K. Hoar and I have spent most of our time in Ho Chi Minh City relaxing, exploring, and doing some serious eating. We did, however, decide to go to the War Remnants Museum. After reading a couple of ex-patriot blogs about how biased and one-sided the displays were, I was a bit hesitant, but after thinking back to all the articles I read about the Vietnam War in U.S. Foreign Policy (yes, Lehmann I read them ALL), I reminded myself of how imperialist we were.
The museum boasts two main attractions—a collection of American helicopters, tanks, guns, and bombs outside the building and photographs documenting anti-war demonstrations around the world and the after-effects of Agent Orange, a chemical that American soldiers sprayed across the country.
After walking around the museum for a couple hours, I found myself fixating on a few key ideas/thoughts. The first was that the Vietnamese did a really good job of documenting anti-war demonstrations around the world, and happily there was a whole section on the protests that took place in the United States. When I saw a couple of photographs of young hippies at Berkeley, I thought to myself, my mom is probably one of those fuzzy blobs in the background. A proud moment, I must say. But honestly, it was nice that the people were making a point that not all Americans wanted the war and that many were against it. Yet still, I heard several Europeans muttering about what the United States did. I even heard one woman stop her son, saying look what the Americans did. No lady, look at what our stupid government did.
This little moment brings me to my next point. While reading the information on the wall, I came across several quotes from the French, calling out the United States for committing crimes of war and genocide. This frustrates me SO MUCH. Not that people shouldn’t be keeping America in check, but that I feel like Westerners love to point out other countries’ mistakes while ignoring their own. Like hey France, remember when you built a volleyball court on the mass graves in Murambi, Rwanda after watching people clean the blood-soaked floors. Don’t even get me started on what the French colonizers did. But honestly people. Geez. Like next time you visit Washington D.C. go to the Holocaust Museum and then to the Native American/Indian one. As most of you know, touring the Holocaust Museum is a pretty intense experience, full of horrific photographs, incredibly difficult to watch videos, and, famously, piles upon piles of the dead’s shoes. But take a five-minute walk to the Indian Museum, and you won’t see much about the Trail of Tears. Urgh. It’s just so incredibly frustrating for me. If any country is going to call out another then that government should also investigate its own past. It’s too easy to keep shifting the blame onto everyone else, while not taking a hard look at what we have ignored.
One last thing. I think that what happened in Vietnam was absolutely despicable and ultimately wrong. There is now way around that. But I’m not a hundred percent convinced that what happened constitutes genocide, which is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.” And I saw several plaques of quotes from prominent human rights associations that what happened in Vietnam was genocide. And I guess that what I’m getting at is that just because something is awful and horrible doesn’t mean that it’s genocide. I believe that to call it that downplays the events that unfolded in Rwanda, Darfur, and Germany among other countries. Maybe downplays is the wrong word—it just isn’t true to what happened. And it can kind of desensitize people to future genocides if we start calling every awful and bad situation genocide. I sort of think of it as similar to politicians calling each other Nazis. Maybe an official’s decision was authoritarian or even totalitarian and that makes it a bad decision definitely, but it was not a Nazi decision. To say that trivializes the Nazis and all of the experiences of those that suffered under Hitler. I guess that I just think that we really have to think hard about how we label things. Hmm, I’m not saying this in the best way possible. I know. I apologize. But hopefully, you can kind of get what I’m saying.