War Remnants Museum
|War Remnants Museum|
|Bảo tàng chứng tích chiến tranh|
War Remnants Museum, main building
|Location||District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam|
|Visitors||approx. 500,000/year (2009)|
|Owner||Government of Vietnam|
The War Remnants Museum (Vietnamese: Bảo tàng chứng tích chiến tranh) is a war museum at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. It primarily contains exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War.
Operated by the Vietnamese government, an incipient form of museum opened on September 4, 1975, as the "Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes" (Vietnamese: Nhà trưng bày tội ác Mỹ-ngụy), located in the premises of the former United States Information Agency building. The exhibition was not the first of its kind for the North Vietnamese side, but rather followed a tradition of such exhibitions exposing war crimes, first those of the French and then those of the Americans, who had operated at various locations of the country as early as 1954.
In 1990, the name changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression (Nhà trưng bày tội ác chiến tranh xâm lược), dropping both "U.S." and "Puppet." In 1995, following the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States and end of the US embargo from a year before, the references to "war crimes" and "aggression" were dropped from the museum's title as well; it became the "War Remnants Museum" (Bảo tàng Chứng tích chiến tranh).
The museum comprises a series of themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment placed within a walled yard. The military equipment includes a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" bomb, M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber. There are a number of pieces of unexploded ordnance stored in the corner of the yard, with their charges and/or fuses removed.
One building reproduces the "tiger cages" in which the South Vietnamese government kept political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photography, accompanied by a short text in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and war atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. The photographic display includes work by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa that he donated to the museum in 1998. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, the last time being in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses allegedly deformed by exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, contained in the defoliant Agent Orange.
The War Remnants Museum is currently one of the most popular museums in Vietnam, attracting approximately half a million visitors every year. According to the museum's own estimates, about two-thirds of these are foreigners. However, it's visitor reception are mixed, ranging from favorable to "[the viewing of the exhibits] need to be taken with a grain of salt", with some goes as far as to claim that Vietnamese regime has "borrowed images from the West and inserted them into a "distorted" history", using images of the War to substantiate their version and views on Vietnam War history.
According to one travel report, the exhibits are "blatantly one-sided" with "many exhibits in the museum contain[ing] a heavy dose of anti-American propaganda", but "they do graphically portray the horrors of the Vietnam War and "worth a visit no matter your opinion of US involvement in Vietnam"."
US anthropologist Christina Schwenkel wrote in a 2009 book that the exhibition is "full of propaganda", and while the description "war crimes" has been dropped from the official text, the museum still exhibits pictures that are considered controversial and perhaps unrepresentative like that of a "smiling U.S. soldier proudly displaying a VC head as a war trophy" accompanied by a caption that is still hinting at a criminal element, in this case: "after decapitating some guerillas, a GI enjoyed being photographed with their heads in his hands".
However, not all Americans and Europeans who visited the museum felt that it displayed a distorted and biased view of the Vietnam War. Many visitors felt that the museum was a enlightening and educational experience. William Brown, a soldier who fought as a part of the Anti-Communist force in the Vietnam War, was so moved by the museum that he donated his war medals to the museum. The medals were put on display, and the inscription on the exhibit with his medals reads, "To the people of a united Vietnam, I was wrong. I am sorry." Another veteran remarked,"I am very sorry for what our country has done to [the Vietnamese] people." Based on these two accounts, and similar statements made by other Vietnam War veterans, it seems that the museum has some capacity to change western views from on the Vietnam War. Despite this, many people walk away from the museum feeling that the American story of the Vietnam War is not well represented.
An analysis of the impression books (which the tourists may use to leave their comments in at the exit) revealed that the museum's visitors used to be mostly Europeans and North Americans before 2005, but that its audience became much more varied after Vietnam dropped their visa requirement for ASEAN countries that year. The impression books also record mixed responses to the museum; some visitors noted down their own anti-American sentiments, especially after 2001. Others simply praised Vietnam, while some Europeans and Americans harshly criticized the museum for its "propaganda" and "glorification of [their] victory".
- Christina Schwenkel (2009). The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Indiana University Press. pp. 163–167. ISBN 978-0-253-22076-9.
- War Remnants Museum. Visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by Gregory Rodgers, About.com
- Laderman, Scott (2009). Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory. Durham and London: Duke University Press. p. 152.
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