Exploring the War Remnants Museum: A Somber Reminder of Vietnam’s History

by joeheg

Traveling is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences that one can have. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to broaden one’s horizons, explore new cultures, and gain a deeper understanding of the world. There’s nothing quite like the rush of discovering a new place, meeting new people, and immersing yourself in local customs. But even if you stick to popular tourist destinations, you’re sure to encounter unique experiences that will challenge your perspectives and leave you with lasting memories.

While it might not be for everyone, we find it fascinating to visit war museums, particularly ones where we were on the other side of the war. One of the most sobering museums I’ve visited was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial with a dome on top

The curators pulled no punches when describing the horrors of war, and the aftermath of having an atomic bomb dropped above their city. But their goal is to make sure this never happens again to anyone.

War Remnants Museum

However, the same cannot be said for our visit to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

a building with a sign on the frontIt’s one of the most visited museums in Vietnam, serving host to over 500,000 visitors every year. Exhibits in the museum range from when the First Indochina War began in 1946 up until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The museum has undergone several name changes since the 1970s. The museum opened on September 4, 1975, under the name Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes. In 1990, the name was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, dropping “U.S.” and “Puppet.” As diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam were normalized in 1995, the references to “war crimes” and “aggression” were removed from the museum’s name, and it was renamed the War Remnants Museum.

Since my father served in the Vietnam War, mainly stationed in Danang, this museum struck me differently. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but Sharon did take a few of me looking at the exhibits. Many of the displays are of US equipment captured during the war.

a man standing in front of a large windowa man looking at a soldier in a glass caseWhile the US and Vietnam have mended their diplomatic relationship for their mutual benefit, there’s no doubt that Vietnam isn’t forgetting what Americans did to them. The same goes for the US and our memories of the Vietnam War. It wasn’t comfortable seeing US planes and tanks in Vietnam, and I think that’s exactly what they wanted me to feel.  a group of airplanes on display a group of tanks on display

Final Thought

While we’ve been to plenty of museums, none felt like the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam. While we never felt unwelcome as Americans visiting the country, they weren’t afraid to remind us about what we had done, which felt a bit unsettling while reminding us about what we’ve done and why we should never do it again.

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derek April 16, 2024 - 6:46 pm

I object to the repressive Communist government of Vietnam. They did lots of harm to the people of Vietnam and to Americans. Just ask Senator John McCain how his shoulders feel (broken because of torture and not given medical attention).

America was right in Vietnam and the Viet Cong was wrong. Vietnam remains a country where democracy does not exist. They are no better than Russia or the Taliban and only minimally better than North Korea.

joeheg April 16, 2024 - 9:32 pm

I wasn’t implying I agreed with their views. Just that it’s a good thing to realize there’s different perspectives on history depending on what side you’re on.

Dom April 16, 2024 - 8:31 pm

It’s Da Nang, not Danang.

joeheg April 16, 2024 - 9:33 pm


Christian April 16, 2024 - 11:11 pm

Nice write up on what’s always a tender subject. I haven’t yet been myself but intend to go there on my next visit. Out of curiosity, did they go into the background of U.S. involvement in Vietnam where the Viet Minh approached President Eisenhower about forming a USA-allied democracy if only the U.S. would support their status as an independent nation?

Ralph April 17, 2024 - 10:03 am

The war remnants museum in Siam Reap is similar but smaller. The guides are victims of land mines and war and lend an incredible poignancy to the military relics. Having an amputee describe the carnage of a pineapple mine from firsthand knowledge is chilling.

Mary McCombie April 17, 2024 - 4:46 pm

I remember visiting the museum in the fall of 1996, shortly after diplomatic relations were reestablished. It was still known then as the Museum of American War Atrocities, and the displays were far more rudimentary. Nonetheless, they were profoundly moving. I was teaching aboard Semester at Sea, and brought my students there on a field trip: many of them knew little about the war, and were shocked, sometimes dissolving in tears. And yet the people of Saigon could not have been kinder. “It wasn’t you, it was your government” they said.

Ellen April 18, 2024 - 6:01 pm

The War Remnants museum is one that sticks with you for a long, long time.


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