Forty years ago today…

by Karen Topakian

the Cleveland Plain Dealer published five photographs. Photographs from VietNam. Photographs from the My Lai massacre. Of women, children, infants and elderly people, lying dead on a path between rice fields. All taken by Ron Haeberle, a combat photographer and Ohio resident.

The publication of Mr. Haeberle’s photos began to turn the tide of public opinion on that war. A thousand words of protest couldn’t match the response these five photos elicited. America and the world could not believe that the US military would shoot more than 300 noncombatants in cold blood.

I recently saw those photographs, up close and enlarged, in the Vestiges of War Crimes and Aftermaths room at the War Remnants Museum* in Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. They are just as chilling today as they were in 1969.

Unfortunately, those aren’t the only ones hanging in that gallery.

The photos of napalm, phosphorus bombs and Agent Orange survivors and victims tell the story of the results of using chemical weapons on humans and the environment.

The seven other themed rooms included Requiem: Collection of photos taken by 134 war reporters (from 11 nationalities) killed during the Vietnam War; Imprisonment System; and International support for the Vietnamese people in their Resistance War. Which included a photo from the 1960’s of a 10,000-person march from Oakland to Berkeley.

Though the captions weren’t always rendered in perfect English. There was no mistaking the message of these photos.

After visiting all eight rooms, my partner Peg and I sat outside for a few moments to just breathe.  We wondered if in 40 years we would be visiting similar museums in Baghdad and Kabul.

*Originally called  “The House of Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government (of South Vietnam)” then the “Museum of American War Crimes” then the “War Crimes Museum” and now its current name, “The War Remnants Museum.”


  1. Dear Karen

    my partner D and I enjoy your blogs very much and we discuss these at length.
    What do you think of establishing Warcrime Musea in the countries of the perpetrators?


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