My girlfriend and I walked through the gates of the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A man with no arms approached me and offered his arm just above the elbow for me to shake. “Hello sir, I am a victim of a land mine explosion during the Vietnam war. Thank you for visiting the exhibit. Do you have anything for me?” A jar hung around his neck with a few sample bills attached.
Leah and I had been reading about the Vietnam War during our travels and we were looking forward to seeing the government’s perspective on what occurred. The war museum provided most of what we expected with a dash of Communist favouritism. Disfiguration and genetic disease from Agent Orange took up nearly an entire floor of the display. America was always referred to as the “aggressors” and the Communist takeover was deemed (and well repeated) as “bringing salvation” to the south. Each display put vivid pictures to the words and thoughts we’ve all had about the Vietnam War with America.
The pictures and stories of the atrocities brought an emotional sternness to our walk through the gallery. In fact, I was somewhat shocked at my own response to the exhibit, drawn inward by the prospect of humanity’s tip-toeing on the brink of insanity and mayhem. Emotions alight, I was then more shocked by the other people in attendance.
A young white girl posed, pretending to hold a machine gun on display, a gun probably used to murder innocent civilians (pictured in the room they were visiting) less than 50 years earlier. Young Vietnamese girls on a school tour were taking selfies in front of the Agent Orange deformities. School groups shrieked and socialized their way through the exhibits, even the adults seeming to only be half involved with the gore on the walls around them. The stories of the families and the race that they belong to, the faces of people of whom they share a national relation to.
The Vietnam War ended midway through the 70’s and war with Cambodia continued until much later than that. The contents of the exhibit seemed impossibly unimportant for them, but perhaps the Vietnamese people have more cause for detachment from these matters then I can ever understand. However, it was the foreigners who wept through the displays, repenting for sins they had not committed, and entranced by the memories they awoke.
Leah compared the experience to being in art museums in Europe where “people are silent and photos aren’t allowed. You are there to ponder the subject matter presented, not take pictures of yourself in front of it. Here we were at a war museum, with internationally recognized photographers works hanging on the walls, and people behaved as though they were in a shopping mall.”
We are encountering so many staggering obstacles today that we can not push such massive mistakes aside during our consideration. Yet that seems to be exactly what we doing, fleeing the scene of the crime, and always rushing to forget.
In the 38 degree weather we pondered the fragility of the worlds situation and the constant threat for history to repeat itself, with only a Banh Mi sandwich for breakfast. “One shouldn’t be pondering such worldly subjects on an empty stomach” we thought, “best we find something to eat”.