Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vietnam's War Remnants Museum

While in Saigon we visited the War Remnants Museum, which chronicles the atrocities of the American War, as it's called in Vietnam. The museum pulls no punches; graphic displays show just how horrible the war was for the Vietnamese, and continues to be, due to unexploded munitions and the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I'm glad we went, though.

And I really appreciated the exhibition of work by photojournalists who died in the war, including Robert Capa and Sean Flynn. The exhibit, called Requiem, was curated by Tim Page. You can see some of those photos here (click on the "next page" button to view the photos, which also appear in the book Requiem).

We don't have many memories of the war ourselves but left the museum feeling humbled and chastened. Which was the point, I think.

One thing we noticed during our visit was the youth of the population. The median age in Vietnam is 27.8 years (by comparison, it's 36.9 years in the U.S.). We saw very few old folks, and also very few with disabilities. This was in part because few places are handicapped-accessible, but also because of a post-war population boom (which Vietnam is now trying to control with a two-children-per-family rule). When I did see old folks, or people missing limbs, I wondered, uncomfortably, what their impressions of Americans might be, and what they thought of all these blithe tourists now invading their country.

Those people we did talk to about the war said they felt better about Americans once they learned that not all Americans supported the war, and that many had actively opposed it.


  1. Such an interesting post. I'll probably read it a couple of times. The word "remnants" sent me on a google-search and I found this definition (on an unvetted Wikipedia entry):
    "Explosive remnants of war (ERW) is a term used in the humanitarian aid and sustainable development domains to describe the explosive threats remaining in post-conflict society. This includes landmines, cluster bombs, IEDs and other unexploded ordnance."
    I'm used to thinking of remnants as small pieces of cotton fabric. Now I'll have an additional image. And I guess that's the point in naming that museum "War Remnants": they want us to think about the long-term consequences of war.

  2. Interesting. I didn't know that definition! Makes sense here, for sure. The war is still going on in many ways.