Bob Kerrey, the War Remnants Museum and Fulbright University - Rusty Compass travel blog

Bob Kerrey, the War Remnants Museum and Fulbright University

| 06 Jun 2016
, 1 Comment
06 Jun 2016

Fulbright University, a new private institution in Ho Chi Minh City affiliated with Harvard's Kennedy School, has appointed former US Senator and Vietnam veteran Bob Kerrey as the Chairman of its Board of Trustees. Kerrey also features prominently in the war crimes exhibit at the city's popular War Remnants Museum.

If you’re visiting Saigon’s War Remnants Museum this week, you may want to pay special attention to an exhibit featuring a former US Senator, Bob Kerrey, (not to be confused with Secretary of State and Vietnam vet John Kerry) and a 1969 Vietnam War massacre.

Bob Kerrey led a team of US Navy SEALs responsible for the massacre of civilians in a raid on the Mekong Delta hamlet of Thanh Phong in February 1969.

The Thanh Phong, Bob Kerey exhibit
Photo: Mark Bowyer The Thanh Phong massacre, Bob Kerrey exhibit


Bob Kerrey, War Remnants Museum exhibit
Photo: Mark Bowyer Bob Kerrey, War Remnants Museum exhibit


A well used in the Thanh Phong massacre
Photo: Mark Bowyer A well used in the 1969 Thanh Phong massacre, War Remnants Museum


War Remnants Museum, Saigon
Photo: Mark Bowyer War Remnants Museum, Saigon


The massacre remained unknown to the world until 2001 when the New York Times and 60 Minutes (US) broke the story. There are varying accounts of what happened, culpability, and the barbarity of the attack, but there is no dispute that as many as 20 civilians, including women and children, were killed by SEALs under Kerrey’s command.

Kerrey has expressed remorse and as commander, he’s also taken responsibility for the massacre. And he’s been an active player for decades in the reconciliation process between the US and Vietnam, that reached new heights during President Obama’s recent visit.

Kerrey and the massacre are in the news again this week, more than 47 years later. The former senator has been appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Fulbright University, a new university venture between Harvard’s Kennedy School and the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics.

It will come as no surprise that the appointment of someone to this important role, who has a personal exhibit at a museum dedicated to US war crimes in Vietnam, has proven controversial.

Some senior officials in the Vietnamese government have expressed support for the move, arguing it to be an important symbol of forgiveness and of a country looking to the future rather than the past. Others have raised questions about the decision.

You can read a New York Times piece on the issue here.

It seems unlikely that US or other Western governments and their populations would be similarly disposed to forgiveness or focusing on the future, in comparable circumstances. And I’m not sure that reminding the world of previously unpunished US atrocities in Vietnam, is a judicious use of the political capital accumulated during Barack Obama’s recent successful visit.

For now at least, you can get Vietnam’s take on the newly appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Saigon's new Fulbright University, visiting the war crimes exhibit at the War Remnants Museum.

Assuming the appointment is upheld, I wonder if the exhibit will stay in place?

Here’s the original New York Times piece on the massacre from 2001.

You can read our review of the War Remnants Museum here.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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