I’m currently backpacking around Asia, as you already know since you religiously follow this blog. Waiting patiently for the sporadic globs of mind nonsense I haphazardly transfer from brain to fingers to keyboard to world wide web. I’m currently in the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi. It’s a very bizarre place, a juxtapositioning of old-style communist pomp and regalia – the Vietnamese flag seems to adorn every other building’s facade and high-hatted police and soldiers are a common sight – but just walk down the road and find ten different places to find Coca Cola. It seems that there is a place in Vietnam for the products of the old enemy.
Being a history bug (read: massive nerd), I was pretty excited to go to the Museum of Military History. After getting up early for a visit to see Uncle Ho in his embalmed state, who, like Mao is looking a bit waxy these days, the next stop was the museum. Mild annoyance of trying to get charged 100,000 Vietnamese Dong aside (you’re allowed to laugh, I do. Frequently) it was into the museum. It starts of with the early history of Vietnam, with moderately detailed exhibits chronicling the invariably world-changing victories of the early Vietnamese nation.
Suddenly you jump from late 13th century to colonial times, so in between the 13th and 20th centuries I couldn’t really tell you what the Vietnamese got up to, though based on what I’ve seen, I will assume any battle fought was won! I was expecting bias when it came to the conflicts with France and the USA, since I’d visited the Hoa Lo prison, or the sardonically named ‘Hanoi Hilton’ the previous day and left assured that John McCain thoroughly enjoyed his 7 years in prison. The prematurely white hair and inability to raise his arms above his shoulders was surely unconnected.
Back on topic. The war is understandably portrayed as Vietnamese ‘patriots’ versus American and French ‘imperialists’. While I appreciate the numerous atrocities committed by both sides during the conflict, the historian inside my was crying out against such a black and wide outlook on such a significant chunk of 20th century history. History is a powerful tool to educate and enlighten people as they move forwards in time. A further example was in the large courtyard where various American aircraft and armoured vehicles were on display. Placards stated that these vehicles had been heroically captured by various united of the Vietnamese army. This would seem a fair enough claim, if slightly elaborately put, but on each of the vehicles the date was the same – 30/4/1975. Being the nerd I am, I knew this to be the day that Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City officially fell to the North Vietnamese, ending the conflict. Turns out these vehicles weren’t ‘heroically captured’, unless taking the keys of an abandoned armoured car is heroic. After an hour wandering amongst the exhibits, I was a bit fed up with the exaggerated stories that are spoon-fed to you as you go along.
I’m not intentionally trying to attack the Vietnamese. They have a right to celebrate what was arguably a great victory against the most powerful nation on earth at the time. However, now that the Cold War is over, and diplomatic ties are re-established, it seems irresponsible to perpetuate a distorted interpretation, when so much more could be gained from truthfully telling the story.
All a matter of interpretation.