So, you'd like to see a good museum about the war in Vietnam, but you're afraid it might skimp on describing tortures and atrocities, and might not have enough cool military equipment and pictures of children with the most horrific birth defects imaginable?
Well, have I got a museum for you!
I visited the Vietnam War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh (a.k.a Saigon) in July of 2014, with my erstwhile sidekick Crazy Bob. It was formerly known as "Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes" and the "Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression."
Outside the museum you get to see some military stuff that got left behind after Saigon fell: Tanks, planes, bombs, artillery guns:
|Me outside a Huey gunship. If I was 15 years older, I might well have firing that gun out the window at fleeing civilians in Vietnam.|
There are also some dioramas that describe various tortures and atrocities, including this statue of a guy in a tiger cage, which is so realistic-looking I saw some young girls scream when they looked in and saw it:
There's also a French guillotine there, that most stylish and elegant of mass execution methods. Leave it to those French, eh? (It's not just the Americans who come in for a drubbing at this museum; the French atrocities in Indochina are well-considered.)
But it's inside the museum that you see the really mind-numbing horrors, if only in photos: the massacre at MyLai, the legacy of birth defects caused by Agent Orange, and the famous pictures of children burned by napalm running down the beach.
But then, of course, what are you going to do afterwards? Enjoy some delicious Vietnamese food, get drunk on 50 cent beer, chase some Russian package tourists, or maybe get a $50 hooker. For all its horror, alas, the museum seems like nothing more than a trip to a Haunted House, or maybe at the best, something we can do to assuage our consciences and sense of history before we get back to our backpacking and sex tourism.
The war in Afghanistan recently beat Vietnam's record -- it's now America's longest war. (Still, the death toll of American troops in Vietnam was 20 times higher.) Will Afghanistan someday be a popular tourist destination (again,*) the years of atrocity compressed into a handy museum?
Well I guess that's better than the alternative.
*Afghanistan was once an important stop on the overland Hippie Backpacker trail in the 60s; Kabul was considered the "Paris of Central Asia."