A few days ago we visited the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I’ve been wanting to post about it but between travel and the heavy emotions surrounding it, I haven’t been able to until now.
You all have undoubtedly heard of the Vietnam War, the heroic battle against the communists, the protests of the sixties. We hear stories of troops, war heroes, veterans, and bravery. The thing no one talks about, however, is the Vietnamese.
Trust me, I’ve been there. Fairly clueless, with the knowledge that the war happened but not much outside of the few details we learned in school.
Nothing quite smacks the reality into you like the War Remnants Museum. It is the war told from the opposite perspective.
Outside the museum there were planes and tanks and I ran all over, entranced by them. I’ve always been fascinated by planes with the great power they hold and the triumph of man over gravity. But planes (and men) can do terrible things.
As soon as I stepped inside the museum, I saw a pile of bodies.
The casualties of the Vietnam War were high, that much I knew.
What I had never been told was that of the three million Vietnamese killed during the war, two million were civilians: women, children, elders, and unarmed alike. Innocent civilians and soldiers were tortured just the same. In many places a “Kill Anything that Moves” policy was put in place using bombs, landmines, massacres, and Agent Orange.
No one talks about the experimentation the United States conducted in Vietnam. We tested a multitude of weapons for our own gain (bombs, guns, planes, and more) but none as horrific as Agent Orange.
I had no clue what Agent Orange was. It is a chemical compound of dioxin, which of course means nothing until you put it into context: eight grams can kill an entire city, and we used it in far larger quantities. The USA sprayed an estimated 12.1 million gallons over ten percent of Vietnam’s land (www.agentorangerecord.com/in_vietnam/). While the devastation caused then is already horrifying to think about, it gets worse. Agent Orange stays around for years, affecting multiple generations to come. It is highly carcinogenic and causes the most debilitating and horrendous birth defects, long after its initial use.
Even though effects of Agent Orange are still rampant, tragically the United States has gotten off with very few consequences for their part in the war crimes experienced in Vietnam. We withdrew from Vietnam. Some (but few) Army Officials were convicted for their use of torture and massacre. The USA has paid some reparation costs, including some to families affected by Agent Orange. However, the overwhelming damage that we inflicted on the country of Vietnam is nowhere near compensated for.
Most importantly, however, it is important to discuss the role of the USA in foreign relations both positive AND negative. We are still using measure such as these in other places today, including bombing of civilians in the hunt for terrorist leaders. We so often see the United States as a world leader and a hero nation, but it is crucial to the wellbeing of other countries to acknowledge our shortcomings and work to prevent such heinous doings in the future.