Thursday, April 30, 2009

Vietnam: War Reminders

The Ho Chi Minh complex was closed during the days we visited Hanoi, so we spent more time exploring memorials of the US-Vietnam war. We also saw reminders of war with Japan and China and France, a clue to the strategic role of Vietnam. We passed an area with a crashed airplane strewn across the front of a large building and asked if we could stop. It was a B52 memorial where the Vietnamese had shot down a US plane. The girls found it interesting to walk around and touch airplane parts and bomb shells. I found it poignant and disturbing. So many, many lives on both sides were changed by this war.

We also went to the Hoa Lo prison, which is colloquially known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” where US POWs were held during the Vietnam War. Most of the display showed the poor treatment of Vietnamese prisoners by Japanese in earlier times. A few rooms were devoted to showing the relatively “good” treatment of US prisoners by the Vietnamese. We did not engage in any political discussion about the accuracy of the portrayal. We asked our guide, Twen, what the Vietnamese people think of Americans. We were surprised that he was surprised at that question. For young people, the Vietnam War is a historical event. The next day he reported that he had asked his father that question. The father’s response: “If a neighbor comes and kills one of your family, then returns 10 years later and apologizes, how would you react? Everyone reacts differently.” We also saw an older man begging in the train station. Twen said that there are many such older men who suffered mental impairments from what people believe was Agent Orange. We know that if we went to areas of the US near military hospitals we might see similar sights. The tools of war do not take sides.

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