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Day 63 – Through The Looking Glass at The War Remnants Museum

May 5, 2010

Dateline: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Vietnam – Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I’m in an alternate universe. A place where the Vietnam War is the American War. Where U.S. soldiers are war criminals. Where Americans purposefully dropped Agent Orange on Vietnamese to create deformities and inflict them with cancer. Where former Senator Bob Kerrey isn’t a statesman, he’s a murderer.

Today I went to the War Remnants Museum and got the Vietnamese side of the war. Let’s just say we don’t come off that well. First off, though, I woke up with a bit of a sensitive stomach. Little achy, little unsettled. I spent the morning in bed trying to get myself right.

When I dragged myself into the street, I found a Vietnamese sandwich roadside cart and ordered one with a Sprite to tame my stomach. Again, I got confused when paying. I thought she said, “70,000” a price which is more than I’d pay for a Vietnamese sandwich in San Francisco (there: $2.50). I was too weakened to argue, though, and handed her a 100,000 note. Turns out the price was “17,000” and I just heard her through paranoid ears. That, my friends, is a bargain. Less than $1 for a sandwich and a soda? Guess I’m still waiting to get ripped off.

After slowly working my way through my meal and drink on a nearby park bench, I found a motorcycle driver willing to take me to the museum for a reasonable price (20,000 dong/$1.05). A short ride later, we stopped outside the museum gates. From the street, the place would be nondescript except for the tanks and warplanes out front.

Inside, my journey through an interdimensional portal began. On the first floor, exhibits describe “Aggression War Crimes.” A sign immediately disoriented me with the following:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yup. The United States Declaration of Independence. From there, the assault began. Picture after picture of U.S. troops pointing guns at helpless Vietnamese. Peasants being driven from their homes by American soldiers. It was relentless. I guess the point is that America didn’t really treat Vietnamese equally or allow them Life, Liberty, or Happiness.

Another wall was devoted exclusively to Ex-Senator Bob Kerrey and an incident where he led a group of SEALs in killing innocent civilians. He is touted as a baby killer, a murder of grandparents. I’m guessing Mr. Kerrey hasn’t visited Vietnam since the war.

Another shows pictures of people harmed by defoliants used by the U.S. to clear jungle. Babies that look like they were born in Picasso paintings, adults with their faces melting like Dali clocks, spontaneously aborted fetuses that look more alien than human. It is not pretty.

Upstairs exhibits tout Vietnam’s acceptance into the world community. A map shows every country that maintains diplomatic relations with Vietnam. This is odd because I wasn’t aware that Vietnam was ostracized, particularly after President Clinton normalized relations in the ‘90s. I spent a few minutes trying to find a country on the world map that didn’t maintain relations with Vietnam. I found one: Greenland. I always knew those Greenlanders were up to no good, all hidden away in their forgotten land of ice.

One wall upstairs showcased Americans who’d dramatically decried America’s war with Vietnam. There were two headshots of All American looking men. One had burned himself alive in front of the United Nations to protest the war. Another had done the same in Washington D.C. They were given hero treatment as were draft card burners and Berkeley protesters. I’m surprised Muhammad Ali wasn’t on the wall.

Outside a recreated prison recounted the atrocities committed by the America-supported Vietnamese regime. According to the exhibit, the Diem regime had oppressed political dissidents, tortured men and women for political reasons, imprisoned poor people, and forced confessions out of innocents.

Walking out of the museum, I stopped to look at the American military vehicles and ordinance. Chinook helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, artillery batteries. A sign said one bomb destroyed anything within 100 m and did damage up to a kilometer away. Guns on display had miles of range. Jet fighters on display could rain down rockets and bombs.

Looking at all this stuff, it’s a wonder America didn’t win the war. The army had overwhelming technological superiority.

As I walked out of the museum, I thought about America’s written history. Here, the Vietnamese had their perspective of what happened. To them, it’s clear that America committed a great evil and that the Viet Cong were fighting a righteous fight. They won, so they wrote the story. Without a doubt, the same thing happens in the U.S. We’ve been quite successful and have been able to write our own story. That story may not be as objective or nuanced as we might like to think.

I know I do this to myself as well. I rewrite my personal history to suit my own interests. How much though? Would an outsider even recognize the stories that I tell myself? It’s an interesting question.

I, for one, like my story. In the dimension of my creation, I am a hero. I do make mistakes and do wrongs, but all of them are charming, understandable, or unique. Like the Vietnamese, I’ve overcome oppressors. I have fought a righteous fight.

Often the stories I tell are sanitized. Cleaned up so as not to embarrass myself or others. For example, today I have an “unsettled stomach.” Sometimes the story is prettier than the reality. See, sometimes a little storytelling benefits us all.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    May 9, 2010 8:36 pm

    Marvin discovers cultural relativism.

    • May 10, 2010 4:00 am

      Hah. Here they call it “The Truth.” If you don’t agree you’ll be enrolled in a reeducation facility, free of charge.

      By the way, to any government censors out there, “COMMUNISM RULES.” One love.

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