The War Remnants Museum is a large, multi-level exhibition in the former US Information Agency (USIA) building. Until 1993, it was called the Museum of American War Crimes. Here’s a nice, concise write-up I totally agree with. (Except for where it says HCMC was formerly known as Saigon. It’s actually currently known as Saigon. I know, because people call it Saigon.)
Not 5 minutes after I walked inside the gate, someone behind me asked where I was from. I turned around to see a disabled guy selling books. Without thinking, I said “the US” and he walked up, sort of “shook” my hand with his sweaty stumps (for a rather long time) and said he’d been injured by a U.S. landmine.
Of course, it’s horrible that he’d been injured so badly. I don’t want to sound insensitive, but the vibe I got from him seemed entitled and maybe a little bitter. I watched him approach others and do the same thing – always taking their hands and sort of rubbing them with his…limbs, as if daring the person to pull away. Here he is with someone later on:
I still haven’t sorted out all my feelings about this guy. He seemed to feed off sympathy, but had no use for someone unless they would buy a book from him. I didn’t buy a book, but offered him 20,000 VND, which he declined.
Just before I left a few hours later, another guy wandering through the same area asked where I’m from. This time, I said “Germany” and he smiled big and gave me a thumbs up and kept walking. I guess this guy just walks around the War Museum, approving and disapproving of people based on where they tell him they’re from. Clearly “Germany” was a good answer. May have something to do with Germany’s solidarity with North Vietnam as seen in these posters from the ground floor:
There were quite a lot of gruesome photographs – even an entire room dedicated to the effects of agent orange:
There were several disturbing photographs such as the one above this description:
Was basically a gory scene with American soldiers posing and looking pleased with themselves. By and large, the narrative throughout the museum was of an aggressive, war-hungry America and army of soldiers who ranged from not caring about, to relishing in the killing of millions of Vietnamese.
After I got back home and looked up one of the pictures that Ron Haeberle took (easily found online if you’re inclined), I realized that a lot of what I saw at the museum was the My Lai Massacre. The museum did not present it as one (isolated?) event, but rather, I got the idea that the Americans were just killing everyone during the entire time they were in Vietnam.
Here are some other signs around the museum to give an idea of the tone:
Other pics from around the museum:
The ground floor is a lot less of a downer. One section is about Vietnam’s current (good) relations with the US. This section shows various countries’ opposition to the war – including from the US:
And the final section showcased children’s artwork from all over, under the themes of war and peace. Here’s one of the 3 walls and my two favorite pieces:
In one of the large rooms is a detailed, chronology of the entire war, complete with pictures, visuals and some artifacts. I went around and took a photo of each of the plaques to transcribe them later. (On the off-chance that someone wanted the entire, exact text from the museum, they can hopefully find it on this blog.) Here’s how they all look in iphoto:
But first! Here’s my version of the story:
And finally, for all you high-endurance readers, all 2,000+ words of the Vietnamese version of the American War:
The American (Vietnam) War as displayed at the War Remnants Museum in HCMC
The August Revolution was carried out successfully on 2 September 1945. President Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam at the Ba Dinh Square (Na Noi), putting an end to the French colonialist yoke over Vietnam for nearly one hundred years.
First session of the first National Assembly of Vietnam Democratic Republic held on 2 March 1946 for the election of the members of the Coalition Government of Resistance.
Second meeting of the National Assembly (Session 1) to approve the first Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and elect a new government (on 3 November 1946).
The French colonialist administration obstinately carried out the scheme of re-establishing their domination of Vietnam. Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu was appointed High Commissioner for Indochina and General Philippe Leclerc appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French expeditionary forces in the Far-East with the instructions of “Recovering the sovereignty (?) of France in the whole territory of Indochina”.
The French colonialists launched incessant provocative actions against the authorities of Vietnam, intensified their military raids in Southern and Central Vietnam, set up the so-called “Autonomous Government of Cochinchina” (on 1 June 1946), sent warships to Hai Phong to attack and occupy this port city on 23 November 1946, thus extending their aggression war to Northern Vietnam.
On 19 December 1946, President Ho Chi Minh made an appeal to all the compatriots for a Nationwide Resistance: “We want peace… But the more concessions we make, the more aggressively the French colonialists move forward, because they are determined to reconquer our country. No. We would rather sacrifice all than lose our independence and be enslaved!”.
In the spirit of “nationwide resistance to the enemy”, the civil forces of porters and volunteer youths were working hard day and night to build traffic ways and transport logistical supplies to the front lines.
The French expeditionary forces suffered heavy casualties in the Frontier Campaign (September 1950): 8,300 French troops among whom numerous commanding officers were killed and captured as prisoners of war.
In the situation where the French army got more and more bogged down, the U.S. administration strove to help the French colonialists. In September 1950, the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG01) was activated in Saigon with the first U.S. army personnel operating in Vietnam.
U.S. Military specialists prepared to hand the C-47 aircraft over to the French army.
Tanks equipped with four-barreled 12.7 mm heavy machine guns from the U.S. military aid program to the French army.
French legionaires in mopping-up operations in Vinh Yen (Northern Vietnam) in January 1951 with war equipments supplied by the U.S.
In May 1953, General Henri Navarre, General Chief of Staff of the NATO Ground Forces, was appointed Commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Corps in Indochina. The “Navarre Plan” was drawn up with the ambition of “taking the initiative to defeat the Viet Minh within 18 months”.
From November 1953 onwards, Navarre started to build the group of strongholds of Dien Bien Phu with the intention to attract and wipe out the regular forces of Resistance to gain a decisive victory on the Indochinese theatre of war.
In February 1954, when visiting the French troops in Dien Bien Phu, General W. O’Daniel, former U.S. army commander in the Pacific, chief of U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group – Indochina declared: I am very enthusiastic about the prospect of the war”.
After fighting day and night for 55 days, on 7 May 1954, the People’s Army of Vietnam completely smashed the Dien Bien Phu group of fortresses and captured alive 16,000 French troops among whom 1 major-general, 16 colonels, 1,749 officers and NCOs. General de Castries together with the Headquarters of the Dien Bien Phu campaign surrendered unconditionally to the liberation army.
On 20 July 1954, the participating parties to the Geneva Conference signed the Agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Indochina, declaring the recognition of the independence, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam.
On 16 May 1955, embarkation of the last unit of the French expeditionary forces for repatriation, putting an end to the colonial domination of France in Vietnam for nearly 100 years.
After the Geneva Agreements, the U.S. administration gradually eliminated the influence of France, replaced the henchmen of France by the pro-American elements. Ngo Dinh Diem was sponsored by U.S. administration to become “President” of the so-called “Republic of Vietnam”.
In May 1959, the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem promulgated Law 10/59 authorizing the special military courts to sentence to death on the spot those who were branded as “endangering the national security”, in essence, they were patriotic people struggling against the savage and cruel repression of Ngo Dinh Diem.
Backed up and encouraged by the U.S. administration, the Ngo Dinh Diem regime tried to sabotage the Geneva Agreements systematically, refused to hold consultations on general elections for reunification of the country, made indiscriminate arrests, detentions and killings of patriotic people.
Not contenting themselves with the repressive and murderous U.S. – Ngo Dinh Diem regime, people from all walks of life in South Vietnam gathered together to found the National Front for Liberation of South Vietnam in order to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, putting an and to the American intervention, building a democratic regime, and advancing toward peace and reunification of the country.
Fearing the collapse of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime, the U.S. authorities set out the “special warfare” strategy. Increasing their henchman military forces in number together with strengthening modern military equipment and weapons as well as training and command assisted by the American military advisors.
In February 1962, the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) was formed under the command of General Paul D. Harkins. By the end of 1963, the U.S. administration sent 16,300 military advisors to Vietnam.
The Staley-Taylor plan anticipated that the “pacification” of South Vietnam would be completed by the end of 1962.
Besides intensifying the Mopping-up operations, the Staley-Taylor “pacification plan” also proposed the “national policy” of setting up 16,00 “strategic hamlets”, which, in fact, were huge concentration camps where the U.S. authorities and the Saigon government hoped they could keep strict control of the people by trampling on their right to freedom of residence, freedom of movement to earn their living in a normal life.
Facing numerous repeated military defeats and the wave of political struggle of people in South Vietnam, the U.S. administration could not help replacing Ngo Dinh Diem by the military coup ‘d’etat on 1 November 1963.
The U.S. administration “escalated the war”. On 2 August 1964, the U.S. Army fabricated a story about the so-called “Gulf of Tonkin incident” accusing falsely the Navy of Vietnam Democratic Republic of having attacked the U.S. destroyer Maddox to give the U.S. Congress pretext for approving “The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” authorizing the U.S. President to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States”.
Their “special warfare” being utterly ruined, the U.S. administration carried on with the “local warfare”, sending the well-trained and most effective American units together with the mercenaries of their satellite countries to South Vietnam for direct participation in fighting against the liberation army. At the same time, they stepped up the war of destruction by Air Force and Navy in North Vietnam.
The U.S. President Lyndon Johnson gave order to attack the Republic Democratic of Vietnam, a sovereign nation, thus violating flagrantly the United Nations Charter. The U.S. war machinery was mobilized to its full capacity.
A-6 Intruder was a carrier-borne low-level attack bomber equipped specifically to deliver nuclear or conventional weapons on targets completely obscured by weather or darkness. It was equipped with 5 weapon attachment points for up to 8,165kg (18,000lb) of external stores (thirty bombs of 500lb or three 2,000lb general-purpose bombs).
F-4 Phantom, an all-weather supersonic fighter-bomber capable of flying at twice the speed of sound armed with up to 8 sidewinder or Sparrow air-to-air missiles could carry 7,2264kg of bombs.
F-105 Thunderchief, an all-weather supersonic fighter-bomber with a speed of 1,385mph, able to carry 14,000lb of bombs (nuclear or conventional bombs) armed with a M-61 Vulcan automatic multi barrel 20mm cannon, sidewinder or sparrow air-to-air missiles.
In Operation Rolling Thunder lasting for 44 months, the U.S. aircraft carried out 306,183 attack sorties, dropped 864,000 tons of bombs into North Vietnam (1.7 times more than the quantity of bombs the American dropped in the Pacific theater during World War II). 3,243 American aircraft were shot down and thousands of their pilots were killed or captured alive.
The “local warfare” strategy was a fiasco, the anti-war movement was gaining strength in the United States, the new administration of President Richard Nixon shifted to the “Vietnamization of war” policy by using the Saigon army as hard core of the armed forces, gradually withdrawing the American ground troops back home but still maintaining the U.S. Air Force and artillery to support the army of Saigon regime.
The Nixon administration extended the Vietnam war to Laos and Cambodia. On 30 April 1970, President Nixon announced that an “incursion” into Cambodia had been launched by a combined force of 40,000 U.S. and 48,000 South Vietnam puppet troops with the support of B-52 bombers. Over 14 months, 2,750,000 tons of bombs were dropped, more than the total dropped by the Allied in World War II. The invasion destroyed about 20 percent of the property in Eastern Cambodia and forced 2 million Cambodians to become refugees.
The flag of Saigon administration was painted on a C-130 transport plane, one of 2,000 aircraft the U.S. handed over to Saigon government from October 1972 to January 1973 in the framework of the Vietnamization” policy.
From 8 February to 22 March 1971, the U.S. and Saigon administration used 45,000 troops to launch Operation Lam Son 719 into Southern Laos.
At Bien Hoa airport, mechanics of Saigon Army unpacked and assembled the newly delivered F-5 fighters. The Air Force of Saigon regime was the third largest in the world, even larger than that of the U.K., France, Japan and West Germany.
The 80,000-pound F-111 was, by the end of the Ucham war, the most sophisticated fighter-bomber in the USAF’s inventory. Fitted with pivoting wings, the jet could reach speeds of two-and-a-half times the speed of sound. Its terrain-following radar allowed it to fly at a continuous altitude as low as 200 feet. The aircraft could carry up to 30,000 pounds of ordnance, which was dropped automatically by a radar-guided computerized bomb-delivery system.
With two bombing campaigns: linebacker (10 May – 23 October) and linebacker II (18–30 December 1972), Nixon intensified the destruction war in Northern Vietnam t an unprecedented level of violence, using the most sophisticated weapons including the F-111 fighter bombers and the strategic bombers B-52 with precision-guided munitions, notably laser-guided bombs. The apex of this campaign, the so-called Christmas bombings in December 1972, was a 12-day and night massive air attack by B-52 strato-fortress bombers on the populated areas of Ha Noi capital city and Hai Pong, a port city.
The “Nixon doctrine” went bankrupt completely on the battlefield of the 3 Indochinese countries. In North Vietnam, the war of destruction the peak of which was the strategic air attack in December 1972, was with very heavy losses (81 airplanes shot sown, of which 34 B-52s, 5 F-111s, 43 American pilots captured). The U.S. authorities were compelled to sign the Paris Peace Accord on 27 January 1973, putting an end to the war to restore peace in Vietnam, committing themselves to respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam, to withdraw all the American forces and the army troops of their satellite countries from Southern Vietnam, and to form a government for national reconciliation and concord.
After the Paris Peace Accord, the U.S. obstinately continued the policy of “Vietnamese of the war”, ordering the Saigon army to carry on with the war by “encroachment and pacification”. trying hard to repress the political forces of patriotic people, opposing the policy of national reconciliation and concord, thus severely violating the Paris Peace Accord.
U.S. President Nixon received Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Saigon regime (April 1973) in San Clemente, California, promising to give the Saigon array an aid of $2.27 billion, 1,100 armoured tanks, 800 cannons, 700 airplanes and 200 warships.
Faced with the acts of sabotage of the U.S. and their reactionary agents to undermine the Paris Peace Accord, the people and the liberation army of South Vietnam resolutely determined to launch a counter-attack smashing completely the military forces and civil administration of the puppet regime.
To avoid a complete destruction, the U.S. President Gerald Ford ordered all the American military forces and civil organizations to leave South Vietnam. 81 helicopters were mobilized for the evacuation Operation “Frequent wind”.
At 3:45 a.m. early morning of 30 April 1975, the U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin fled away from Saigon, closing down 25 years of the American direct intervention in Vietnam as from the moment the first U.S. military mission came to Saigon in September 1950.
At 10:45 a.m. on 30 April 1975, the liberation army attacked and occupied the Independence Palace, forcing the Saigon administration to surrender unconditionally, terminating the resistance against foreign invaders to restore national independence and unity for the people of Viet Nam.