To understand the context of the war with the USA, and its devastating impact on Vietnamese civilians, this remarkable, deeply moving museum is an essential visit. Many atrocities documented here were well publicised, but rarely do Westerners hear the victims of military action tell their own stories. While some displays are one-sided, many of the most disturbing photographs illustrating atrocities are from US sources, including those from the My Lai massacre. Allow at least a couple of hours for your visit.
The museum primarily deals with the American War, but the French-colonial period and conflicts with China are also documented. US armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are on display outside. One corner of the grounds is devoted to the notorious French and South Vietnamese prisons on Phu Quoc and Con Son islands. Artefacts include that most iconic of French appliances, the guillotine, and the notoriously inhumane ‘tiger cages’ used to house war prisoners.
The ground floor of the museum is devoted to a collection of posters and photographs showing support for the antiwar movement internationally. This somewhat upbeat display provides a counterbalance to the horrors upstairs.
Even those who supported the war are likely to be horrified by the photos of children affected by US bombing and napalm. You’ll also have the rare chance to see some of the experimental weapons used in the war, which were at one time military secrets, such as the flechette, an artillery shell filled with thousands of tiny darts.
Upstairs, look out for the Requiem Exhibition. Compiled by legendary war photographer Tim Page, this striking collection documents the work of photographers killed during the course of the conflict, on both sides, and includes works by Larry Burrows and Robert Capa.
The War Remnants Museum is in the former US Information Service building. It was previously called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. Captions are in Vietnamese and English.