Documentary - "Forgive but Never Forget"
Excerpt from my blog post "The Last Goodbye"
The class came here with a few overarching questions, spending the semester studying the history of the Vietnam War and immersing ourselves in American and Vietnamese literature surrounding the war. I wanted to know how the Vietnamese people remembered and memorialized the war, but more importantly how the Vietnamese people have been able to move on from this terrible war. From all of our experiences including first hand interviews and museum visits, I’ve been able to create some synthesis and personal clarity in answering these fundamental questions. As far as remembering and memorializing, there are a couple of competing narratives. The government takes a couple of different lines. At several museums such as My Lai or the Hanoi Hilton, there is a narrative of triumph over the American “invaders”. It is a tangible aspect of many museum visits. In Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum however, the tone takes a much more somber turn. Quick to demonstrate the inhumanity and brutality of the war, I saw much less of a victorious attitude. Rather the museum asked the question: did anybody really win? The Vietnamese people remember the war differently. From most the people we’ve talked to, there is a very prevalent attitude of forgive but don’t forget. Fifty years after the war, people are not eager to dwell on it, but rather to look towards the future. Many people extoll Vietnam’s strong relationship with the U.S. Bao Ninh described the feelings of his generation: We fought when we were youngsters, but now in our mature years let us sit together as friends. Mr. Hau is also ready to look towards the future, but lives with the aftermath of his fathers service every day. Reconciling these two narratives is difficult, but I feel that the Vietnamese have been able to do it. On our last day, I interviewed our tour guide Viet, age of 25. He also asked the question why? Was victory at the price of three million Vietnamese lives worth the price? Looking towards the future Viet hopes that both countries have learned a lesson, the relationship now between the U.S. and Vietnam is strong. But Viet also pointed out the difficult topic of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, claiming some similarities between the two conflicts. Perhaps then the fact of the matter is this: Vietnam has worked to heal bitter wounds and invest in a brighter future but the U.S. has not yet learned an important lesson about the price of war.