The War Remnants Museum: The Worst Place to Start a U-S-A Chant
by Michael Ujifusa
In high school history classes in the United States, the Vietnam War tends to fall at the end of the semester. Because of snow days or dilly-dallying for too long on the Articles of Confederation, lessons on the Vietnam War are expedited and condensed. The limited amount I learned about the War at Wayzata High School was no more enlightening than watching Apocalypse Now. I learned about Kent State, some sort of theory involving dominos and hippies. Needless to say, the War Remnants Museum was a sobering experience.
Old US warplanes, helicopters and tanks surrounded the outside of the museum. The inside consisted of photographs with captions and statistics about the War. The first floor was lined with anti-US propaganda from around the world. There was widespread condemnation of our involvement in Vietnam and being on the other side of the looking glass was strange. The fact that we were the only Americans in the museum was also disconcerting. As we passed photos of US soldiers smiling while holding skulls or setting Vietnamese aflame with flamethrowers, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty.
The most disturbing portion of the museum was the Agent Orange section. Agent Orange was a powerful defoliant used extensively during the War. Over twenty million gallons were sprayed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1962-1971. This vile invention was initially used to clear jungles in order to destroy hiding places for the Vietcong. However, Agent Orange was later sprayed over farms with the intent of cutting off the Vietcong’s food supply. It is estimated that the mass use of Agent Orange killed or maimed 400,000 and caused 500,000 children to be born with birth defects. The museum contained dozens of photographs of grotesquely disfigured children and fetus’. Even more disturbing is the fact that Agent Orange continues to plague Vietnam to this day. There were several children at the museum with greatly diminished mental capabilities who were confined to wheelchairs due to severe spinal deformities. This was all caused by farm fields contaminated by Agent Orange that their parents had worked in.
I always knew that Agent Orange was bad, but until our tour of the museum I never realized how devastating it truly was. I felt ashamed that the country I love, committed these atrocities. All in the name of preventing an ideology from taking hold on the other side of the world. What was it worth? If you haven’t read a history book, the Vietcong won. Vietnam is a communist country and our efforts were seemingly meaningless. I don’t mean to oversimplify the motives of invading Vietnam or make light of the sacrifices that our soldiers were legally obligated to make. However, looking back on the War, I cannot think of one justifiable reason for why we were over there for a decade. Not only did we tear apart Vietnam, we also dropped 2.5 million tons of ordinance on Laos and 2.7 million tons of ordinance on Cambodia… in secret. For reference, that is nearly 2000 pounds of explosives for every man, woman and child living in Laos at the time. Our legacy of blood and destruction lives on in Southeast Asia. There are still 80 million unexploded bombs in Laos and it is estimated that one third of the land is contaminated with unexploded ordinance, but I digress.
I never felt any anti-American sentiment while I was in Vietnam. In fact the Vietnamese were always hospitable and most were down-right friendly. The one thing that I took away from Vietnam is that our capability to destroy is only trumped by our capacity to forgive.