With 8 million people in the city, and 3.5 million motorbikes, I assumed Ho Chi Minh City would greet me as loudly and brashly as Hanoi had. But, I actually quite liked it there!
It is a bit more modern than Hanoi with taller, newer buildings and more upscale shopping centers. Plus, it’s more spread out and, although it’s still bustling and buzzing with people and motorcycles, there seem to be wider, more open sidewalks and green space, allowing for a bit of a breather here and there.
I did a lot of my favorite tourist activity—random strolling around. It was sweltering hot and averaged in the 100s everyday. One of the few tourist sights I visited in Ho Chi Minh City was the War Remnants Museum.
The Vietnam War (also known as the Vietnamese Revolution, the Second Indochina War and, in contemporary Vietnam, as the American War) was a military conflict in present day Vietnam occurring from 1959 to April 30, 1975. It was a successful effort by the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) led by Ho Chi Minh and the indigenous National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (also known as the Việt Cộng, or more informally by the American troops as the “Charlie”, “VC” or “Cong”) to defeat the South Vietnamese Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and impose a Communist system on the country. To a degree, the Vietnam War was a “proxy war” with the U.S. and its Western allies fighting against the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
Nearly 60, 000 American troops died in battle whereas approximately one million Vietnamese troops and two to four million civilians were killed. Another three million Vietnamese were affected by Agent Orange. I had just been born during the last few years of the war and honestly do not recall learning much about it in school.
Much of the museum in Ho Chi Minh City was dedicated to exhibits of photography showing the overall horrors and atrocities of war. Besides the military and civilian casualties, the war claimed more journalists and photographers than ever before. Well, until now. The Iraq war has since surpassed this statistic and has claimed the most journalists.
Of course, since the museum is here in Vietnam, it’s from the Vietnamese perspective, but there’s no denying the enormous amounts of casualties and suffering that the Vietnamese people endured during these years. I found it quite moving.
There are photos of torture, death, destruction, and of the horrible aftermath of chemical warfare. Agent Orange and dioxins, which were used by the Americans, caused severe health issues during the war and for future generations. Some affected mothers gave birth to newborns with deformities.
At home in the US, a generation of Americans struggled to absorb the lessons of military intervention without clear motives or objectives. Sound familiar? Between 1965 and 1973, the United States spent $120 billion on the war in Vietnam. The war seemed to demonstrate that no power, not even a superpower, has unlimited strength and resources. But, perhaps most significantly, the Vietnam War illustrated that political will, as much as material might, is a decisive factor in the outcome of conflicts.
There were also photos of demonstrations against the war from around the world, including several from the US. It was also good to see some recent photos of US war veterans visiting Vietnam and some speaking out on behalf of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.
Seeing it all was quite heavy and hard to look at. Historical events like this always beg the question: How could all this death and sadness hope to bring about peace? From the Vietnam War and now to the War in Iraq, it all seems eerily similar. Perhaps many years from now I will find myself in an Iraq War Memorial museum seeing the same senseless images.