“They say the victors get to write the history of war, says Rusty Compass, “and this museum has grabbed that opportunity with fervour.” Few museums anywhere convey “the brutal effects of war on its civilian victims so powerfully,” writes Lonely Planet. “Many of the atrocities documented here were well-publicised but rarely do Westerners hear the victims of US military action tell their own stories. While some displays are one-sided, many of the most disturbing photographs illustrating US atrocities are from US sources, including those of the infamous My Lai Massacre.”
Many of the exhibits and pictures are graphic -- “defoliant affected foetuses, pictures of hideous atrocities” -- but they tell an important story, says Rusty Compass. Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is “unashamedly propagandist and unapologetic in its selectivity -- and it will prompt some reflection on the propagandist function of museums in Vietnam and everywhere.”
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, and the museum -- which has a temporary and unpretentious feel -- was opened to the public as the ‘Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes’ in the same year, notes Atlas Obsura. (The name was shortened to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression in 1990, then changed again to War Remnants Museum in 1995, “amid improving relations with the US and increasing numbers of American visitors who sometimes complained about the choice of language,” explains Business Insider). It now houses eight permanent thematic exhibitions and various other special collections and shows from the beginning of the war, causes, origins and processes of aggressive wars, and the museum’s courtyard displays captured or abandoned American military aircraft, helicopters, tanks, and artillery. It’s all capped by “a powerful collection of photos taken by 134 war reporters from 11 nationalities, all killed during the Vietnam War,” explains Atlas Obsura.
Although its name has been toned down, the museum that draws 500,000 visitors annually “has been criticised for lacking balance by linking American soldiers to aggressive and criminal actions while neglecting atrocities committed on the North Vietnamese side,” says Business Insider. “Museum curators make concerted efforts to educate foreigners, especially Americans, about the war, but based on a certain government-sanctioned Vietnamese interpretation of events. Nevertheless, some foreign visitors appreciate the museum for offering a different point of view on the conflict — one that they can’t really find anywhere else.”