July 11, 2010

So sad in Saigon


July 11th will be remembered as one of the saddest days of this trip. We visited the War Remnants Museum. This is described as a unique museum in Vietnam who’s role is to systematically study, collect, preserve and display exhibits on war crimes and aftermaths foreign aggressive forces caused for the Vietnamese people.
 It was the most sensational, emotional and gut wrenching museum visit in my life! There is a collection of air planes, tanks, guns and weaponry in the front court yard and to the right of that is a hidden exhibit on Imprisonment Systems called “Tiger Cages”. This section describes in vivid detail the torture methods used on POWS and “patriotic soldiers” and even has an original set of holding cells, equipped with torture equipment. The prisons were built to exterminate prisoners physically and psychologically. “Tiger cages” were barbed wired chicken coops, about the size of a coffin. Three to five men were stuffed in these cages and forced to stoop for days on end. As the museum was obviously used as a propaganda tool, there were disturbing photos of surviving (and shot) prisoners along the walls and paragraphs beneath explaining what had happened to each. “The enemy” was never named but there was a very anti-american atmosphere to the place.
I walked out of there in tears, shocked at how people were treated just over 40 years ago. Without thinking, I walked straight into the main exhibit, which was split into different sections across 3 floors ;”Vestiges of war crimes and aftermaths (In military, economical, cultural, social fields, consequences on men, nature, environment” was by far the most graphic and upsetting. There were so many photos of men, women and children who had been gunned down, tortured and injured. During the Vietnam War 3 million Vietnamese were killed (2 million of them were civilians), 2 million people injured and 300,000 missing.
During the war Americans used thousands of gallons of a chemical named “Agent Orange”, the effects of which are still seen today. Agent Orange cleared hectares of forests and fertile lands, contaminating the water supplies and poisoning hundreds of thousands of people. Each person who came into contact with this chemical was affected by it (skin burns, cancers, blindness, to name a few of the side affects) and the person carrying the chemical passed it down one generation. This Agent Orange generation of Vietnamese people is my generation. There are still deformed babies born every day, and one in 4 Vietnamese people are affected by it. This struck a chord with me as I have never seen so many disabled, disfigured and handicapped people in one area and suddenly it all made sense. The shrunken boy begging near our hotel, the strange marks on the men I saw this morning, the arm less girl peddling by on a custom made bike. There were hundreds of photos of people living with such unimaginable difficulty and pain because of the Vietnam War. Poor people who worked all day in the field and had to come home to a whole family of disabled children. Even writing this two days later is bringing tears to my eyes as I’ve never seen anything so sad and unfair. Chris and I left the museum feeling really low. It didn’t help that we passed a few disfigured people on our way home, making this war feel very real to us.
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