We took in more history today by going to the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace, otherwise known as Independence Palace. It had been renamed after Saigon fell to North Vietnam, much like the city itself. We start with Independence Palace where the the president of South Vietnam had his headquarters, living quarters, war room, and held diplomatic events. I got the feeling there was much more to the building than the public is able to access.
Both Soviet and American tanks were on display off the front lawn, the building has a grand lawn and circle entrance and the whole complex is encompassed in fences and gates. The rear of the complex has cafes and playgrounds. American leaders were also often found here during our stint in the war. The US Embassy and CIA Headquarters were very close by, but the buildings no longer stand. A new US Embassy now stands in the same area.
The famous image of the last Huey leaving Saigon evacuating Americans and South Vietnamese with some of those Vietnamese hanging on to the skids as the helicopter ascended was taken very close by to the Independence Palace. Due to there being a model Huey on the roof of this building I had begun to wonder if this was the building, but not quite. The palace is still used today for stately occasions such as welcoming a Secretary from Russia, the Prime Minister of Japan, and many other dignitaries including some from the US. However, it is mostly a timepiece.
The interior has not been updated since its days during the war and will be evident in the photos. It still looks beautiful, and dare I say has elements that are coming back in style. Some mid-century pieces in here would fetch several hundreds of dollars at a shop in New York, historical value aside. The basement is stark and bare with communication and recording devices, maps, switches, and other unknown electronics from the war. The presidential war command room was on display, the kitchen, and a couple replica cars in which the president would have been driven. There were hallways and stairways further down that were off limits, doors, odd shaped and sized doors that were locked. Curiosity piqued.
While we were standing on the roof and enjoying a beer with the views there was a small group of Vietnamese, early twenties or maybe teens, that were having a look around too. I didn’t realize it but one girl had walked up behind me, hoping that I wouldn’t notice while her while a friend took a picture of us. Paul and I are freakishly tall in Vietnam and had heard many comments along our trip to such effect. But this was the first time I was going to be used as a novelty. I turned around just as, I think, they were getting the photo. We all smiled and laughed as they attempted to tell me I’m tall. I suggested we get a proper photo together, but the giggling didn’t stop. It was too funny to both our groups. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have a copy of any of these photos. But, to make sure our legacy lives on Kalysa photobombed their group picture.
I turned around just as, I think, they were getting the photo. We all smiled and laughed as they attempted to tell me I’m tall. I suggested we get a proper photo together, but the giggling didn’t stop. It was too funny to both our groups. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have a copy of any of these photos. But, to make sure our legacy lives on Kalysa photobombed their group picture.
In between stops we got lunch at The Lunch Lady. Made popular by Anthony Bourdain. Much recommended.
After lunch we trekked over to the War Remnants Museum.
The two photos just above here are of a simulation at the Museum of the Tiger Cages at Con Dao. Prisoners would be shackled inside these barbed wires cages that I would be hard pressed to even fit in. These would have largely been political prisoners.
“There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
Propaganda was on strong here, but not like old German, Russian, or American propaganda. This was not a tour full of nationalistic, patriotic, motivating posters with warnings of a great enemy. This was tug on the heart strings, compassionate, evidence of the destruction of war.
If I were to call the War Remnants Museum something not to miss if you find yourself in Saigon, that would be hyperbolic. The simulated Tiger Cages were interesting, the old American military equipment is something I’ve seen time and again, this all would not be hard to pass over. However, when you step inside the museum and take a walk through all the photographs and stories you get to feel the human side of the wars fought. As an American, with close ties to people who spent whole swaths of their life fighting for South Vietnam, I was able to consume and ponder the messages and images from the other side.
This is an historical look, this was put together after the war had ended. This propaganda is not made to move a people to war or justify one. If anything, it moves you to hope one never happens again. It is wise to know thy enemy, but my observations always make me think the American public chooses to forget the other side is human at all. Perhaps it is a symptom of the frequency at which we wage war, while the only tangible connection is a one-sided body count and depleted treasury.
I suppose Eisenhower had already warned us of that. However, many people in our country can surely speak of the horrible things our soldiers endured as well, I’ve had first hand accounts told to me.
Keep in mind where the message is coming from and who wrote it. Keeping with that perspective, I still was shocked and moved by what was on display. Not just images of the effects of Agent Orange, not just soldiers burning villages, or phosphorous bombs destruction of humans, but also their use of Western ideals against our very actions. When your own principles are able to take down our moral standing, that’s when the defense rests. We did not start it, but we certainly escalated it and took the lasting memory.