As a Generation X’er I grew up in the United States in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. During that time, Hollywood was getting rich with the movies Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Rambo, and countless Chuck Norris films, all of which portrayed the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong as tortuous psychopaths trying to spread their Commie lies around the world. Capitalism was good, and Communism was an evil that was going to unravel the very fabric of the universe. The Cold War was going strong and propaganda was everywhere in America; “Better dead than red!”
A lot has changed since the war, which the Vietnamese refer to as “The American War.” In speaking to a Vietnamese national, who once worked with the US Military before the fall of Saigon, he mentioned that life in Vietnam was not very good after the war. But in 1985, 10 years after the end of war, the Vietnamese government decided to open the doors to capitalism and free trade. The results have been outstanding and Vietnam is now an amazing place to visit. In all honesty, I was expecting Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to be a just another giant, polluted city in SE Asia. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a very clean, safe, and wonderful place to visit. The Vietnamese pride themselves in keeping their cities clean and beautiful.
During our stay in Ho Chi Minh City we visited the War Remnants Museum. The museum has a collection of US military weaponry used during the war and tells the story of the war from the side of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. And as you would expect, the story does not make the Americans look like the good guys. The museum lists the countless international war crimes and atrocities that the US committed during the war, including graphic photos of bodies being dragged behind US tanks and smiling GI’s with severed heads of North Vietnamese soldiers. In total, the United States killed up to 3.1 million Vietnamese service members and civilians, and I can’t blame them for being a little pissed off about it.
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The museum also had an exhibit of photos from war photographers during the war. It was shocking to see how many of the photographers lost their lives in Vietnam. While most sane people are trying to get away from dangerous situations, war photographers charge right into the middle of a battle armed with only a camera. War photographers are some serious adrenaline junkies and I always love seeing their work.
The saddest part of the museum was the exhibit on Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a defoliating agent (herbicide) that was used to deprive the enemy of food and cover. Between 1962 and 1971 the US military sprayed 20,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during Operation Ranch Hand. Unfortunately, while being manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical for the US Department of Defense, the batches were overheated resulting in the production of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), also known as dioxin. TCDD has been described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man” and is responsible for causing, deaths, cancers, and birth defects, even today. The Agent Orange section of the museum had photos of children born with deformities, which were caused by the spraying of Agent Orange during the war. Besides the photos, they also have preserved fetuses with deformities on display. This part of the museum was the hardest to explain to our 9-year old daughter and she found the pictures of the deformed children very sad, as did we.
The more genocide and war museums we visit the more I realize that war is bad no matter what the reason. The French and Americans lost the war in Vietnam and afterwards the north and south were unified as one single communist country. But the fear of the fabric of the universe unraveling with the spread of communism never came to fruition. Communism spread, but so did capitalism. Vietnam manufactures a lot of the world’s goods and tourism is now a huge industry in the country. If the US would have just stayed out of the war, countless lives would have been saved and there would been have been a lot less suffering on both sides. I know a lot of people will disagree with this, but sometimes you just need to let a country develop naturally with no outside intervention…