A Harrowing Experience

Today we took a trip to the Saigon War Remnant Museum.

This large open-plan building exhibits both armaments and photographs taken from the American war. Outside the front of the building were examples of the various war machines that rolled across the country. Howitzers, tanks, helicopters and planes all bristled with long barrels and an uneasy silence extended inside the building where visitors viewed the exhibits.

The experience was quite appalling. The photos showed the elements of war which people are used to glossing over or ignoring. There was the usual propagandist rhetoric on each signboard, which spelled out the crimes of the aggressors and the valour of the people’s army, but more to the point, the photos themselves showed indefensible horrors. GIs posed in front of decapitated bodies and the corpses of children; villages were set to torch by flame-throwing tanks, the ravages of napalm were detailed on the victims and by the time we had walked around that room I felt both numb and sick.

The next room showed the repercussions that stemmed from the use of Agent Orange.  Originally intended as a defoliant which would help expose the jungle, it was used as a chemical weapon throughout the war. A series of challenging photos showed the children that had been born after their parents had been exposed, and as result, exhibited severe deformities such as dwarfism, paraplegia, being born without eyes and mental illnesses such as attempting to chew and swallow anything to hand. We were both shocked to see in the middle of the exhibit, a tank filled with formaldehyde which preserved a collection of mutated foetuses. This was a little too much and we left the museum having seen enough horror for one day.