Vietname: Remnants of War

By Evans, George | Contemporary Review, January 2003 | Go to article overview
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Vietname: Remnants of War

Evans, George, Contemporary Review

THE Vietnam war, better known to the Vietnamese as 'the American war' has, like the earlier long-drawn out struggle against French colonial rule, left deep scars on the face of a country now at peace and at ease with its former enemies. Remembrance of wars past is deeply rooted in the minds of the Vietnamese people. The fight for independence during the past century is commemorated throughout the land by war memorials and museums displaying what are now known as the remnants of war.

Bomb craters and fragments of bombs dropped by American B52s have been carefully preserved and put on show along with crippled battle tanks, howitzers and, here and there, a helicopter or war plane captured from or abandoned by the Americans or their South Vietnamese allies when the war ended.

The Cu Chi tunnels, forty miles north-west of Saigon, are preserved as a national monument to the Viet Cong guerrillas who waged subterranean war against the French, Americans and their own dissidents from 1940 onwards. The network of tunnels, containing command posts, armouries, kitchens and rudimentary hospitals eventually stretched for 150 miles to within striking distance of Saigon, running at one point under an American base camp. Tourists are able to explore a small section of it (not recommended for the fuller figure) and, when they emerge can test their marksmanship on the nearby range with an American M16 or the AK47 assault rifle, much favoured by guerrillas and terrorists, for the price of one U.S. dollar per round of live ammunition. (Your correspondent, alas, long out of practice, shot a bit wide of the target but never mind!)

In Ho Chi Minh City, forever Saigon to the older generation, a major tourist attraction which used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes is now known as the War Remnants Museum. A glossy brochure entitled US Imperialist Aggressive War Crimes was similarly toned down to spare the feelings of American and Chinese visitors who, like all other former enemies are now welcome for the contribution they make to the national economy.

Tourists, among them American ex-Servicemen who fought in the war, gaze in awe at a living remnant of it, an ageing veteran without hands who stands outside the museum selling copies of Graham Greene's celebrated Vietnam war novel, The Quiet American. In the courtyard there is a mock-up of the infamous tiger cages used by the South Vietnamese to hold and torture their Viet Cong prisoners and, alongside it, the grisly spectacle of a guillotine used by the French and, in later times, it has to be said, by the Vietnamese themselves.

A large gallery is given over to a chilling display of photographs of death and destruction, taken by 76 photographers and war correspondents of eleven nationalities, who died or were killed in action. Two of them were women. Robert Capa, famous for his war pictures, and Larry Burrows, a Briton who went on fifty combat missions for Life magazine, were among the fallen. The names of all, along with another seventeen posted as missing, are inscribed in a book of remembrance and on a roll of honour at the entrance to the gallery, bearing the epitaph:

Each came for a reason and died
taking a chance. All lived for
the next picture; it could be the
best one of all. It is for their
photographs, not their dying that
the world remembers them.

More than 130 photographers and war correspondents were killed or reported missing in Indo-China and Vietnam between 1950 and 1975.

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