Day 4: Little Mistakes and Big Mistakes

As often happens, whether at home or traveling, little mistakes will tend to interrupt your day. Today we had one of those little mistakes occur when a miscommunication caused a planned site visit to not occur. We arrived at the office and were shown to a room, only to be informed that the man we had been going to meet with was not at the office. With a little scrambling and flexible planning we decided to go to the War Remnants Museum early, so that we could reschedule the site visit for when we were going to visit the museum.

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I’ve learned about the Vietnam War in school. Kind of. We learned that the US felt it was necessary to prevent Vietnam from becoming a Communist nation because the domino effect meant that that would lead to a worldwide expansion of Communism.  The war was incredibly unpopular in the US, as we had no logical fact-based reason to attack Vietnam, and eventually we withdrew our troops and North Vietnam beat the South and the country became unified as a Communist nation (which did not lead to the spread of Communism). Overall I was under the impression that the Vietnam War was simply a mistake in American history. An unnecessary and unpopular war that led to nothing. I seldom thought about the effect in Vietnam. The quote “One death is a tragedy, 100 deaths is a statistic” springs to mind. I’d heard figures thrown about, but had never really understood the horror the war had brought for the Vietnamese people. In the museum was a room devoted to war crimes committed in the “American War of Aggression.”

The pictures above show the “Napalm Girl,” a prisoner of war being thrown from a helicopter, and the waterboarding of a Vietnamese prisoner. I did not take pictures of the most disturbing crimes, and I did not post the most disturbing pictures I took. This room in particular turned those statistics into tragedies. There are things that happened in this war that were just evil. We used chemical weapons. Agent Orange. White Phosphorous. Napalm. We massacred civilians. Elderly. Children. Pregnant women. The war, although over for decades, still affects Vietnam today. Much of Vietnam’s land is contaminated, either by chemicals such as Agent Orange, or by unexploded ordnance. Vietnam has made tremendous progress in repairing this land. Below are picture of equipment used by the Chemical Corps, a plant for cleaning soil contaminated by Agent Orange, and a model of a team for the removal of unexploded ordnance.

Vietnam has rebuilt itself from much destruction. Personally, if the US had been attacked as Vietnam had been, I am not sure I would have ever been able to forgive the country responsible, or its people. So perhaps what surprised me most was the section of the museum devoted to American protesters. Vietnam recognizes that the decisions of our government at that time did not reflect the American people. Many of us did not want this war.

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I don’t think that forgiveness is an applicable word to this war. What happened here was beyond any single forgivable entity, and the many of the monstrosities committed are simply unforgivable. But the progress that Vietnam has made, and the fact that the US and Vietnam are working together towards building a better future show that overcoming such terrible terrible mistakes is possible.

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