After brief visits to Notre Dame Cathedral, which is not particularly grand despite it being the largest church ever built in any of France’s colonies, and the beautifully restored General Post Office (designed by none other that the famous Mr Eiffel), we paid a longer visit to the War Remnants Museum.
Because I grew up as a teenager during the Vietnam War and it dominated our evening news almost every night for years, I still have a real fascination with this war and the reasons why it happened. The people we spoke with in the north of the country differ greatly from those we spoke to in the south when giving their perspectives on the war and the role of the US in the conflict. The northerners view the war as a revolutionary action aimed at reunifying the country after years of French domination. The southerners opposed the communist takeover and feel that the US abandoned them to face defeat after the 1973 Paris talks.
The reality, as viewed in the museum, is that this must have been a horrible war. Over 2 million Vietnamese lost their lives. Villages and agricultural communes were destroyed, families fled the country, Agent Orange caused birth defects in hundreds of babies born after the war, and hundreds of people who had supported the defeated south were imprisoned and their families consigned to many years of hardship and poverty. The power of the weaponry on display in the museum is frightening. It was a very enlightening, worthwhile visit, but I left the museum hoping that this country never has to go through another war like this one ever again.
To lighten the mood, we finished the day with a bit of shopping (or window shopping, in my case) at Ben Thanh Market.