War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh
The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City first opened to the public in 1975. Once known as the ‘Museum of American War Crimes’, it's a shocking reminder of the long and brutal Vietnam War. Graphic photographs and American military equipment are on display. There's a helicopter with rocket launchers, a tank, a fighter plane, a single-seater attack aircraft. You can also see a conventional bomb that weighs at 6,800kg. American troops had used these weapons against the Vietnamese between 1945 and 1975.
Operated by the Vietnamese government, an earlier version of this museum opened on September 4, 1975, as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes. It was located in the former United States Information Agency building. The exhibition was not the first of its kind for the North Vietnamese side, but rather followed a tradition of such exhibitions exposing war crimes, first those of the French and then those of the Americans, who had operated in the country as early as 1954.
In 1990, the name was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, dropping both "U.S." and "Puppet." In 1995, following the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States and end of the US embargo a year before, the references to "war crimes" and "aggression" were dropped from the museum's title as well; it became the War Remnants Museum.
The museum comprises a series of themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment placed within a walled yard. The military equipment includes a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" bomb, M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber. There are a number of pieces of unexploded ordnance stored in the corner of the yard, with their charges and/or fuses removed.
One building reproduces the "tiger cages" in which the South Vietnamese government kept political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photography, accompanied by a short text in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and war atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. The photographic display includes work by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa that he donated to the museum in 1998. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, the last time being in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, contained in the defoliant Agent Orange.
The War Remnants Museum is currently one of the most popular museums in Vietnam, attracting approximately half a million visitors every year. According to the museum's own estimates, about two-thirds of these are foreigners.
US anthropologist Christina Schwenkel wrote the museum attempts to convey historical truths with 'self-representation', presenting images and other features without contextualising them as other museums do. Museum curators are described as being privy to the fact that knowledge about the Vietnam War and the interests of the Vietnamese is not typically known in other nations.
An analysis of the impression books (which the tourists may use to leave their comments in at the exit) revealed that the museum's visitors used to be mostly Europeans and North Americans before 2005, but that its audience became much more varied after Vietnam dropped their visa requirement for ASEAN countries that year. The impression books also record mixed responses to the museum. Others simply praised Vietnam, while some Americans harshly criticized the museum for its "propaganda" and "glorification of [their] victory". Broadening interests have expanded from other countries as well, including visits from tourists from Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and others expanding to see the museum.