The facade of the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City catches the visitor off-guard, giving little hint of the graphic reminders of the Vietnam War that lie within.
The jumbled collection of buildings is on Vo Van Tan Street. In the compound stands captured US Army tanks and artillery pieces, an A-1 Douglas Skyraider single seat fighter bomber and a large, innocuous-looking drab green metal drum.
Weighing nearly 7 tonnes, it is about the size of a small rainwater tank,but when the American-made seismic bomb was used for its intended purpose, it obliterated anything on the ground within a 100m radius and radiated shock waves for more than a kilometre.
Nearby is the CBU-55B bomb. It destroys oxygen, suffocating anything, and anyone, within a 500m radius. It was used at Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province, on April 9, 1975.
Communism took hold in the north of Vietnam in the 1930s supported by farmers and workers hardened to resistance by the relentless exploitation of the colonial French. More than 100 years of French rule was backgrounded by another 1,150 years of Chinese domination.
The beginning of the end of the American War (as it is referred to in Vietnam) was heralded by the surprise nationwide Tet offensive, staged on the Lunar New Year holiday in January, 1968. It broke the will of the Johnson Administration to continue the war in Vietnam.
In the final fatality count, 62 press photographers were listed amongst the dead, from the United States, Australia, Austria, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, South Vietnam and Cambodia.
From the north, 76 press photographers, including two women, died recording the war for the Vietnamese Communists. Their work is featured in the photographic exhibition, Requiem (The Vietnam Collection), on display at the museum. The exhibition is a gift from the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to the people of Vietnam.
The epilogue accompanying the display concludes: “Yet all of these photojournalists prevailed in the end. In a war in which so many died, for illusions, and foolish causes, and mad dreams these men and women of the camera conquered death through their immortal photographs.”
Photographs display graphic images of military action, bombing raids and the civilian casualties of war. But it is the expressions on the faces, frozen in time, that more than anything else, convey the grim realities of the conflict – terrified prisoners, grief stricken peasant women and the stunned expressions of young US soldiers, their glazed eyes reflecting the fear and impact of a recent engagement with the enemy.
The lowest depths of inhumanity are also plumbed. Two US soldiers are pictured on an armored personnel carrier which is dragging a rope, at the end of which is the body of a Vietnamese soldier or guerrilla fighter (it’s hard to tell which). In another, GIs pose for a trophy shot with heads hacked from the bodies of two dead Viet Kong.
There are graphic pictures of burn victims, the result of white phosphorous bombs and napalm. Two deformed newborn babies preserved in formaldehyde are on display to highlight the effects of the use of the defoliant Agent Orange. Around 75 million litres of defoliant – including dioxin – was sprayed over the southern Vietnamese countryside during the course of the war. At the back of the museum compound are reconstructed cells showing the brutal conditions in which the French authorities kept prisoners. In a shadowy, small, stone room stands a guillotine which was transported around the South Vietnamese provinces and used where necessary on those who were found guilty of rebelling against the colonial government of the day.
It was last used in 1960, to cut off the head of Mr Hang Le Kha, a member of the Provincial Committee of the Vietnamese Workers Party.
Entry to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City costs 15,000 dong ( less than $US1) and includes an informative colour brochure. The brochure states nearly three million Vietnamese were killed and another four million injured in the American War, which destroyed or heavily damaged 2,923 school buildings, 1,850 hospitals and clinics, 484 churches and 465 temples and pagodas.
Front view of War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City – Wikipedia Creative Commons
War Remnants Museum, Saigon Vietnam – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Unexploded ordnance – Wikipedia Creative Commons
War Remnants Museum – photographic display (c) travelific.my
Phan Thi Kim Phuc by Nick Ut 1972 – Pulitzer prize winning image (c) AP photographer Nick Ut – Source The Needlessness of War
Guillotine on display in the War Remnants Museum – Wikipedia Creative Commons