Vietnam in the mid 50’s to the mid 70’s was a brutal and violent place to be. For everyone reading this saying, “well, yeah. duh genius” I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the younger generation who’s learned that Vietnam hosted a war that “we weren’t supposed to fight”. Which is pretty much all we learned in school. We did not learn that the war was discussed around the world and dubbed as a genocide. I hear genocide and I think of Nazi Germany, Cambodia killing fields, and Joseph Kony. “The U.S armed forces subject the civilian populations to inhuman treatments prohibited by international law. The U.S government is guilty of genocide vis-à-vis the Vietnamese people”. -Bertrand Russell Tribunal. Founded by the notable Bertrand Russell, a political activist, philosopher, and Nobel Prize winner.
You see, this is where I get lost. I’m reading this statement hung in the War Crimes section at the Ho Chi Minh War Museum. I kept reading more and more allegations of internal war laws being broken by the U.S. None of these are stated by any South East Asian government, but by European nations and their allies. These were paired with graphic images of American soldiers abusing women, children, and men. All of whom were crying, malnourished, and afraid of their lives with Americans looking prideful and cheery as they beat and tortured them. Vietnamese citizens mind you, not soldiers.
I was blown away reading these articles, explanations and passages that were linked with horrific images. Why didn’t I learn this in school? It’s a war that isn’t talked about in America and when it is, all I’ve ever heard is that “we weren’t supposed to be there” by the older generation. This has been marked a genocide by almost every piece of paper I read that was published in Europe. Unbiased information. It’s not like the Vietnamese people just put some quotes up and said they were treated bad and it was a genocide. Look as a millennial I did not learn this, so this was heavy for me to see that my homeland was a bad guy.
So maybe America just messed up and got out as fast as we could. This was my thinking as I’m walking through the museum trying to remember how long the war lasted. 1955. This is when the war started. Eisenhower pledge his support to south Vietnam to help fight the communist north. It officially ended in 1975. A 20-year mistake?
I left that day feeling oddly unpatriotic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to be an American and to have experienced the privileges of being an American citizen. Especially while traveling abroad. I felt unpatriotic because I felt like I’d been lied to by my education system and I’d been kept in the dark about Vietnam. I’d only been told the “good parts” that made America seem as if we had no other choice to be there. Like that we were there to stop the opium growing communists that sold drugs and dealt weapons all while standing for a communistic world.
A communistic world, that sounds horrible and makes American citizens cringe. But why? I’m here in Vietnam, a Communist Nation, and it has some of the nicest people who have literally nothing. Even still, they would give you a free meal and even the shirt off their back.
I’m an American and I’m proud to say I’m eager to learn new truths of the world, instead of sticking to the altered American education systems version.