The American War

Reis emerges from one of the many tunnels

(Emma w/ Dana) “The merciless American bombs ruthlessly destroyed the countryside… Like a crazy bunch of devils, they fired into women, children, chickens, schools and pots & pans.”

These are some quotes from today’s movie at the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Yes, it is one-sided, but we are learning that we cannot just learn history from a Western perspective; we need to hear both sides of the story to better understand. This is the side told by the Vietnamese winners.

The Cu Chi tunnels were built in 1948 to resist the French colonizers. The soil is ideal because it is clay-like and can sustain itself from collapsing. Only twenty years later, the network of tunnels was expanded to 150 miles long during the “American War.” Tunnels were dug at 3M, 6M and 12M deep and even went under the US base because it was the safest place to be.

Going from home-to-home and village-to-village, the tunnels helped save local people from the South Vietnamese Army and American soldiers. Hundreds of people could hide away and protect themselves from bombs and guns. Where there used to be rubber and fruit trees, the US dumped millions of liters of chemicals and thousands of bombs which killed over 20,000 locals.

One of the many types of booby traps at Cu Chi

The people recreated their village underground. There were dining rooms, kitchens with chimneys hundreds of meters away to hide the smoke, workrooms and even hospitals with operating tables. Ventilation holes were camouflaged as termite mounds and their scents hidden from US dogs by black-market US soap. Entrances were hidden under the forest and leaves and often guarded by homemade booby traps made from the materials of dropped US bombs.

However, many of these villagers were also Viet Cong supporters and fighters. The Viet Cong supported the communists of North Vietnam and fought the US in the South. The problem was that it was very difficult for the US soldiers to know who was an innocent villager and who was Viet Cong. In fact, many of the same villagers would be farmers during the day, providing for their families and become “American killer heroes” by night. What a nightmare for the US soldiers!

We crawl through the narrow, dark, stuffy tunnels. I can’t believe that these recreations were made bigger for tourists; they certainly seemed tight to me! I can’t even imagine how scary it must have been for the locals who lived down there. They were deafened by the shooting, and their eyes were tortured by the constant darkness. I also can’t imagine how awful it must have been for the “tunnel rats” — the American soldiers chosen to explore the tunnels because they were small like the Vietnamese. The bats, snakes, booby traps, maze-like construction and Viet Cong were all waiting for the poor tunnel rat. I can almost picture the poor teenage US marines slogging through the countryside, carrying half-their weight in equipment and ammunition, avoiding mines and trying to distinguish allies from enemies.

The government has located the shooting range of the National Defense Sports Shooting Range on the tunnel site. The clack-clack-clack of AK-47s and M-16s echo through the air, getting louder and louder as we approach the range. We wonder whether it was done make the atmosphere more historically accurate or to torture the US veterans who visit Cu Chi.

So how do the Vietnamese feel today? Our guide Son told me that most Vietnamese believe that “the past is past” and that they don’t think too much about the war. With 70% of the population under the age of 30 (after the fall of Saigon in 1975), she is probably right.

I guess that the story is always different from the other perspective. I am glad that I now have heard both sides of the story. But I can definitely see why the US didn’t win the war.

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One Response to “The American War”

  1. aaron boyd :) 24. Feb, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Wow that folding chair thing is cool I hope u guys are having fun P.S. I am using the namibin dancing video for my sfrica project!!!!!! 😀