In my opinion, every traveler to Ho Chi Minh City should visit the War Museum.
Is it super fun? No, but its important.
As an American, you can bet I was a little uneasy about going to the museum, which is largely an exhibit on the American role of the Vietnam War, but something was calling me to go, to experience the Vietnamese perspective on the war, even if it meant feeling uncomfortable, or just down right sick.
Upon arriving, I could feel the tension in the air, and even worse, the eyeballs piercing me as if I was personally responsible for the tragedy. There were rooms full of old guns, bullet casings, and dismantled bombs. But what really got me were the pictures. There is no denying events that are photographically documented. Pictures of American soldiers, some fresh out of High School, holding decapitated heads of the Vietcong covered the walls. A whole building dedicated to pictures and biographies of the victims of project Agent Orange and Agent Blue, a US Military tactic to kill the forests and crops gone wrong, killing half a million civilians and leaving over half a million Vietnamese children born with severe birth defects. It is no wonder, the US deals with chronic homelessness and mental illness of war veterans, this stuff would make anyone fly off the hinges.
I’m still not sure if it is my subconscious way of not having to completely emotionally deal with my countries role in the war, but I do feel that the museum is a bit of a one sided story. The exhibit of course did not show the many brutal and ruthless actions of the Vietcong against the US, nor did it talk of the reasons why the US felt a moral obligation to intervene. However, regardless of whose on whose side, the museum is a profound lesson to the living, to never, ever, allow for such a tragic and misguided event to occur again. The actions of both parties were nothing short of barbaric.
So you are probably wondering, “Wow, Caitie, why would anyone want to put themselves through such a gut wrenching experience like the war museum? Sounds like quite a buzz kill to an awesome trip.” And partly, you are right.
But Vietnam is not all rice patties, cheap beer, and beaches; there is a very recent, painful history that should be acknowledged. The very fact that Vietnam is a holiday destination is an incredible come back after such devastation. Like so many others, you may have Grandpas who fought, Fathers who were drafted, or Mothers who sustained the family on a few random love letters. You may have hippie parents who led street protests, or even lost a loved one. The fact remains, whether you are American or Vietnamese, the war museum and others like it, are an important memorial and lesson.