The museum was intense and opened in 1975 as "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government [of South Vietnam]." In Viet Nam, the war is commonly referred to as the American War. It was interesting to see it from a different perspective. What we read and saw was far more expansive than the textbooks in which we are taught. I hope no one takes offense to anything I write because I do appreciate all the services that have been fulfilled. On the outside of the museum were tanks and planes on display. I walked around for some time running my fingers across the cold metal. I was astonished with the power and weight of such machines. Just looking at them gave me the shivers. I continued walking and saw bullets and bombs bigger than my body.
A quick turn and I was walking into a prison. There was barbed wire along the bricks. The prison mostly recreates tiger cages that were used to house prisoners on Con Son Island. This island used to be lush and full of beauty. It quickly became a hellish island. Along the walls are stories of the torture that went on throughout the prisons. A knot continuously turned in my stomach as I fought back tears. I don't understand how people can be so inhumane. So many prisoners were left blind, deaf and limbless. People were beaten to death, drowned, hanged, and shocked. Many of them were not fortunate enough to die quickly. Instead they were tortured with nails, hot liquids, water, etc. I did not want to keep reading, but I could not stop. I had to hear the stories and see the pictures. Although I did not want to believe what was before my eyes, I could not deny the truth. The part that makes my heart feel the saddest is knowing that this type of behavior is common during times of war, and it is still happening. The methods seem historic and stone-age, but they're being used in countries across the globe still. Genocides are still happening and innocent people are suffering. This part of the exhibit was hard to endure.
I continued inside the building. The first thing I came across was American soldiers burning their draft cards and students protesting. There were posters displaying peaceful riots in America against the war. Following this was propaganda from dozens of other countries. They were against the American aggression in Viet Nam. This really surprised me. I had not realized how many countries were against the involvement of American. There were many powerful countries against America. The posters continued for a long time. Then there were pictures displays of the battlefields. There were face-to-face pictures of soldiers torturing prisoners, gunning down villages and bombs exploding everywhere. The pictures made it all to real. Nothing was left o the imagination as people burning alive and stumbling with lost limbs were displayed. I could not hold back my tears any longer. My heart was broken.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the display was the part devoted to Agent Orange. The extremely toxic dioxin compound was used throughout all of Viet Nam. It was produced by Monsanto (leader for genetically engineered seeds and founder of NutraSweet) and dispensed as a chemical warfare. About 20 million gallons of herbicides and defoliates were sprayed during the war. The goal of this was to demolish food supplies, clear land and deprive the guerrillas with the means of survival. The chemicals destroyed lands, lush forests and crops. However, the people suffered the most. The aftermath of this chemical is still being calculated. Still, people are suffering from Agent Orange. It is passed through DNA, a mother's milk, etc. It is sad that children born decades after the war are born with disorders and birth defects because of this inhumane act. Children are born without eyes, joined together, limbless, hernias, extra fingers, or other deformities. I saw one picture of a baby born with four triangles for lips to her mouth. The pictures were all real and recent. Again my eyes swelled with tears. Although people have recovered and the country has developed itself, there are hundreds of thousands of people still suffering. I read a letter that a girl wrote to President Obama. She was a child born without legs or a left hand due to Agent Orange. Her family is a family of farmers, and the land still carries the chemical. She was moved by Obama's letter to his daughters particularly this part:
These are the things I want for you—to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have.
She wrote of her desire to have the same but how difficult it was to obtain them due to her circumstances. The US has denied most aid that it has promised to Viet Nam. She was part of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit for victims of Agent Orange. However, the case was dismissed "ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs' claims." I hope her letter gets answered as well as other victims. I also hope the help that they need is given to them. It is so sad that young generations have to pay the price of the past. I had a hard time writing this blog. The words are difficult to find to describe the impact this museum had on me. I am deeply saddened. My heart says a thousand prayers.
I can't load pictures right now but here is a great site to see some of the exhibit...http://www.vietnam720.com/travel-tips/war-remnants-museum-saigon/
(Saturday) Today we took a bus to the Cu Chi tunnels. There's a network of tunnels that expand underground and were used by the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters. The tunnels were small and dark and expanded more than 250km. Often they were filled with insects and animals, but they were a great strategy. The network contained smokeless kitchens, fighting rooms and even a space to help provide collapsing tunnels if a bomb hit nearby. They were usually three tiered and had traps for American soldiers in case they found themselves inside.
While walking the site we saw craters formed by bombs. Some were larger than others, but it was interesting to see the impact it made on such hard earth. There was a small rectangular cut out that was camouflaged with leaves. We were able to lower ourselves into it if we desired. The rectangle was so small, I did not think I could squeeze in. I tried and succeeded. It was scary. I made sure no one was going to step on the lid or cover me with dirt while I was in the tunnel. These were brilliantly made with such simple tools. We walked some more and were able to see sample rooms and how tools were made.
There was also a shooting range with six or seven rifles that were used during the war. I really wanted to shoot because I have never had the opportunity to. Anna, Luke, Madeleine and I decided to shoot the M-16 which was used by American soldiers during the war. The front was mounted, but the pressure of the gun was still heavy. I was scared. I didn't like wrapping my finger around the trigger. In fact, I pulled away the first time. Then I pretended to aim and shot the bullet into the field. The force was so great, and my shoulder flew back a bit. I did this two more times. I didn't like the feeling of having a killing machine in my hands. I wanted to experience the weight, the sound, the feeling. It is nothing I care to feel again.
We continued to walk. Hillary told us more than our guide did. He was very nice but extremely timid. Those who wanted were able to climb into a tunnel and walk a certain length of it. I did a part of the walk. The tunnel was small despite it being enlarged for tourists. We had to squat the whole time. There were a few lights inside, but at time I could not see the person one foot in front of me. A panic ran over me as I reached to feel some sort of clothing. There we were, underground, in a small tunnel with no light. I am not sure how people lived and survived like this. Although brilliant in design, they are so far from comforting. After the tour we had some cassava and tea. The rest of the afternoon and evening was mostly spent lazily. Tomorrow we go to the Mekong Delta for some cycling and a homestay. After that we head to Takeo, Cambodia for another homestay. Here we will be doing volunteer work and building houses and toilets. No communication will be available!
|Sample of Tunnels|
|Hole we slid into|
|I did this too. Such a small rectangle|