Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Vietnam Day 2 - Part 1: Perspectives

Today was left open as we waited to hear if Pedro was going to be traveling to the location of potential partnership with his water purification system.  Matt and I had breakfast on the ship and took care of some post-production loose ends, ready to spring into action if it was time to shoot.

Lunch came around, so we decided to grab it on the ship before heading out to explore more in Ho Chi Minh City.  We had heard that the Vietnam War Remnants museum was an interesting place to go, so we decided to head over there and learn about the war from the Vietnamese perspective.

The courtyard of vehicles.
We caught a taxi, and entered the three story building, walking by a courtyard of bomb shells, helicopters, tanks and jets.  We began at the bottom story where there we displays about children during the war.  We learned about how the children would continue going to school even if they were down in underground bunkers, and many schools split up the children into homes so that they weren't all in one location in case the school was bombed.  It was interesting to realize that life had to go on as usual during the war, and people were trying to live and normally as possible despite the constant war all around them.

The second floor went through the after effects of the war.  So much chemical warfare was used, and we saw photos of people who were burned by phosphorus bombs and agent orange.  There was also a full room dedicated to people who were born in the 1990's and 2000's who are still deformed by their mother's exposure to agent orange in the fields, water and seafood.  It was very disturbing on one hand, but also intriguing to see how the people lived their lives with such extreme deformations.  I couldn't help but think that many of these people were born in the early '90s.  The age of my little brother - still effected by what went on in the 1960's and early 1970's.  Words flooded my mind as I looked at the effects on these people: melted flesh, twisted bones, missing limbs.

This was a sculpture made out of metal
schrapnel by a war survivor.  It's called
"mother."
On the top floor were sets of before and after photos of locations around Vietnam and how each spot has recovered and rebuilt since then.  There was also an entire room dedicated to the journalists who covered the war.  We saw Time magazine articles that showed Vietcong soldiers tied up and being shoved into a jeep.  The caption on the photo said something like "this soldier was held for questioning, then released later, unharmed."  Then, we saw a photo of a group of women and their children huddled together, flinching from an unknown source.  The caption on that photo was from the photographer, and it said something like: "I saw the guns raised at the group, and shouted, 'hey!'  They paused long enough for me to snap a photo, then I turned around and heard the sound of gunshots and multiple bodies hitting the ground."

There were so many horrors of the war.  American soldiers blown to bits.  Vietnam villages burned and bombed with no survivors.  Children and women massacred.  Body parts missing.  Head wounds seeping.  People carrying limbs of their fellow combatants.  Babies born with their spines bent the wrong way and half of their face missing.  Everything talked about the "American aggressors" and illegal war crimes that the United States committed during the war.

It was surreal to go out into the courtyard and see giant military vehicles and aircraft with U.S. markings on them.  We also went into a replica of the prisons called "tiger cages" where the South Vietnamese would keep North Vietnamese prisoners.  Inside it described how they would torture all of the prisoners to death, and listed all of the ways that they would perform the torture.  It was truly horrifying!

It was an emotionally draining experience that was confused by the research I did going into the museum.  I was interested in seeing the museum because I'm fascinated by the war, and interested in one day making a feature film about a small piece of it called Operation Babylift.
Much of the controversial language has
been removed from the signs, as of 1995,
but you can see that there are still hints
of negativity.  This sign puts "Vietnam War"
in quotes suggesting that it's an
inaccurate description of what the
U.S. did to Vietnam.
The museum was created by the North Vietnam perspective, and it used to be a lot more one-sided than it is now in pointing out the war crimes of France and the U.S. and also referring to South Vietnamese people as "puppets."  It's been criticized by how blatantly one-sided it is, but regardless, it still shows the graphic side of the war.  Many people feel that the museum has twisted the stories and photo captions to support "their side" of history.

It certainly makes me question who is truly telling the whole truth.  It's easy to leave out the rough edges when writing history books, depending on your audience, and I would say there's plenty of that being done in the media today.  Take, for example, the most recent national news with Mary Blair elementary.  It's a better story if we demonize the school for taking away children's happy dreams for the world and their blooming imaginations.  A kid throwing rocks on the playground and getting a little timeout in the principal's office? Not so interesting.  How would we expect the account of a 17-year war to tell the whole truth when we're only allowed to consider a limited number of perspectives?

They day in the museum left me wanting to learn more - not convinced of anything other than the fact that it was a terrible, terrible war.  But what war isn't?

After our exploration, we headed back to the ship to get a quick nap before dinner... (to be continued)