The more I travel, the more I grow fond of learning each country’s history, from their own point of view. Growing up as a child, my parents always taught me there are two sides to every story. I think this may have been a lesson they taught out of convience, simply establishing the fact that they had to get the other point of view before they could trust my story to see if I was being entirely honest with them. With this open mind, learning that every story has two sides, and believing that people should always be given the benefit of the doubt, I set off to the see what the world could teach me, from the point of view of each individual country, rather then the sole idolized propaganda that the United States deemed “factual” to teach in the classroom.
After heading to countless countries and visiting local museums, be it from the House of Terror in Prague to the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam, the world started to paint a picture for me that wasn’t all that familiar. And suddenly it dawned on me that as American citizens we are required to take countless years of American history, learning about a county that is barely a bit older then two-hundred years. Learning everything from the Native Americans and how we took over their land, from the pilgrims, to becoming an independent nation, to industrialization, to the spread of democracy (not necessarily all in that particular order), and subsequently are barely required to take less then two years (in most cases), of global history. We are given less then two years to learn about the actual world, and it’s in this brief time that we can barely escape the egocentric, communist-like teachings that the United States is far superior, and needs to help in establishing democracy across the world.
But have we as a county ever stopped and wondered if other countries want our help in abolishing communism? If they want to break free from their communist roots, which happen to have been in power longer then the US may have even been a nation? If the citizens of that particular nation really do believe themselves that democracy is the way to go, and want a heavy influenced western culture, breaking free from all cultural norms, values, and moors that they have abided by their whole life?
And it was in an everlasting moment that my tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Saigon, Vietnam, that my tour guide said something that really left a residual feeling inside my heart. Because what he said changed the way I had always looked at communism, and helped me to understand that second side of the story. “Jay” explained to our small group of ten people that towards the end of the Vietnam war (which if you didn’t already know Vietnam was divided in half- the north being communist and siding with China, and the South being more free and siding with the US), people moved from the north to the south because they didn’t like communism. And conversely, people move from the north to the south because they liked communism.
Hopefully you noticed that difference there, and it really wasn’t until he broke it down for us, that I too understood the second side of the story. Some Viatemese people fled from the north to the south because they didn’t believe communism was an effective style of government, and wanted to move down to the south because they believed that a more democratic, free government was the right way to go. Understandable, of course. And then you have the flip side, people moving from the north to the south because they loved communism, and wanted to uphold the traditional values of their country. Perhaps by day they were a normal citizen with a job, and at night they fought for the north in the south, in order to preserve communism. Because propaganda or not, not everyone is against communism.
But in the late sixties the US coined some term I’m sure you’ve heard of once or twice in AP Global if you were fortunate enough to take it in high school called, The Domino Theory. In short, the US believed that if they did not get involved communism would spread like wildfire throughout south east Asia, and to the rest of the world. And their way to intervene was through “aiding” Vietnam in their struggle to end communism, or stop it from spreading to south Vietnam. Because all of the countries in the surrounding area were already communist, such as China, Cambodia, and the north of Vietnam, the United States feared that communism would leak through to the south, and sadly another group of people would be under communist rule.
Which why the United States believed some crazy theory that one third-world country with a population of 25 million people (at the time), would be an extreme threat to spreading communism globally, is just about the craziest thing I’ve learned in school, not realizing it until now. Because believe it or not, the world thinks Americans are stupid. They think that we are only into the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle, first world problems, and status symbols. And to be honest, with having a job that allows me to spend so much time in Europe, around highly educated multi-lingual individuals, whose education system is far more advanced then ours, I started to believe the hype that Americans are stupid as well, even being an American myself.
But it wasn’t until really getting out of my comfort zone, and traveling to third world countries off the beaten path that I really started to learn the underlying reason to the world thinking we are stupid. Because as Americans, we really don’t know much about the world. We are so into our own country’s history, and spreading our democratic beliefs around the whole world, that we don’t stop and look at other countries and see if they are alright as is, and don’t want our help.
However as American people, it is not out fault. Our educational system has failed us in a way that we can never understand. When we spend our entire life learning about the development of our country with the underlying propaganda of how democracy should “rule” the world, we fail to learn about the culture of the rest of the world, and how it all functions in some way, with or without our help.
I remember learning about the Vietnam war in school, and it being taught as condensed and bias as possible. I believe we even learned about it the same day we learned about the Korean War. Not many details were given by the teacher nor the textbook, and basically we were taught that the United States believed in said Domino Theory, and needed to invade Vietnam to help them. To help them, which really “helped” us, to support this insane theory, that is preached upon in American classrooms. And it’s in this ignorance that we learn that we invaded Vietnam to help them.
But what is not taught in American classrooms, at least from my experience and my friends, is what the US actually did to Vietnam.
What is not included is the Agent Orange mission, intensive bombings, gasses, and innocent civilian lives lost. Out of the 4 million Viatemese lives lost in the war, 3 million were civilians. They were little girls who went to school during the day, and put on their green or blue uniform at night, and fought for their town, country, and their beliefs. Children who lost their lives before ever reaching adulthood, or infants that were born deformed because of agent orange, or even civilians that were left crippled, deformed, blinded, or leg-less.
And it truly wasn’t until I visited the War Remnants museum in Saigon that I realized the awful brutality of the U.S., and the so called “help” I had learned in school, that we provided to Vietnam. After never learning those horrifying facts and witnessing them all at once in the museum, and having to walk out of the museum early because my heart just could not take it anymore, I internally realized that Americans are not stupid in the conventional sense that the world thinks.
We are stupid because of our education system, and how it’s failed us. When you are allowed to substitute learning a foreign language for painting, or physics and chemistry for geology or astrology, and English Level 3 for “Shakespeare through film” what are we expecting from our future generations? What information have we instilled in them for them to go out and have the confidence to take on the world? For them to have the proper knowledge to aspire, take on, and achieve their dreams.
And at the the end of the day, it frightens me when I travel to a country where western culture is becoming more and more dominant, and U.S. customs and values are idolized. It makes me scared to live in a world where we could believe that for such a first world country, that our education system has failed us, in such a sad way. How can we claim to be such a world leader, when we can barely use our own country as an example?
Perhaps it was a mirage, but it was walking through the Viatemese desert observing everyday life, witnessing the tragic events depicted in the war museum, and heading into the Cu Chi tunnels with my tour guide Jay, that shined a light on this whole different perspective. Because at this very moment in life, as they say in Vietnam, “I may not have a lot of money but I have knowledge.” And knowledge truly is power.