One of the first places I visited back in July 2010, literally hours after I officially become location-independent in fact, was the Vietnam War Museum in Saigon, Vietnam. I hadn’t particularly wanted to go to the museum, but the couple I was traveling with were eager to go, and since I was still shell-shocked from my decision to leave Shanghai on such a moment’s notice, I didn’t raise any objections.
I heard weeping behind me as I stood before an exhibit on the use of Agent Orange. “I can’t believe those heathens did that,” the male voice whimpered. He sounded American, but the content and tone of what he was saying made it clear that he was Canadian.
“And to think,” his female companion said, “many of them have the gall to come here. Can you imagine what a Vietnamese person would say if they met an American?”
I can. They wouldn’t give a fuck, because the majority of them weren’t alive when the Vietnam War happened; neither were the majority of Americans who visit Vietnam, myself included. Come to mention it, I was relatively certain both of the people accusing my entire country of being “heathens” had been born well after the Vietnam War ended.
I decided to hold my tongue, if out of respect for all the people who still managed to be moved by the museum in spite of the verbal diarrhea that nearly ruined my visit. But although nearly four years have now passed (and although I, unlike these assholes, refuse to make generalizations about entire nationalities based on history I wasn’t around to witness), the incident has left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to the general area of war tourism.
The good news is that this particular piece of history did not repeat itself during my short stay in Hiroshima, Japan at the end of last week, excepting of course the parallels in past atrocities against humanity. There were a few people who lost their shit walking past the Atomic Bomb Dome and looking upon various memorials in the Hiroshima Peace Park, but in general, it was a civil affair.
Thing is, it all felt a little superfluous, and not just because the modern city of Hiroshima that rises around the Memorial Park leaves little indication that any war ever occurred here. In spite of how solemn the scene should’ve been, due not only to the aforementioned dome and memorials, but from a purely energetic perspective, I left feeling cold and disconnected.
Part of this stems from my general disinterest in museum-like attractions (a tendency which, on a side note, is a bit strange due to my general interest in history itself). But another part of it is that I can’t help but find the importance placed upon remembering (or, as is the case with my country’s recent past, vowing to “Never Forget”) grotesque tragedies counterproductive.
While I don’t think there’s any inherent problem with honoring what happened in Hiroshima, Saigon or New York City, I don’t believe for a second that doing so achieves anything.Thousands of years of education in history, the effect of said history being filtered to suit a particular country’s current propaganda scheme notwithstanding, has done little to slow the forward momentum of war’s destructive power.
Peace requires forgiveness and a willingness to let go, so that we might break the chain of abuse, pain and suffering that has linked all the human generations thus far together. Instead of constructing more memorials to war, why don’t we engineer pathways to peace? I mean, what good is a monument commemorating the heinousness of past wars if visitors walk past one another, making judgmental remarks and feeding into the black hole of “us vs. them.”?
If you’re considering a trip to Hiroshima and it’s convenient for you to visit, I definitely suggest you come here, if only to see if for yourself and to form your opinion. But I definitely don’t believe you should go out of your way to come here or agree with the statement some make, that it’s a place everyone should visit once in their lifetime.
Instead, why not just try being nice instead of mean? That’s what I plan to do the next time I feel like being an asshole to someone – and God knows I’m guilty of that more than I should be!