Tag Archives: Vietnam

The American War in Vietnam

Vietnam became a colony in the 1880’s, when France took control by force. Like most of South East Asia it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. After the war, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh, communists from the northern part of Vietnam who had resisted the Japanese, declared Vietnam independent. They were not prepared to continue being a colony of France. Patrick thinks that this must have been due, at least in part, to the fact that the French had not been able to defend Vietnam from the Japanese, and that they were undoubtedly more concerned about defending French territory in Europe. This resulted in a war between the Viet Minh and the French, who didn’t want to give up their valuable colony. The French were supported in this war by money and weapons donated by America. In 1954 the Vietnamese captured many French soldiers forcing a negotiated settlement called the “Geneva Accords” requiring French withdrawal and temporarily dividing the country into North and South at the Ben Hai River until elections could be held. The neutral territory on either side of this river was called the De-militarized zone (DMZ). When the anti-communist leader of the South refused to hold these elections, the temporary division became a de-facto permanent one, creating North and South Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese were communists trying to ‘liberate’ their countrymen in the South, only some of who wanted to be liberated. In 1960, they began a military confrontation to reunite Vietnam under their leadership. America worried that if the North succeeded in defeating the American-supported leadership of South Vietnam that the resulting ‘domino effect’ could see all of South East Asia eventually become communist. This was in the late 1960’s, at the height of the cold war. America fought the war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973 before a cease-fire was agreed to in Paris. Without American support, it was only a matter of time.


North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon, capital of South Vietnam on April 30th, 1975. Soon after it was renamed ‘Reunification Palace’ and opened to the public. It has been preserved in the state it was then. Saigon was also renamed Ho Chi Minh city, but most people still call is Saigon.

We visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. It is billed as a museum about the atrocities of war. What they don’t say is that it is a museum only about American atrocities from the war in Vietnam. This makes it even more interesting because it presents only the Vietnamese government’s perspective on the war. It displays much captured American weaponry including tanks, planes, helicopters, and small arms, implicitly reminding people of who won the war.


It highlights American war atrocities including bombing of civilians, torture of captured soldiers and civilians, and the use of toxic defoliants like Agent Orange. It displays many pictures of injured Vietnamese civilians, especially women and children, and of birth defects purportedly caused by toxic chemicals. The most gruesome artifact is the bodies of two still born children with physical disabilities attributed to dioxin, floating in a tank of preservative. We wondered what both the Vietnamese people and American tourists milling about thought of these exhibits. Did they feel the same things?

The Vietnamese and much of the world believe that America engaged in an illegal war in Vietnam. Undoubtedly their opposition, referred to here as ‘Vietnamese Communists’, ‘Vietnamese Patriots’, or ‘Liberators of South Vietnam’ and by American soldiers as ‘Viet Cong’ or ‘VC’, committed many atrocities too, but these are never mentioned here.

Today both French and American tourists are welcomed in Vietnam, which has diplomatic relations with both of these countries. There are a lot of French tourists here, probably because Vietnam was a former French colony. French tourists we’ve spoken to say that they do not sense any animosity or resentment from the Vietnamese.

Things you can do on a motor scooter

We’ve seen a lot of things done on a small motor scooter during on our travels. Here are some of them:

  • Lean against it while trying to look cool for the opposite sex
  • Make out with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend in the park while balancing on the kickstand
  • Pull a carriage behind it to transport tourists
  • Pull a cart behind it to transport goods
  • Carry huge lengths of bamboo, pipe, or reinforcing bar, like a modern day knight and lance
  • Transport a family of five at the same time
  • Take your dog for a ride in the front basket, so he can feel the wind in his face
  • Transport live animals, including poor ducks who strain to avoid scraping their bills on the pavement
  • Transport dead animals — Diane saw a scooter loaded with dead dogs going to market
  • Operate a motorcycle taxi service
  • Pull your friend riding a bicycle
  • Let your toddler stand up in front, holding onto the console, while you drive
  • Rent it to tourists without insurance or helmets
  • With thousands of other scooters, make it virtually impossible for pedestrians to cross the street

Observations about Vietnam

  • The government here is communist (or heavily socialist), but the economic system is capitalist.
  • Vietnam has been repelling invaders for the last two thousand years — the Khmers, Chinese, French, and most recently the Americans. They are fiercely proud of this fact.
  • Vietnam is one of the largest rice exporters in the world, which is amazing considering the amount of rice that they consume locally. Sometimes it seems that everything here is made of rice.
  • The Vietnamese love their soups, especially Pho, which is usually eaten for breakfast.
  • Coffee is very popular here, especially iced coffee. Vietnamese coffee is prepared using a simple drip device above the cup and is usually very strong and served with condensed milk.
  • A lot of women in Vietnam wear the traditional conical hat woven out of natural materials. They wear a scarf across their chin to hold it on.
  • They play a lot of easy listening music and ‘musak’ here. As we write this, we’re listening to instrumental versions of ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ and ‘Feelings’
  • There are more motor scooters in Vietnam than anywhere else we’ve seen. Especially in Hanoi, where crossing the street requires one to just wade out into the sea of scooters, trusting that they will swerve to avoid you.
  • In Vietnam, traffic priority is based on vehicle size – perhaps not from a legal perspective, but certainly from a practical one. Larger vehicles have (or take) the right of way. For example, a larger vehicle will pass using the oncoming lane even if a smaller vehicle is coming in the opposite direction. The smaller vehicle will be forced to give way, which usually means running up on the shoulder. As the smallest vehicles, motorbikes get no respect. They spend most of their time driving on the shoulder and being ready to drive into the weeds if necessary.
  • The Vietnamese love little dogs. They are everywhere. They also eat dogs. We wonder how they decide which ones to love and which ones to eat. Perhaps they do both (love first, eat later).
  • Motor scooter taxis (called ‘xe om’ in Vietnamese) are common here. Diane and I both rode on the back of the same tiny scooter (with a driver) in Hanoi.
  • Ho Chi Minh, the man who led the fight for Vietnam’s independence from France and the war against the Americans, is revered here. Many people have his picture in their homes. His embalmed body is on display in Hanoi (against his wishes), just like the other two in the holy trinity of communism — Stalin in Moscow and Mao Tse Tung in Beijing. Uncle Ho’s body is transported to Russia for a couple of months each year for touchups (the guy has been dead for 30 years and he still takes an annual vacation!)
  • We met a Danish man here who is married to a Vietnamese woman and living in Denmark. He said that the Vietnamese are a ‘cruel people’ both in their treatment of animals and one another. We haven’t experienced these ourselves. An Australian living here said that the Vietnamese can be cold, but once you become their friend, they treat you like family.
  • Vietnam may have the cheapest beer in the world. On the street corner in Hanoi you can drink ‘bia hoi’ (draft beer) for 3000 Dong per glass (about 15 cents Canadian). At six for dollar, we can have a wild evening for just two dollars!
  • The Vietnamese eat dog, turtles, and fertilized duck eggs in various stages of development. We sat in a bar and watched, and smelled, a woman consume three of these eggs by breaking off the top and eating the contents with a tiny spoon and salt. The developing duck is clearly visible inside, and it’s the luck of the draw whether you get an early one (soft and squishy) or a late one (meaty and crunchy).