their photography was haunting. They also featured a large area that extensively discussed the chemical warfare carried out by the USA. It’s no secret that the Americans used an unfathomable amount of defoliant throughout the country, but the lasting impact of these chemicals is rarely discussed (why would it be in the West). The impact this chemical warfare has had on the land, water, and the innocent populations continues to be seen today. The walls are lined with photographs of deformed adults and children who continue to suffer today for the sins of American actions years ago.
I hate to go on a tangent in this blog, but I didn’t do much is Saigon so I might as well rant. In my years as a student of international relations and history I learned quite a bit about the actions of the United States in SE Asia. Foreign policy that was implemented during the height of the Cold War is rarely discussed in the West. In high school history classes, the 60’s and 70’s are portrayed as a period of radical social progress in the States. It’s seen as a period marked by protest, fights for civil rights, and anti war rhetoric. Rarely do teachers address the other realities of these years; the years in which US foreign policy led to the deaths of millions around the world. I’m not trying to channel my inner Noam Chomsky, but I think being thousands of miles away from the countries which we terrorize helps Americans normalize the actions of the government. When you spend time in Vietnam and Cambodia, you see that the scars still exist. You see the people who’ve been born with deformities, you see the amputees, you see the impact of the wars which your country waged in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. When you listen to the horror stories of the Khmer Rouge, from a man with one leg who lived those years, it makes you think about Nixon and Kissinger’s gleeful and illegal bombing of the non-belligerent country. When you’re face to face with the consequences of your countries dark past, it shines a new perspective on things. It makes you wonder what price that we, as a country, were willing to pay for our hegemony 40 years ago? What price are we willing to pay now? According to our leaders of yesterday and today we’ll pay with the lives of millions, as long as they’re not American. End rant…