Murder, Museums, and Memory Holes: Cold War Public History in Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phnom Penh

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael G. Vann, California State University, Sacramento
isitors to Southeast Asia can see three distinct Cold War narratives. Museums in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Phnom Penh, and Jakarta inform the public about specific acts of violence, murder, and victimization during the ideological struggles of 1945 to 1989. While these public history institutions all emphasize the bloody tragedy of the Cold War, their political perspectives are dramatically different, creating parallel realities. Cold War ideology was central to state formation in both Suharto’s anti-Communist New Order (1966-1998) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1976-present) but is ambiguous in post-conflict Cambodia (1991-present). The Indonesian and Vietnamese museums can be read as mirror images of each other, with the Cambodian sites seemingly above Cold War dichotomies.


This paper offers a comparative analysis of Southeast Asian self-representation. Jakarta’s Monument to the Revolutionary Heroes, HCMC’s War Remnants Museum, and Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum show how museums involve remembering and forgetting. Popularly known as the Crocodile Hole, the Jakarta site houses the 1969 Monument to Sacred National Ideology, the 1982 Museum Paseban, and the 1992 Museum of Communist Treachery, as well as the Well of Death and Verandah of Torture. Despite the 2013 construction of a new wing, there has been no content revision after the 1998 fall of Suharto’s regime. HCMC’s museum has gone through several name changes: Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, 1975-1990, Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, 1990-1995, and the War Remnants Museum, 1995-present. In Cambodia, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeng Ek “Killing Fields” have grown from sparse minimalist memorials to increasingly sophisticated exhibits. The Cambodian and Vietnamese museums are now major tourist attractions while the Indonesian museum is unknown to foreigners.

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