Everyday battles with history
  • By JC Smith | dtinews.vn | January 17, 2024 09:27 AM
 >>  New Military History Museum to open in Hanoi
News of a new Vietnam Military History Museum got me thinking.

The new Military History Museum is set to open soon in Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District. Photo by Vietnamnet.

The first images of the new, large-scale site were published across the media last week.

The site looks grandiose. There’s lots more room for all sorts of military hardware and modern architecture.

But I couldn’t help but think something is missing from the equation when we talk about what makes a good tourism and museum experience.

The new site is on Thang Long Avenue in Nam Tu Liem.

This is 13 kilometres from Hoan Kiem Lake, the traditional ‘centre’ of the city and certainly the place that the four million foreign tourists that visited Hanoi in 2023 consider the heart of their capital city experience.

From Bo Ho to Thang Long Avenue is a 35-minute taxi journey according to Google Maps, which could morph into an hour each way during rush hour. This isn’t an attractive proposition in a foreign city.

There isn’t anything else to see on Thang Long Avenue, which means you’re only going to capture the attention of the most dedicated military history enthusiasts.

In contrast, the current site of the Military History Museum sits on the road named after Vietnam’s world-shattering victory over the French. Has a Mig-21 proudly jutting out, nose pointed skywards, reminding us of the American War. Cradled by the historic Cot Co Flag Tower, embraced by the arms of Thang Long Citadel and located in what was once the administrative centre of French colonial rule. It couldn’t get much more symbolic in its meaning.

From the current site on Dien Bien Phu Street, you can strike northwards on foot to Tran Quoc Pagoda on Thanh Nien Street, Ba Dinh Square and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Presidential Palace, to the south, are Lenin Park, the Fine Arts Museum, The Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison and the Women’s Museum.

That’s probably three days’ worth of pedestrian exploration already, let alone the time spent on coffee and restaurant Instagram check-ins and shopping.

Many old wartime aircraft from the old museum have been moved for the coming exhibitions. Photo by Vietnamnet.

“So what?” You might rightly ask. Why does it matter? It’s the Military History Museum for Vietnamese people.

Well, I’d counter: “So what are you trying to say about Vietnam?”

Removing the accessible, iconic story of the country’s struggle for independence from a central part of a foreigner’s visit to the capital and relocating it to in effect a suburb is an odd choice when it comes to telling the story of the country.

We seem big on shiny new things, but terrible on the role of history in how we came to be what we are today – the Hanoi Towers residential and commercial development on Hai Ba Trung Street originally was going to knock down all of Hoa Lo Prison. Or Hanoi Museum – an impressive building for sure – but seemingly empty of purpose or ability to explain the capital’s role, its development and how it’s shaped the country’s history, instead consigned to doing trade shows.

And now, the Military History Museum, relocated, reimagined…but now hidden from our daily gaze as it sits on an expressway on the outskirts of the city?

Vietnam has an incredible history and what shaped the country's past is what makes it what it is today. It should not be demolished, downgraded or relocated to the edges of our daily lives.

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