HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The War

In my postings about Vietnam I've yet to discuss the event that put this country on the map for many Americans, but after visiting a landmark of the war yesterday I figured it was time to bring up the Vietnam War (or the American War, as it's called here). Obviously I was not alive during the war, but I've read several books on the topic and seen the classic war films like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, so I know a bit about it. The war was obviously traumatic for both sides, and it brought about a cultural transformation in the U.S. Many Americans over the age of 40 still associate Vietnam with the war, which is one reason why I got so many surprsied reactions when I told people where I was going. It is strange to think that 40 years ago a 22 year-old male like myself would've been praying to never have to go to Vietnam, but today I am enjoying this vibrant, friendly country. It really goes to show how much can change with the passage of time.

The reason I bring all of this up is that we visited the Reunification Palace here in Saigon yesterday. Originally named Independence Palace upon its completion in the 1960's, the building served as South Vietnam's White House during the war - the President and Vice-President worked there, and the war effort was partially directed from the basement. The palace is also the site of the end of the war, which occured on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through the gate leading to the building, signalling the fall of Saigon. Once peace talks were concluded, the new government renamed the building Reunification Palace, to honor the new incarnation of a complete Vietnam.

The interior of the building is perfectly preserved in a state of 1970's funky furniture. One room, though, really brought home how the war looked to the Vietnamese, and as an American it was a jarring experience to read and view the historical documents on display. Transcribed radio addresses praised the "Anti-American resistance," and NVA troops were referred to as "Liberation troops," which sounds strange to us since these were the troops that young American men were fighting against. There was one set of pictures depicting American atrocities such as My Lai and the use of Agent Orange that was particularly tough to handle.

Now, I am not saying that the U.S. deserves all of the blame for what happened during the war. Both sides committed acts of appalling violence, scarring a generation of men, women, and children on both sides of the Pacific. Many people in Vietnam just got over their wariness of the U.S. a few years ago. Luckily, perceptions seem to be changing rapidly now. The war is rarely discussed, and the country is fully preoccupied with its explosive economic growth. When I think about it, it is rather amazing that I am writing this in Vietnam, a country that was racked by horrible violence just a few decades ago. It gives me hope that someday countries like Iraq and Afghanistan will be places where American can visit freely. Overall, then, the Vietnam War is undoubtedlty an important part of the country's history but, like the Khmer people, the Vietnamese are moving forward, full steam ahead.


  1. Interesting to read your article (I am also an America living in Vietnam). If you haven't go to Cu Chi Tunnels. It is a 'guided' tour.

    As a 42 year old, I am more appauled that I learned nothing of the American/Vietnam War, and worse yet, the genocidal killings of the Khmer Rouge. I feel lucky that I can educate my children on these matters so THEY can do what they can for a more peaceful world!

    BTW-found your blog as I have lived here for over 1 year and a cyclist... always looking for mroe cyclists (road).

    Good luck!

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