Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

From a Different Set of Eyes

“From a Different Set of Eyes”

by Erin McMahon


            I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. It was something I felt I understood and was fairly aware of but I was so wrong. ImageAfter walking up the stairs I walked into a world that I hadn’t realized existed. The War Remnants Museum was a shock into the reality of the “Vietnam War” but now I was seeing it as the “American War.” ImageThe images and stories I witnessed were so terrifying, unsettling, and powerful that at times within the museum I had to take a break before continuing on.

The museum consisted of three floors, each having its own theme and each theme showed the trauma of the war in different ways. ImageThe first floor represented the propaganda that was made against the war and showed the large artist movement against it. The second floor was titled “American Aggression” and “Agent Orange,” which showed the Americans in a different light. ImageIt was the Americans forcing war on the Vietnamese versus the Americans trying to help Vietnam “claim” its independence. There were stories and pictures of entire towns being massacred, people being tortured then killed, and awful acts made against the Vietnamese. My heart sank lower and lower into my chest and I wasn’t even half way through.

ImageImageImageAfter that it didn’t get any easier seeing the effects of ImageAgent Orange. It destroyed whole forests, killed countless civilians, and left many broken and burned. It wasn’t enough that this chemical harmed so many people in the war but that it’s harming generations after. There were stories and pictures of deformed children being born many years after the war. The most recent story I saw occurred in 2008; the baby boy was born without any arms. My stomach felt like it was in knots and nothing I could think about would help. Image

The pictures were hard enough to see but the stories behind the pictures were so painful that I had to stop reading them towards the end of the visit. I just couldn’t digest what this country had suffered.Image

The hard reality of this is that each story has two sides and each side usually stands to make itself the victim. The other students and I feel like we didn’t see their side of the war in school, we only saw the “Vietnam War” and nobody would ever think to call it the “American War.” ImageAmerican students only learn about how America was “victimized” when we lost 50,000 soldiers compared to the 3 million Vietnamese casualties. It can never be enough to understand one side of an argument. The college students who grew up during the war might have seen what truly went on but our generation has hardly touched the surface. I think that this side of the war needs to be taught so that further generations are not desensitized to the horrors of war.

War is not only one sided and can’t be shielded from the following generations. Each side has to be presented in order to give people the chance to form their own opinions and not ignore the brutality of war. I feel like our generation and further generations don’t even comprehend the horrors of war. Our country glorifies it through movies and video games when we are never exposed to the consequences of real war through the news. That museum gave me a whole new outlook on that war and the emotions I experienced will forever be imprinted within my being.


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