If you are looking for a good cry, get yourself over to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, stat. Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, it has a reputation of being - how shall I say - one sided? I, however, didn’t find it to be unfairly biased. Nothing on display there is false, or exaggerated. Rather, I found it to be a shockingly uncensored display of the absolutely horrible, brutal truth of war. Upsetting, gut wrenching, horrifying… Yes. Showing things you’d rather not see? Things that make it difficult to go about your day? Things that make you feel uncomfortable to be associated in any way whatsoever with what happened here? Yes, yes and yes.
Look, I’m no historian. I knew zero about the Vietnam War before stepping foot in this country two months ago. I have the utmost respect for those who were involved in it, and I know horrible things were done on both sides. I will not attempt to form an opinion on something I am completely ignorant about. For me, looking back upon something I am lucky to have no personal connection to whatsoever, it’s not the sides that matter. It’s the lives. And I was absolutely shattered by the atrocities that happened to people here. Vietnamese people and American people and – who cares – people. From anywhere. Everywhere. Who weren’t in control of the politics behind it. Who didn’t choose this.
One particularly powerful exhibition was a collection of images from journalists and photographers who were killed or went missing here. Often, the last shot in their roll of film. Moments before some took their very last breath. I can’t even begin to describe the haunting power of these photos. Another section was dedicated to the victims of Agent Orange. Not just 40 years ago, but today. Generations later. Deformations like you could not even fathom in your wildest nightmares. Some things that were so hard to look at, I had to leave.
I sobbed my way through most of the museum. So much pain, so much loss, and for what? When I analyze it too long, I feel I might drown under the weight of it. We walked out feeling shaken, humbled, and a little nauseous. Into a humid afternoon to the waiting carts of street vendors, taxi drivers, sunglass salesmen. How have these people moved forward? Past the unfathomable destruction and devastation? Beyond the tragedies that have lingered for decades? I suppose it’s cause they are focused on today. Making a living, cherishing their loved ones, getting by in the present. It really puts our trivial problems and worries into perspective. And I suppose that all we can do, is the same.