Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Vietnam Journal II: History is a Nightmare

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
“History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake,” is what Stephan Daedalus says in Ulysses.  The Museum of Vietnamese Revolution at Rue 216 Tran Quang Khai in the Tong Dan section of Hanoi records the history of the French imperialist excursion in Vietnam and the legacy it left. With the Patenoire or Giap Than Treaty of 1884 the French solidified their control over Vietnam. Prints of the early French imperialist adventure witness the attack, for instance, on Hue, August 20, 1883. Attendant upon conquest is repression and the Hoa Lo Prison (later the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” where John McCain was held after being shot down during the Vietnam War) became one of the more notorious sites whose guillotine together with a casket sized basket for bodies or heads is displayed in the museum. There is a time line to the exhibit dramatically recording the attempts of Vietnamese revolutionaries to align themselves with a movement greater than themselves—which is to say Communism. Nguyen Ai Quoc, aka Ho Chi Minh, appears at the XVII French Socialist conference at Tours in l920, but by 1924 he is also a presence at the Internationale. A photo of House No. 13 on Weng Ming Street Guangzhou, China shows the location of the Central Committee of Vietnamese Revolution’s “political training classes” from l925-7.  More prosaically then Stephan Daedalus might have put it, the rest is history. Dien Bien Phu, America’s ill-fated support of the repressive Diem regime and eventually the fall of Saigon are all recorded in a series of artifacts which include the idealized images of revolutionary agit prop, exhortatory poetry, swords and guns. You can say about the Vietnamese that faced with the prospect of annihilation, they beat their ploughshares into swords.

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