Starting to Explore 1

On September 2, which is Independence Day, we went into Ho Chi Minh City to what is called The War Remnants museum.

The actual “remnants” are household items from My Lai: two woven fish baskets, a few trays, some other small things too modest to be remembered, or maybe I was so upset that I couldn’t focus on them. These are things that were salvaged, it doesn’t say by whom or when, from the site of the massacre. These lie on a low display case beneath a lot of photographs. By the time you get to this display you have been through a whole floor of photographs and then another half floor, so you know what you’re looking at.

My Lai, part of a village named Son My, March 16, 1968, is where Company C of the 23rd Infantry killed 504 Vietnamese, mostly women and children plus a few old men. Killed, raped, shot, etc. This is the massacre that only Lt. William Calley was ultimately convicted for, although 26 US soldiers were charged. There was a photographer present; I should have written down his name but didn’t.

The Museum itself is three stories high. You enter through a gate, buy a ticket for 15 dong, and find yourself in a large courtyard full of military aircraft. There’s a gigantic troop helicopter on your right. On your left planes nearly bump noses. Around the corner are tanks.

I went straight in and up to the third floor, which is where the exhibit I’d read about started. It’s organized around photojournalists who were killed in the war (I counted about 80): blown up by land mines, crashed in helicopters, just plain shot. It’s an installation of a travelling exhibit called Requiem, assembled by photojournalist Tim Page, who is British, now living in Australia. Look him up on Wikipedia

Telling the story of the war through the hundreds of collected photos of named photojournalists, with brief stories of their lives on plaques on the wall in English and Vietnamese, steadies the impact of what you’re looking at enough to make it possible to hang in there and view the whole thing.

War rem 2

On the left are photos from a Life Magazine spread done by Larry Burroughs where he rode with a helicopter crew on a foray.

The floor below is more photographs and includes the My Lai display. Another gallery has photos of the children of people poisoned by Agent Orange; no end of suffering. A big collection box seemed nearly full of paper money.

The bottom floor has guns, amazing numbers of different kinds of guns, some the sort that you carry yourself, some as big as cars.

Coming out of the museum I felt as if the war was still going on. I remember life in San Francisco during that period, the kind of things that were on TV, the demonstrations, the arrests, the feeling that while I was crossing the street someone else was getting killed in my name on the other side of the world. The background to the dancing-on-the-beach culture of the 60s’ was always the war.

There were only a few references to the anti-war movement in the US in the War Remnants Museum. But I think that the photojournalists who captured the horrors of the Vietnam war contributed significantly to the anti-war movement in the US.

However, there aren’t a lot of photojournalists left these days. ISIS beheads them. The photos of Palmyra are taken from satellites.