We knew very little about Vietnamese or Cambodian history before our trip. We’re no experts now, but we’ve learned a lot.
One of the biggest eye-openers has been hearing a familiar story told from a very unfamiliar perspective.
What we know as the Vietnam War is known as the American War here, and it’s said to have lasted 17 years. Americans are described as “aggressors” and the Viet Cong as “liberators.” When we asked some pointed questions about whether any Vietnamese saw the Americans as allies at any point, we got evasive answers to a different question.
In related news, there are enormous statues of “Uncle Ho” in every city, including throughout South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was never the President of the South, as far as we can tell. He died before “liberation” happened. I wonder how it feels to have him memorialized in every southern city? When I asked about this, our guide simply said, “Many people loved him.”
Are these examples of “re-education” to which South Vietnamese people were subjected after the war? We were never sure if they believed their own story or were afraid to tell a different one. I do know that I’d be mighty uncomfortable to be an American tourist here. It’s also clear that historical storytelling is a very subjective thing. And that nobody truly won that war, by any name.