Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Eternal Recurrence

In contrast to the circus of the Cu Chi Tunnels, the War Remnants Museum in Saigon was a far more sobering experience. In the afternoon after a little shopping I walked by many of the sights we had seen on our nighttime excursion, this time my camera batteries holding out. It was a pleasant stroll and I felt a good deal more relaxed entering the museum.

In the courtyard are a number of heavy army vehicles, from tanks to fighter planes. It is only when you enter the main exhibition area that the experience really darkens. Malformed foetuses, the results of Agent Orange, are held in jars. Across the walls pictures of the dead, maimed and mutilated bear witness to the experience of the Vietnam people. Naturally nothing goes against the party line and there are ample examples of American bashing (and whatever excuses you make, rightfully so), but the overall impression is not one of propaganda. Instead after the many printed stories of ordinary men and women, the pictures of protestors in America as well as other countries, the numerous images of journalists killed in the line of duty, and the recreated tiger cells used by the Diem regime, one gets a corrective to the constant images of the Vienamese as portrayed in Western culture. So often they are portrayed as inhuman guerillas, the Other, the alien. Here the Americans become the alien, the Other. You might expect this to leave you burning with indignation at the West. No. Instead both brands of propaganda cancel each other out and one leaves with a hearthy disgust of all things human. It is easy to think that that happened back then, and could never happen now, nor ever in my country. Thirty years ago, I was only born then! Thirty years ago, that's all. Then you look at what has happened since then. Consider Serbia and Croatia. Consider Africa. Consider a small rock like Ireland. We are a sad and sorry species.

Of course, the only way forward is to be optimistic. To be cynical about the whole thing will only allow it to continue. I tried hard to be optimistic. I forgot I'd be going to Cambodia.


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