My favourite lesson at school was modern history and I later went on to study War Studies at university so the first thing on my list to do in HCMC was to make a visit to the War Remnants Museum. Originally opened as the “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” in 1975 the museum went through various names before settling on the slightly less inflammatory “War remnants” museum after the resumption of diplomatic affairs with the USA in 1995.
The museum is surrounded by military hardware such as a Chinnook Helicopter, Jets like the ones that were used to deploy chemical weapons (such as Agent Orange) and Tanks amongst others and the museum was packed with tourists and local school children alike, all taking time to pose outside the museum in amongst the military equipment.
I suppose the ground floor is best described as being a collection of photos and posters from around the world protesting the war in Vietnam, they also have images of President Bill Clinton and his speech from 1995 when diplomatic affairs resumed and War medals from US veterans with letters of apology for their role in the war.
The first floor is a truly horrifying display of photos documenting the dead and war mutilated. I know many critics have referred to it as being blatant propaganda and that you should take it with a pinch of salt but at the end of the day, we know many thousands of Vietnamese people died during the war this is never going to be an easy thing to document, nor are photographs of death ever easy to see. I walked around for as long as I could bare it and by the time I had finished viewing the exhibit I had tears rolling down my cheeks, it’s certainly a very sobering experience.
Further rooms have displays on Agent Orange and the impact it has had on people in targeted areas in the years following on from the war as well a weapons room with a large display of guns on show. It was the top floor exhibit “Requiem” that I found most interesting. It is a beautifully curated selection of War photography from dozens of photographers including those from the USA, Vietnam, Japan and France to name a few. Many of the photographers either died during the war or are still listed as “Missing” and the last reels of photographs before their deaths are included in the exhibit along with the more famous images that made the cover of LIFE magazine or even the history books as well as less well known images showing the war as it developed.
The War Remnants Museum is certainly something you should take the time to visit when you go to Saigon. Yes it is one sided and I am not sure you should believe everything there but history is often one sided when on display as it is here and I would not let the critics put you off visiting such an important Vietnamese museum, just be sure to take a hanky. http://www.baotangchungtichchientranh.vn/ 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3 – it is within easy walking distance of the City centre