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American in Vietnam

 Hanoi, Vietnam

By Michelle Cox

     I was wandering around the Vietnamese Army History Museum in Hanoi early Thursday morning.  I had gone with a group of 75 but decided to go off on my own.  I was more interested in learning more about the “American War” than I was about the French War so I skipped to the very end of the museum hall.  At the bottom of the upstairs to the museum was a large courtyard with what I thought were just life sized models of American War machinery.  As I walked on through and read the plaques in front of each piece, I learned that hey were actual American tanks and aircraft from the War that the Viet-Cong had stolen from our camps. 

     Suddenly, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  I began to understand why my mother was so troubled by the fact that I would be visiting this place (Vietnam) that had made such a huge impact on my parents when they were growing up.  All I could do was try to imagine what it must’ve been like to be an American soldier and what it must’ve been like to be in that very spot hearing the bombs going off around me.  I really wanted to sit there and think long and hard about it, but I was having such a hard time processing the information and concentrating on what I was feeling.  I just couldn’t believe that this peaceful, happy hustle and bustle place was once a war zone.  I had an even harder time believing that American soldiers had been killed on the same ground I was standing on.  And there I was standing in this courtyard filled with equipment that belonged to the United States.  It made me want to take it all home where it belongs; it made me very angry. 

     In the midst of my thoughts, I realized that across the street there were two older, Vietnamese men staring at me as if they were thinking about what I was feeling or what I was thinking.  All I could think about was, “What if these men were a part of the Viet-Cong?  What if these are the same men that killed the soldiers of my own country?”  At first I was angry, but not bitter towards any particular thing.  I can’t be angry with the Vietnamese because I wasn’t there at that time.  I just didn’t even know what to do with myself.  In Christina Schwenkel’s article “Recombinant History: Transnational Practices of Memory and Knowledge Production in Contemporary Vietnam,” she explains that some of the historical attractions left from the war have been depicted as being “too real” for the tourists to handle.  I didn’t visit any of the actual bomb sites or the Cu Chi tunnels, which Schwenkel discusses, but the amount of emotion that overcame me just from seeing these war artifacts in Hanoi was "too real" enough for me.

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