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Bamboo Diplomacy: Irony and Hypocrisy

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The U.S. Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776) 

These poignant words, the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, hang on the wall within ‘The War Remnants Museum’, of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Yet, surrounding these words and covering the vast area of the museum are images of the wounded and the dead: victims of the Vietnam War and of the devastating impacts of U.S. military brutality. Seems ironic, no?

When visiting Vietnam, just last month, I walked around the museum, previously warned by fellow tourists I met, to prepare myself for the horrific scenes I would witness. However, despite the warnings and my knowledge to date of the war, nothing could have prepared me for what confronted me upon visiting the museum. 

Images of prisoners tied to tanks and dragged to their death, women and their infant children lying dead amongst the foliage and the very sewer of Mr. Bui Van Vat, used in 1969 by his grandchildren to hide in. As you examine the sewer and read the information provided, you soon come to learn the harrowing truth regarding the grandchildren of Mr Bui Van Vat and of the chilling fate that met them - the three children were in fact found by the U.S. Rangers who stabbed two of the children (aged 10 and 8) and disembowelled a third (aged 6).  

Perhaps the most difficult part of the museum exhibit to process lies within the walls of the agent orange section. The graphic images depict how people's lives have been completely destroyed due to the inhumane use of toxic chemicals, which continue to devastate families generation after generation. 

Outside and within another museum exhibit, you are exposed to the various torture techniques which were employed, including the use of tiger cages, beating with a stingray tail whip and grilling prisoners, to name but a few. 

There is no denying that there are many layers to the Vietnam War, which is riddled with complexities when we take into account the different players, ideologies and tactics. However, as clearly indicated within the War Remnants Museum, the role of the U.S. in Vietnam and the lasting impact that their actions had cannot be denied nor excused. 

The ‘War Remnants Museum’ once existed under the name of the ‘Museum Of American War Crimes,’ however, as Vietnamese and U.S. relations shifted, the name was softened. Yet the Vietnamese have ensured that the historical facts inside remain the same. This is a clear example of ‘bamboo diplomacy’ at work. Vietnam is honouring its past, marking its resilience and yet ensuring a future all at the same time, by compromising or ‘bending’ within the context of foreign policy. 

Within this context the former war crimes of the U.S.  have not seemingly acted as a blockade between U.S. Vietnam relations, as is evident through their current day tradings, which can take place due to ‘warmer’ relations existing. Therefore, given that Vietnam has and continues to present itself as a neutral country within the global landscape, partnered with their already established historical ties, surely it would not come as a surprise that Putin attended talks in the capital last month. 

It is not my intention, through this article, to focus on facts nor opinion, when it comes to the war between Ukraine and Russia. Rather, I intend to use the current global landscape, with events in Russia/Ukraine and Palestine/Israel alongside the historical place of Vietnam to unpack the hypocrisy in America’s reaction to Vietnam and its geopolitical affairs. 

If the U.S. has a problem with Vietnam dealing with a country which it claims has displayed acts of ‘aggression’ then does this not complicate the relationship that Vietnam has with the U.S. itself? Furthermore, does it not, in fact, show double standards as the U.S. claims it does not feel Putin should be allowed to move freely and should instead remain ostracised, when at the same time the U.S. continues to provide aid and support to Israel?

Image: U.S. Air Force (Operation Holly 1970 (Folder 13 of 15), sheet 182)

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