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I finally made it to the adventure of a lifetime and now I'm a citizen of the World. Indy author, blogger, in love with being an author - Mom of two grown children and widow of the most wonderful man to ever live - Devon "Pete" Hall.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Revisiting War

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

I also believe that seeing something as momentous as the Vietnam War from a different POV cannot hurt, but rather helps us to understand our place in the world as individuals. I confess I’m a bit of a wimp with regards to the sad or disturbing and these two visitations were not at all easy for me, as well they shouldn’t be.

Hope from the minds of children


  1. I don't think I could take a tour like that. Especially with the way the world is now...there's just too much craziness going on. ...Out of curiosity, what made you want to visit the war museums?

    1. These two visits were very hard to take and I might have skipped them if not for a new traveling friend who expressed that she thought we owed it to those who died to pay attention. I think she's right.

      I also found it very hard to visit the Vietnam War Memorial in DC and frankly broke down. I had friends who died in that war. It's just hard to face these things but ultimately important.

  2. Kathy, I was unable to complete the visit at the War Remnants Museum. About halfway through, I told my wife I'd wait outside for her and left the exhibit hall we were in. I just couldn't handle seeing or reading anymore...

    1. I got very overwhelmed too. I saw one gentleman my age who I knew was having a problem. It took everything in me not to go over and hug him. Totally inappropriate but I could have used a hug too.