Changed Perspective: Student sees another side of Vietnam War

Vietnam. When you first hear the name, your brain automatically snaps back to the 60s when the war, drugs, rock n’ roll and controversy were at their height. At least, that’s where my mind goes, but what happened to Vietnam after the last U.S. troops left its soil?

I know for many Vietnam War veterans that is one of the many questions they are left with. When I was presented with the opportunity to travel to Vietnam and Cambodia, I instantly jumped on it. Not only was this a chance to travel somewhere I may never get the opportunity to again, but I also come from a strong military background and I would get to see where my grandfather spent several years during the War.

Arriving there was almost like being in the twilight zone. For most people, the idea of Vietnam is shaped by movies, images and songs; Vietnam is nothing but a conceptualization

Through the American eye, Vietnam is shaped by the war, but the reality of Vietnam and the idea of Vietnam are completely different. As a tourist in a communist country, it was evident that I was very sheltered, but even so, Vietnam has by no means let the War define them.

Vietnam, in short, is thriving and lively, and any post-war animosity I may have anticipated was slightly exaggerated. Where the bitterness was most prevalent was in the War Remnants Museum as well as the C Chi Tunnels, which were used to hide the Vietnam militia during the Vietnam war.

However, bitterness isn’t exactly the right word. Perhaps “pride” or “boastfulness” better describe the attitude the Vietnamese took toward the Americans and the “American War” in these museums.

In my opinion, these museums were deeply disturbing for several reasons; first, and foremost, the various tanks, helicopters and airplanes on display only brought to mind one thought: the only reason these artifacts are here are because the enemy was struck down in them.

Thinking about this and all of the death and destruction that the war incurred can only be described as disconcerting.

The second reason I found these places disturbing was because of the biased way in which information seemed to be presented. The saying, “the victors write history” is incredibly pertinent here, but were the Vietnamese really the victors? Their land and thousands of their people were killed.

In general, in war, I don’t think anyone is truly the victor because of this fact. Yet, the Vietnamese have recovered remarkably well, and by all political rules of war, they did in fact win.

In part, I attributed the biased information to the fact that the country is still politically communist, however, in an attempt to not let my patriotism cloud my perspective, I can also see why some of the information was presented in the way it was.

Americans did, in fact, bomb and kill many Vietnamese people, and if allowed to vote, it appears the Vietnamese would have supported Ho Chi Minh. So, it is understandable that they presented the Americans in an unfavorable light. What was most perturbing, though, was the prideful way in which they displayed and described the ways they killed American soldiers.

In my experience, I do not remember ever visiting a museum where they gloated about killing the enemy, but seeing these museums made me re-evaluate things. I wouldn’t know if the information presented in Western museums was biased or not because it is all I’ve ever known, and I’m sure to groups such as the American Indians our version of history seems incredibly biased.

This also made me think that perhaps I was disturbed only because this hit so close to home. The visit to these museums was very thought provoking to say the least.

Through all this, I do not mean to paint Vietnam or the museums in a bad light at all, I actually intend quite the opposite. I found these museums to be incredibly interesting from an educational standpoint because it allowed me to see both sides of the story and it forced me to question my biases. Do I regret going to these museums? Absolutely not–I think that it is important to learn history, even if they are sides that you don’t want to hear.