Friday, January 15, 2010

Second Indochina War

Our visit to Ho Chi:Min City, or Saigon as they still call it in South Vietnam, provided quite a different perspective on the Vietnam War than we get in school in America.  Most Vietnamese refer to the war as the American War or the Second Indochina War, not the Vietnam War.  Getting your head around the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ( communist ) as the good guys, and the Republic of Vietnam ( allied with the Americans ) as the bad guys takes a while.

We visited Reunification Palace, previously named Independence Palace, and were able to see meeting rooms, dining areas, living quarters, and bunkers used by the Democratic government before the North Vietnamese Army took over the palace to end the war on April 30.1975, or Liberation Day.  It was strange reading captions on photos and descriptions of the war and realizing that when they talked about the allies or the enemy, you had to first determine the regime making the statement before you knew if the Americans were good or bad in that context.  The photos of the North Vietnamese Army crashing through the gates and the American troops being evacuated were pretty amazing.

The War Remnants Museum was basically a memorial of the atrocities that Americans committed against the Vietnamese during the war.  The display on the effects of napalm and Agent Orange on the general population was particularly gruesome.  While no one asked where I was from, I had a general sense of unease touring the exhibits as if I would be held guilty by association for being an American.

For a demonstration on the ingenuity of the Vietnamese people, a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels is worth the long battle with traffic.  The people who built, lived in, and fought from these tunnels are considered heroes of the war.  They were able to live below ground without detection for long periods of time and build traps and weapons with materials either found in the forest or recycled from unexploded ordinances dropped by the Americans.  The propaganda film you watch at the beginning of the tour is extremely negative towards Americans, but the organization that runs the tunnels is thinking of toning it down a bit as the focus is now on friendship with the West.

The opinion of Americans in South and Central Vietnam, especially in the younger generations, has been positive so far.  We have been told that some of the older generations in the North may not be friendly towards Americans because their memories of the war are still fresh, but for the most part, the Vietnamese have been very friendly and eager to sell you something no matter where you come from.  We've decided that if it becomes obvious Americans are not welcome, we'll be Canadian for the day.

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