chapter  6
17 Pages

The SƠN MỸ Memorial And Museum

A continuous memorial service to remember and bear witness to the 1968 Mỹ Lai Massacre
WithRoy Tamashiro

Established in 1976, the Sơn Mỹ Memorial and Museum memorializes the 1968 Mỹ Lai Massacre in which US soldiers tortured and killed over 500 unarmed civilians during the American–Vietnam War. The Sơn Mỹ Memorial and Museum has created an environment that encourages audiences to engage in the witness-bearing process, which is highlighted in Giorgio Agamben’s observation that “human beings are human insofar as they bear witness to the inhuman.” The memorial grounds are preserved to appear much as the site did after the massacre. Inside the museum building, the massacre is chronicled with gruesome photographs taken by Sgt. Ron Haeberle, a US military photographer. The oral accounts of first-hand witness-participants in the massacre, including the attacking soldiers and villagers who were their targets, confirm the atrocities committed. The poignant and heartfelt comments on social media and on handwritten notes left at the museum illustrate the strong emotional impact of Sơn Mỹ Memorial and Museum on its visitors. The vestiges, exhibits, and space design are conducive to visualizing, reflecting on, and deconstructing the morally chaotic historical event. The multilingual tour guides also highlight the memorial museum’s ongoing activities that promote healing, reconciliation, and community rebuilding. The invitation to bear witness acknowledges the visitors’ autonomy and freedom of thought and of meaning-making with regard to the contested political, ethical, legal, and human rights questions and issues. As a public institution, the Sơn Mỹ Memorial and Museum carries authority and the weight of persuasion across local, national, and international audiences. With bearing witness as its mission, the Sơn Mỹ Memorial creates value and influences the meanings we collectively make of the Mỹ Lai Massacre, of our own lives, and of what it means to be human.