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War as a Tourist Attraction: Vietnam

The remnants of the Vietnam War are now a significant source of tourist dollars. The landscape of Vietnam remains scarred by barbed wire, aircraft hangars, and rusting tanks. Centuries of war waged on Vietnamese soil ties tourists from not only the United States, but France, Russia, and Chinese visitors as well. It is the rare Vietnamese city that bears no reminder of some sort of colonialist war.

These tourist attractions are a significant source of income for Vietnamese citizens who are likely owed the money as reparation for the millions of Vietnamese who have perished during these international conflicts. Tourists are now flooding sites that once served as prisons, escape routes, and major battlefields. As history buffs hunger for more information and a firsthand experience of this war-torn land, the popularity of these attractions belie the horrors that took place there and are fresh enough to be painful memories for many native Vietnamese citizens.

Vietnam’s place as a tourist destination has been the result of an increasing friendliness to foreign visitors. Certainly, Vietnam has a cultural history equally as rich of its Asian neighbors, including historical palaces and picturesque backdrops, but the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) tours remain the most popular destinations for tourists. These tours include bouncing along dusty roads in search of abandoned battlefields where American tanks, guns, and skeletal structures destroyed by bombs are found. The surrounding fields even still hide unexploded land mines that occasionally claim another local life.

The Vietnamese themselves, wracked by centuries of warfare, appear to be far too accepting of the flooding of tourists mainly interested in their national misery. Perhaps this is because International tourism, as morbid as it seems, is good for the Vietnamese economy. The Vietnamese have even adopted an attitude of enhancing the war tourism industry by preserving these reminders of death and war for viewing by their international visitors. One of the most popular destinations is the former Museum of American War Crimes in Ho Chi Minh city which has been renamed the War Remnants Museum where gory representations of torture and execution have been staged using life-like mannequins and bleak prison scenes.

The renaming of such attractions is highly representative of the Vietnamese willingness to make the best of their history. Certainly fewer tourists are as inflamed by the name War Remnants as they would likely be by the War Crimes reference. Representations of war have even become politically correct in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have also collected and preserved hundreds of war remnants that include tanks, bombs, shells, and the twisted wreckages of many a downed war aircraft, in addition to such memorabilia as soda cans, dogtags, cigarette lighters, and other discarded possessions. The Vietnamese have even made an industry out of selling copies of these “antique” items.

Of course, the Vietnamese war insults didn’t start with the Americans. The Vietnamese have also chosen to showcase their long history of revolutionary conflict by preserving war memorabilia that dates all the way back to the early 19th century. It is possible that the Vietnamese are displaying a highly adaptive behavior by marketing their war-torn history. Certainly they are entrepreneurial enough to realize that a market definitely exists for their product.

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