After spending a few great days at the beach, we committed to returning to Ho Chi Minh City to visit the Vietnam War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels, and I’m so glad we did. For someone who doesn’t enjoy war museums, I’ve certainly gotten my fill on this honeymoon, but I didn’t want to miss this.
We are taught a certain way to look at the world in school. History books teach us about our nation’s valor, our bravery, and shows us how the US came to be the most powerful country in the world. Until today’s experience, however, I never realized how skewed our history books have been. Sure, we were taught about the protests and the hippies and the inter-ethnic families that were born from the war. But I had no idea why we went to Vietnam or why we left until now.
Now, granted, the Vietnamese perspective is surely biased as well to a degree, but how lucky I am to get to hear both sides and now decide my feelings with balanced information.
So the War Remnants Museum was formerly called the US War Crimes Museum, and with good reason. As Vietnam was fighting for their independence from France, we began to send money to France to defeat them, to the point where we were carrying the bulk of the bill in the final years of the fight. Then we determined that there was a risk that Vietnam would become fully communist, which would potentially cut off access to tin and tungsten in Indochine, so we began to aid South Vietnam in fighting communist North Vietnam.
These things I already knew (kind of – didn’t pay great attention in history class).
What I didn’t know was that 3 million Vietnamese were killed throughout this 20-year war, of which 2 million were women and children. I didn’t know that we signed a peace treaty with Vietnam, only to violate it by continuing to use force against the Vietnamese for years thereafter. I didn’t know that we increased fire power and violence in Cambodia and Laos (after signing the peace treaty). I didn’t know about the far-reaching impact of our Napalm bombs, our Phosphorous bombs and the Agent Orange we covered the land with. I didn’t know that Monsanto, et. al., were forced to pay damages to the Americans who were affected by Agent Orange, but the Supreme Court refused to require payment to the Vietnamese families who lost children or had birth horrible defects for four generations following the war.
We met these people today. The poor Vietnamese who work, in spite of all of their disabilities, to make goods that we, the Americans who put them there, might like to buy for gifts.
I’m saddened. I’m disgusted. I’m embarrassed. And I’m not surprised that a nation fighting for freedom would beat a nation who didn’t even know why we were fighting. They should have won. They shouldn’t have had to fight us at all in the first place.
As Robert McNamara put it best in his memoirs, “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.”