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

A History Rediscovered by Courtney Gerard

Our first day in Vietnam was a force of sheer will. Most of us traveled for over twenty hours the day prior and the jet lag left us with residual drowsiness. As an introduction to this new and exciting country, we made our way down the street to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.

WRM_378For most of us, the only formal education we had regarding Vietnam was the period surrounding the Vietnam War. Learning about the war from the perspective of the Vietnamese helped us shed misconceptions. It was a very moving experience for us to look at the war through a different set of eyes and to get to know the Vietnamese individuals in a way that was absent in a lot of our schooling.

It is easy to forget that there are two sides to every conflict. To Imagine how your actions would make someone else feel or to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is a concept that is often preached in American society. Unfortunately we often forget to look at the other side of things and in doing so we miss opportunities not only to connect with our opposition, but to learn about ourselves.

The images and displays in the museum were very obviously presented from a Vietnamese perspective. PeopleViewingPhoto_WRM_1680They are a lot more graphic in nature than most American museums, depicting the violence of the war through images of women fleeing chemical bombs clinging to their children, disemboweled soldiers, and people crippled by dioxin and Agent Orange. DefoliantsSign_WRM_414Although shocking, the images bring everyone together on a very basing human level, opening the gates to allow empathy to flow freely.

When most people plan a first date, they don’t typically involve torture weapons, dead children and napalm. But alas, this was the first day we spent together and the mutual feelings of being overwhelmed by a new culture combined with the emotional power of the museum made for a quick bonding experience. I can’t say I’d recommend it if you are seriously courting someone, but it seemed to work well for us.

ViewingAgentOrange_836Many of the images displayed are photos taken by war reporters at the time to help people in the United States and around the world better understand the war. Moments transcending time hang from the walls.

Throughout our schooling we learn that the utmost priority of journalism is to convey facts accurately and without bias. Even though the photos are raw and grotesque, they were first and foremost honest. I have tremendous respect for the reporters that lived amongst the soldiers and just as much respect for the editors with the courage to publish them.

It is an unfortunate turn of events that our media has become so polarized and censored. BarbedWire_WRM_1657I can’t help but wonder if the U.S. would have pulled out of the Middle East a long time ago if we had had a trustworthy flow of content covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t see much footage of carpet-bombed cities full of civilians or real time footage of IEDs blowing up American convoys like our parents and grandparents saw in TIME and LIFE during the Vietnam War. It allows us to separate ourselves from the action despite the fact it’s the votes of Americans that bring us to this position.

In whole it was a very humbling experience. As the daughter of a Vietnam vet, I have always been acutely aware of the war as one of particular violence. Our fathers protect us from all ManViewingTigerCage_WRM_1650of the terrors in the night but on occasion my father would awake the house with his cries, running from something so terrible that it trumped all of my childhood fears. It was not until seeing the war museum that I could really conceptualize the events that went on in the daily lives of Vietnamese and American soldiers in Vietnam in that period. Even my peers without this experience walked away with a whole new appreciation for both our veterans and the Vietnamese people who lived through the war.

The fact that we have made peace and the Vietnamese have been able to move pass the war to form a healthy bilateral relationship is truly admirable. It gives us great hope that many of the current conflicts can eventually be resolved and we can work together to foster a lasting rapport much like the rapport that will be built throughout the rest of our stay in Vietnam. These relationships will be crucial in mitigating the effects of climate change on a global level. If we can learn from our past but move on and look toward the future we can make great strides toward creating a more sustainable world.



One response

  1. Again, I have the pleasure greeting these wonderful Montana visitors to Vietnam via cyberspace and read another moving and eloquent note from this time: Courtney Gerard. Thank you, Courtney and thank you to staffs, academics and students for coming to Vietnam with your open mind, expertise, friendship and technical assistance…Like always, I’m expecting and confident that my beloved country will respond in kind!

    January 2, 2016 at 4:25 pm

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