|Collection of war rifles in Cambodia|
This is going to be a very hard post to write and perhaps difficult to read. While in Cambodia, I visited the War Museum in Siem Reap and our tour guide was so vocal about the history of the Cambodian Civil War, the corruption of the current government and the hatred his countrymen held for the Vietnamese that I put off writing this until I was out of the country and had also visited the Vietnamese War Remnants Museum, which I did yesterday.
|Anti-aircraft gun a Khmer Rouge soldier would have been chained to.|
In the Cambodian museum I found myself cringing at the stories of what the Khmer Rouge (the communist side of the conflict) did to their own soldiers, let alone the horror stories of the mass killings. When our guide stood beside an anti-aircraft gun and told us that the Khmer Rouge chained its soldiers to the guns and also to their stations in tanks to ensure they fight to the death, an immense sense of the terror they must have suffered came over me. They were given three bullets in their shirt pockets, according to our guide whose father had been a soldier, to take their own lives rather than be captured.
|A captured Russian helicopter in Siem Reap|
The disturbing pictures of the victims of landmines in the time of war, and into the present, also caused me great discomfort. Obviously, it is easier to imagine war at a distance or through the prism of film, than to face it head on, even if removed by time. The earnest young man told the story of his father, whom all the children had hated for his abuse of both them and their mother until he died and they discovered what he had gone through during the war.
American forces did participate in this war, because the Khmer Rouge was supported by the North Vietnamese. I could not detect any hostility on his part towards Americans, of which I was the only one in his audience, but he was vehement about the Vietnamese. He also waited until the end of the tour to reveal that the current Prime Minister, who had been in office since the end of the war, had been a big wig in the Khmer Rouge, and was very corrupt. I cannot verify his information, but I will say that he was the third Cambodian to tell me about the corruption of his government, the first being my cab driver into Phnom Penh from the airport.
|One of many anti-American posters on display in Ho Chi Minh City|
In Ho Chi Minh City, my experience was much more upsetting. At the War Remnants Museum I felt myself shrinking as the only detectable American in the place amid the vast array of pictures that made me gasp, then hold my breathe. I’m fully aware that “The American War” is remembered and presented from the Vietnamese point of view. That doesn’t make the horrors of war any less real.
The section on Agent Orange was the worst of all, with pictures of the most terrible disfigurements, including a portion dedicated to what the chemical had caused for the Americans exposed and their families as well. I could not take a picture of any of these as it felt completely disrespectful.
|Bomb fragment from"The American War"|
I must couch the next statement with this preamble, I appreciate the efforts of those who have served in each American war and have the utmost respect for the sacrifice of each one and their families. However, this was a horrible, useless conflict and I wish we, as a nation, would remember – really remember – this before stepping into any more similar fights. There has to be a better way.
|A display of cartridge sizes from Vietnam conflict|
|Hope from the minds of children|