Remnants of the War: Traveling Through Vietnam as an American

Vietnam war memorial photo
Vietnam War Memorial, Washington DC Photo by Bernt Rostad

Before I left to go to Vietnam I wanted to understand our part in the Vietnam war. I’m sure somebody told why we were there in high school. But I did not remember nor did I probably care back then. So in preparation for my trip I asked my roommate at the time who happened to be teaching our students US History for a brief summary, I then watched Apocalypse Now ( which was of no help) and read Dispatches by Michael Herr, a journalist who was stationed in Vietnam in 1976. When I got to Vietnam I felt I had a good understanding of why we were there, how Vietnam was split, and the I thought I understood the gravity of how bad it was and why America was seen as idiotic for ever entering the war in the first place. But I was not prepared for propaganda that is in the country today and what some Vietnamese think happened in the war.

My anger at the U.S.
America truly screwed this one up. Not only were we helping fight a civil war we should have never been involved in but we killed a lot of innocent civilians and we got a lot of our own people killed. And then we lost. And left and now Vietnam is communist anyways.

But in Vietnam:
Some of the museums in Vietnam  make it seem as if the U.S. just started bombing the crap out of Vietnam as if they were never even in war with themselves. They also make it seem like the whole of America supported the war while many Americans were incredibly upset that we were in the war. In the North it is often referred to as the American War, making it seem as if it was Vietnam against America rather than the true fact that America was supporting south Vietnam and that a large amount of Vietnamese soldiers were working with the Americans. A young university student that I was talking to who grew up in Saigon, whose family is from Saigon, said “after we won the war….” Truly students are being educated that all of Vietnam won the war against the U.S. Saigon is in the south, her parents were most likely on the side of the U.S. yet she believes that her country won the war rather than the fact that the war was actually a civil war, and her side lost.

Back to my anger at the U.S.
On the other hand I am truly ashamed at our country’s decision to spray Agent Orange. Walking in down the streets in Vietnam, you can still see the affects of the chemicals today. There are many many more disabled people in Vietnam than there is in the U.S. Not only did we hurt the country during the war but many people are still suffering the affects, specifically children who are being born today with life changing birth defeats because of our chemical attacks. Our painful involvement in the war did not end in 1975, it will go on for generations and generations to come.

Back to being mad at Vietnam:

I had the chance to visit the Cu chi tunnels that the Vietcong used to hide in the jungle. Wow those tunnels are small and they lived in them for days! The traps the Vietcong set were merciless. They were initially used for hunting animals and were repurposed for people during the war. They are pretty grotesque.

Also I got to go the Hao Lò Prison (aka Hanoi Hilton) where John McCain and other U.S. pilots were held as POWs after their planes got shot down. Interestingly before the Vietnamese used it to hold Americans, the French built it to imprison the Vietnamese. There was all this information about how poorly the French treated the Vietnamese while they were there and then when you walk to the section about US troops being kept there every picture instantaneously switches to showing how well the American POWs were treated. There’s staged photos of them putting up Christmas trees and playing games. So many people who were captured have come forward and talked or written about the torture methods the Vietnamese used in this very building and yet on the walls it states that the Vietnamese tried to give the best living conditions to the pilots.

I’m glad to have learned so much about the war from both sides. However both sides’ lies and propaganda are enormously frustrating. We were wrong, we killed a lot of people. We should have never been there, we should have never dropped agent orange. But we were not fighting the whole of Vietnam. We were supporting the South. The war was not as simple as the U.S. against Vietnam. And yes the Vietcong was killing people and torturing the crap out of people but we were killing innocent civilians and throwing people out of helicopters.

Overall I had a mix of emotions while traveling through the country: from excitement and happiness that I could experience another culture to guilt, astonishment and frustration. The U.S. has not fought a battle on it’s own soil for a long time and my generation doesn’t fully understand how much destruction it causes. Also what this truly opened my eyes to is to try to find an answer to why we are in the Middle East? They say history repeats itself. We are once again killing hundreds of people and getting hundreds of our people killed. For what?



End Note: If I had known about them before I went I would have watched “The Tunnels of Cu Chi” and read Last Night I Dreamed of Peace. I still plan on doing both, but I wish I had known of both before I went.

Next Week: My 9 Day Vietnam Itinerary


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Megan is from sunny California and is currently living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She funds her travels by teaching students with learning challenges and students applying to U.S. universities. She loves traveling like a local, eating amazing food and is always up for an adventure. Check out her about me section to learn more!

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