I’ve been to a lot of war museums. I’m interested in history and I enjoy museums of all kinds, so I’ve been to a lot of them, including many that were harder to take in–such as the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam or the genocide museum in Cambodia. But going to The Vietnam War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City was a whole new experience–here was a museum devoted to covering a war where Americans were the aggressors. Since America and South Vietnam lost the war, the North Vietnamese Communist regime is still in place, and so naturally, much of the museum was from that point of view. Of course all war stories differ depending on which side is telling them, and seeing the Vietnam/American War through the North Vietnamese’s eyes was interesting, to say the least.
Have you ever had a moment where you just are not proud of your country? Americans are especially prone to saying “proud to be an American,” but in those moments in that museum, pride was the last thing I felt for my country. Shame, horror and sadness were the overwhelming emotions, pride not even on the radar. Much of the museum is devoted to showing the alleged war crimes the United States committed in Vietnam, including the use of Agent Orange and other chemical weapons against the Vietnamese people. Vietnamese citizens (and both American and Vietnamese soldiers) have been affected by exposure to this toxic chemical, causing injuries, birth defects and malformations. Photo after photo lined the war, documenting the lasting terror this chemical caused generations of American and Vietnamese soliders and civilians who were unlucky enough to fight in this war, marry a soldier, or simply live downstream from somewhere Agent Orange was used.
There were a lot of Western tourists in the museum, but not many Americans. I know I am not to blame for the atrocities of this war. I know most Americans were against the war, and I know that most Americans (past and present generations) are not to blame either. But still, in that moment, we were ashamed of our Yankee accents, and kept our speaking to a minimum. In theory, things have improved. Vietnamese-American relations are normalized now, and our countries have a friendly relationship. Many Americans travel to Vietnam for vacations. But in that museum, I felt a little hostility. I felt sadness for all the lost and ruined lives, and anger at the past regimes of my government. I felt shame. I felt sympathy. But I did not feel proud.
Have you even visited someplace that made you embarrassed or ashamed of your country?