For an American, a visit to Hanoi is like an Englishman going to Yorktown, a German to Normandy, or an American Southerner to Gettysburg. Reminders of defeat are almost everywhere. The reminders, however, are for domestic political use, not necessarily for rubbing into American noses. And for the Vietnamese, the war with the United States is clumped in with battles against France, Japan, and China.
Take, for instance, Hanoi's Army Museum. It usually has large groups of schoolchildren passing through it. The entrance is filled with antiaircraft artillery, each labeled with how many US planes each gun shot down. ``We want to present the history and victories of our heroic Army to our people,'' says a veteran Vietnamese Army officer, who now leads tours at the museum.
At the end of the tour is a dramatic re-creation of two battlefield victories for the Vietnamese, both depicted on 30-foot-square miniature landscapes with light and sound effects: the 1954 defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, and the 1975 ``liberation'' of Saigon.
``One reason we won over the Americans is that our people have had 4,000 years defeating all invaders in order to maintain our freedom,'' the guide says. ``We can defeat any enemy. Today, we are ready to welcome peace-loving Americans to Hanoi.''
At the National Art Museum, a well-planned display of the nation's several thousand years of art (minus a few centuries when the nation was under Chinese rule) is far less political. Two statues, however, honor Nguyen Van Troi, who was killed after trying to assassinate then-US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in Saigon in the 1960s.
Several paintings show guerrillas pulling artillery over hills, carrying guns through bamboo forests on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or listening to late-night political lectures. A 1969 painting illustrates the defiance of several Vietnamese women who are blocking an artillery gun in southern Vietnam. An American officer scowls at them.
Another tour stop includes the mausoleum and home of leader Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969. Like those of Lenin and Mao, Ho's body is preserved inside a well-guarded granite building. Long, orderly lines of visitors wait to see the father of modern Vietnam. Nearby is Ho's home, a simple wooden house on stilts, said to be just as he left it.
``The clock on the desk still works,'' the guide says, ``because we want to make an impression that Uncle Ho is still alive and working now. Seeing Ho Chi Minh and seeing the house where he lived is a source of encouragement for every Vietnamese.''
May 19 is Ho's birthday, a much-commemorated day in Vietnam. In 1990, the 100th anniversary of Ho's birth, the government is planning to open a large museum near his burial site. Devoted to showing his life and work, the museum will include, among other things, the suit that Ho once wore.
``It was a very modest, very simple, very inexpensive suit,'' points out the guide, who perceives qualities of great self-effacement and simplicity in Ho's artifacts. ``Even though he was the first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, he remained a very modest and ordinary person. We'll also be displaying his sandals, made from rubber tires.''