TOP THREE MOST VISITED PLACES IN SAIGON
Mention Saigon among other tourists and the War Remnants Museum will invariably come out as among the top 5 most visited destinations in this beguiling city. No, make it top 3 – after the Reunification Palace and Ben Thanh Market! But my previous visits in Saigon have used the city as a “gateway” to other destinations. And the War Remnants Museum was always at the bottom of my “to-do” checklist. In fact, the last two instances I was there, I always ended “trying” to catch the last few minutes of the museum for naught. On my 4th Saigon visit, the Museum became an obvious priority.
After depositing the Northface bags I bought from Saigon Square, I decided to take a xe om (motorbike taxi) to the War Remnants Museum for 15,000 dong ($0.90 or PhP44).
RELIVING THE BRUTALITY AGAIN
The War Remnants Museum (Vietnamese: Bảo tàng chứng tích chiến tranh) is a war museum at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). There was a considerable crowd at the façade. Tanks and helicopters as well as fighter planes were parked at the lawn. I paid for my 10,000 dong entrance fee and stepped at the spacious hall decked with panels, displaying photographs that documented the brutality that has befallen the Vietnamese under the American siege. Torture victims, deformed victims of Agent Orange – the whole place was a somber reminder of the cruel uselessness of war. It was like reading those personal accounts at Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng once again.
Wikipedia more appropriately describes the place: Operated by the Vietnamese government, the museum was opened in September 1975 as the "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government [of South Vietnam]." Later it was known as the Museum of American War Crimes, then as the War Crimes Museum until as recently as 1993. Its current name follows liberalization in Vietnam and the normalization of relations with the United States, but the museum does not attempt to be politically balanced.
The museum comprises a series of eight themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment located within a walled yard. The military equipment include a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" bomb, M48 Patton tank, and an A-1 attack bomber.
One building reproduces the so-called tiger cages in which the South Vietnamese government housed political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photographs, accompanied by short copy in English, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, last in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxin.
Though I have had enough of these graphic documentations of war, it had nevertheless been a compelling visit that bolstered my belief that, as Boy George used to say, “War is stupid.” It is unnerving that vestiges of these power plays are ever present in current world events. Boy George is right again - “People are stupid". Will we never learn?