Vietnam War posters become souvenirs | DW Travel | DW | 19.04.2017
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Vietnam War posters become souvenirs

More than 40 years after the end of the war in the southeast Asian country, Vietnamese vendors are selling prints of old propaganda posters to tourists.

Pham Thi Minh Thinh was still young during the Vietnam War. Now 52, she can still remember how, as a child, she hid in the underground bunkers of Hanoi from the bombs of the US armed forces. "It was a very painful time, because the bombs killed nearly all my family," she says. 

An airstrike destroyed her family's house while they hid in a bunker. Thinh was born in 1965, shortly after the US entered the Vietnam War. Nowadays she earns a living selling replicas of vintage propaganda posters made by the North Vietnamese communists - whose capture of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1975 marked the end of the war.

Vietnamesische Kriegspropaganda (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Arefieva)

The posters cost the equivalent of 4 to 19 euros, depending on their size and subject

No residual anger

Thinh's small shop is located in Hanoi's Old Quarter between pho noodle stalls and backpacker hostels. Trade in the vintage communist posters is Thinh's livelihood. Her customers are mainly Western tourists drawn to the mystique of the imagery. Thinh says she holds no ill will towards the country that bombed her hometown during her youth. None of the propaganda in her store, she says, reflects contemporary Vietnamese views toward America. 

Patrick Horn, a 25-year-old tourist from North Carolina, is the grandson of a US Vietnam War veteran. He says he is interested in learning about his country's history from the other side. Horn says he isn't bothered by the blatantly anti-American propaganda, which includes stylistic paintings of captured pilots and destroyed B-52 bombers.

Interest in a shared history

Vietnam - Barack Hussein Obama (picture-alliance/ Souza)

Vietnamese President Trần Đại Quang receives US President Barack Obama in May 2016

Today, anti-Americanism is shunned by the Communist Party, which gave a warm state welcome to former US President Barack Obama in 2016. The countries established diplomatic relations in 1995. Many young Vietnamese think of the US as the promised land. Tens of thousands of them study there. American companies have invested billions in Vietnam. American flags are frequently spotted on the streets as decorations or fashion accessories. 

Across the street from Thinh's shop is a nearly identical store, also selling vintage propaganda  posters, staffed by 24-year-old Le Thi Kim Lien. Despite having a father and grandparents who fought against the Americans, she had little interest in her country's recent violent history before getting her current job. "It's just the old people who want to relive their memories of the past. Most young people don't know about the propaganda," says Lien, adding that most young people consider the past boring.

Vietnam - Buecherstrasse in Saigon (picture-alliance/J. Hoelzl)

Pedestrian precinct with bookshops, art galleries and cafés on Nguyen Van Binh Street in Ho Ch Minh City

Lien says American tourists in Vietnam are fascinated by the colorful propaganda. "Some young people say their fathers or grandfathers took part in the war in Vietnam, and they just want to buy them as presents for them." Since taking her job at the shop, Lien says she too has grown interested in the old art, which was designed by young artists employed by the state during the war.

Her favorites are those celebrating the 1975 reunification, which brought southern Vietnam, which had been its own republic under American patronage, under the control of the communist north. Thinh says she prefers the posters celebrating the peace that followed. "Peace - I really like any poster about peace," she says.

Bennett Murray (dpa)