War Remnant Museum


war remnants museum photoHo Chi Minh City At dawn we walked through markets opening and scores of sidewalk vendors making hot coffee and noodles to workers already up and ready for a break.  At the Cathedral we listened to women singing in front of the statue of Mary as the sun broke the humidity, and then made our way past sidewalk badminton players to begin our meetings in government buildings reminiscent of French colonial architecture with landmarks composed of giant, modern skyscrapers like the soon to be completed Hyundai building.

A break  in the schedule was filled with a visit to the newly named War Remnants Museum (formerly War Crimes Museum we heard) which packed three floors worth of horror largely centered on the “war of American aggression” as some of the posters referred to it.  For some of us, like Drummond Pike and myself, who came of age in the protests of the Vietnam Era, he as a student government president at the University of California at Santa Cruz and me as a 19-year old dropout organizing draft counseling centers in New Orleans and Massachusetts and protesting from the UN to the Pentagon, this was a moving and depressing house of horrors, though surprisingly well done and less didactic than these brief notes would lead you to believe.

It was simply painful to see the residue of lives crushed on both sides of the conflict.  A good looking, sturdy American solider wading through water with armaments over his head with a note that he was dead 12 days later.  Victims of Agent Orange, both Vietnamese and Americans, pictured with their families and usually postscripts about the years when they also left the scorched and poisoned land.

A photography exhibit was especially moving and done in partnership with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, corporations like UPS and United Airlines, and the Bingham family of the old Louisville Courier which documented the powerful shots and the photographers killed in the conflict from around the world.  This was no hate-America thing, but there was also no way not to wonder why we were there, why it took so long to get out, and, as Drummond pointed out repeatedly, the terrible and awful similarities with the Afghanistan conflict now.  Save us lord!

Lives and countries ruined and few lessons learned.

I tossed and turned for sleepless hours.