War Remnants Museum- Chu Chi Tunnel Museum

Trip Start Dec 04, 2007
Trip End Feb 26, 2008

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, December 28, 2007

The war remnants museum is a must see for all who visit Saigon. It has many pieces of war making hardware on display. These include tanks, jet planes, and examples of the many types of explosive ordinances dropped by American and allied war planes. Its most powerful section is the photographic display of the history of war in this country, beginning in the 1940s, with the French occupation. As you walk through the museum you move chronologically through time. As the years go by, and the occupiers change, you can see the photographic technology improve. The images are riveting and many are well known world wide as in this war, the images were shown to the world and to Americans, unlike our current war making effort. It was striking to view the harrowing and powerful images of the Vietnam War photo journalists, and realize that in our current war in Iraq, these images are no longer available to us. In any event, they were extremely powerful images of people in a deadly struggle, photos of both sides of the conflict. There was a special section devoted to the photographers who lost their lives in the course of recording the struggle. The display for them included at least 30 faces of German, French, American, Japanese and Vietnamese photographers, all killed. Some killed by their opponents, some killed by their comrades.
I remember one image of an American ground support war plane, in flight, just before crashing, when its tail (still visible in the image, but completely blasted free from the plane)It had been a friendly fire event, they had been hit by American artillery.  I believe nearly 1/5 of our casualties in some areas of the war were caused by our own lethality.
There were sections on the well documented atrocities like Mai Lai Massacre, where over 500 civilians were shot by US Forces. Most of the atrocities had been brought to light by US and world media, and were not new. (They did fail to credit Lawrence Coburn, who I know, from Mt Vernon, who as a door gunner on a helicopter was instrumental in stopping the massacre. Larry and the Pilot of his chopper, ( McDonald?) were initially harassed by the military and eventually the FBI. Their military careers went nowhere. It took over thirty years before they were formerly recognized as the heroes they were, when about ten years ago they were both awarded metals in the Rose Garden by then President Bill Clinton.) It would be nice if they were recognized here in the war museum as well.

There was a section on the defoliant "Agent Orange" , a poison which contains dioxin, which we liberally sprayed on the Vietnamese, the countryside and even ourselves. There was a section reflecting and thanking the efforts of American Anti war activists.   

I was expecting a real propaganda display here. After seeing it, I now feel it was very well displayed, and historically quite accurate.  

I did not take photographs inside the museums photographic gallery. There may have been signs prohibiting photographs, I don't remember. I was riveted by the quality of the images, and the horror they depicted of conflict in the jungles, on the mountain tops, along the river deltas, and even among the historic temples of this countryside.

As I have traveled the countryside and viewed areas of conflict, I have thought of my grade school and high school pals who never returned alive. I have wondered if they were killed  in the Chu chi tunnels, or in Hue the Imperial City where I now sit. We lost over 58,000 personnel and injured and maimed many times more. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers died along side us. We also killed a couple of million Vietnamese (communists we called them.) I like to call the VC "Nationalists". They were fighting for their country too.

Well, they have it now. After several tumultuous years of bad central communist planning and heavy repressive government they are beginning to figure it out. The only thing Communist I see here is their name, the Communist Republic of Vietnam. They now have privately owned property, private external investment, the economy is growing at a steady 8 %. Panosonic, Sony, Major Banks, all are doing big business here. They are happy and absolutely thrilled that the war is over. There is not a heavy presence of military or police here. It is a rare event to see one. I see many more police at home than I see here. When former President Bill Clinton visited here a few years ago, he was treated like a Rock Star. They mentioned on a tour that the American government has been very helpful to the country in recent years. I believe that other nations like France and  Australia, are doing more  I wish we would do more.  

In the final analysis, I wish we had followed the peace accords following the departure of the French occupiers here. The accords called for free nation wide elections on a date certain. Unfortunately, we knew, that the Vietnamese would elect Uncle HO. Therefore, we chose to install a puppet government in the south, and then fight for the Democracy we wanted, not the government they wanted. For those interested I would recommend movies entitled "The Fog of War" featuring an 80 something Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson. Another interesting documentary is "Why we fight" that discusses the industrial Military complex, it's influence on our economy, our government and our foreign policy.


W took a tour bus about one hour outside Saigon City, toward the Cambodian Boarder and therefore closer to the ho Chi Minh Trail. The Chu Chi tunnels were a labyrinth of small narrow tunnels up to 9 meters deep. They were originally constructed during the French occupation and were expanded during the American War as they call it here. These tunnel networks comprise an estimated 200 km of connected networks. The VC used these tunnels to strike American forces and to move undetected. There were battalions of young women soldiers. The US was faced with fighting an enemy who blended in with the locals we said we were here to Democratize and defend. I don't mean to impune the valor and fighting spirit that the American brought to their effort in any way. They had a very difficult task. There were so many spies, that the US could never be certain who was who. In fact the driver for President Thieu was a spy. He worked full time in the Presidential Palace. One time late in the war, a regular Vietnamese Army pilot was directed to bomb a VC objective. He turned the plane in flight and bombed the Presidential Palace instead, then flew north.

The museum started off with a genuine propaganda film, which was nery poorly done, interesting to watch, but very one sided. We then visited the tunnels, so close to Saigon, and actually climbed inside and crawled along. (The tunnels had been doubled in size from the originals, as they needed to be made "accessible" for the big Budda sized tourists. Our tour guide was a real character, he had been a communications officer for the South Vietnamese army. He had worn a radio in the field. When we entered the Chu Chi complex, he turned to the fellow in Vietnamese Army uniform and grabbed his ID card from around his neck and said, "See,  he is a genuine Communist" All involved had a big laugh.

The tunnels are a real testament to the tenacity of these people. They went without food, sleep underground, many times they had the support of the villagers around them.  We saw sample of homemade bobby traps, ingenious in their design, whereby a man's weight is used against him in deadly bamboo pits, and home made human traps. They knew the ground. We would often control the daylight, they would often control the night.   

At theendofthe Chu Chi Tunnel tour we arrived at a shooting range. Here you could purchase live ammo from the Army officer at the front desk, and fire any one of several weapons, including a Colt 45 pistol, Ar - 15, US Carbine, AK-47, m-30 light Machine gum, and M-60 heavy Machine Gun. They have ceased to sale of Rockrt Propelled Grenades. I think that was a good idea.
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