Within its borders, especially during an election year, the U.S. has an overwhelming voice of “we’re number one.” Outside its borders, I feel like within my lifetime the world’s perception of the country has declined significantly. You feel that loss poignantly in a country like Vietnam, which can claim having defeated the U.S. against overwhelming force.
Effective leadership, I believe, has to understand other voices, even those it disagrees with. The War Remembrance Museum in Ho Chi Minh City lets you see the U.S. from a perspective you won’t see in the U.S. The museum portrays the U.S. as a militaristic, bullying, violent, imperialistic aggressor that supported an unpopular, repressive, oppressive violent puppet regime and lost.
How much of that characterization you agree with or not, and how much you discount as propaganda, is up to you. But at least some people agree with it, and not just in the Vietnamese government. It’s hard to look at the effects of agent orange that make your skin crawl or to read quotes by belligerent American politicians or soldiers (“we’ll bomb them into the stone age,” “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”) or to see then-state-of-the-art, expensive weaponry juxtaposed by thousand-year-old rice farming communities and not ask why we were there, or why we committed so deeply. Could we not have won an upper hand more peacefully?
I found the museum powerful. To the extent it downplays its violence or support from Russia and China, it does so more subtly than North Korea (not hard to do).
In any case, I took pictures of some of the posters from around the world expressing support for North Vietnam. How well they represent the global feeling then, you’ll have to ask a historian. I’m putting them here because I found their message and designs powerful.
I also include a few pictures of the large weapons they displayed, like the fighter jets and tanks, now sitting in the yard like rusted out sports cars on the blocks in front yards in the U.S., only parked amid palm trees in the occasional monsoon rain instead. I think they were once forefront weaponry, designed to kill “communists” — who won, resulting in what appears to me widespread capitalism. Our bailout- and monopoly-laden economy has its advantages but could still learn from theirs.
I also included one (of many) heart-breaking image and quote by a photographer of one of the soldiers’ killings. Even those barbaric acts didn’t register as strongly, at least with me, of the displays of the use of agent orange and other dioxin-laced weapons, produced by Monsanto and Dow. The results on people are gut-wrenching. I didn’t have the heart to take those pictures. It seems the U.S. government knew the effects, but as far as I could tell, the enemy kept hiding in the trees so they had to kill the trees. Vietnam otherwise looks like a tropical paradise.
Sorry about all the reflections from the plastic holding the posters. I tried to get rid of them, but the museum lighting made them unavoidable. I hope you don’t mind I made the pictures too big for the page layout (at least on my computer), but I wanted to show them bigger. Hovering the mouse over the pictures pauses the slideshow and clicking on the little dots below the pictures lets you jump to specific pictures.
EDIT: Following a comment by friend and reader, Mick, I followed up this post with one with quotes from Robert McNamara, who played a major leadership role in the Vietnam War.
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