Today we visited the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, home of the famous tunnel system used by the Viet Cong to outmaneuver United States troops during the Vietnam (or American, as they call it here) War. There are three layers of tunnels that the Viet Cong used to transfer supplies and seek shelter from attacks, each just a few feet high. The entirety of the tunnel network stretches some 75 miles across the Cu Chi district, and was vital to the Tet Offensive operation in 1968.
We were lucky enough to experience what it was like to meander through a few of the shorter tunnel stretches, though our experience was almost nothing like that of the Viet Cong. The tunnels today have been slightly expanded as to accommodate tourists, and they are no longer lacking in oxygen or infested with insects and other creatures. Even so, it was still difficult to move around inside, and the thought of having to survive in the tunnels for even more than a few hours seemed surreal.
At the site of the tunnels, the stories told about the war were obviously very noticeable different than those we may have heard back home. One documentary we watched referred to the American army as “devils,” and more than once claimed that the United States became involved in the conflict to “tear Vietnam apart.” As difficult as it was for me to accept these statements as being the Vietnamese’s truth, it was incredibly interesting to learn about such an influential period in history from the opposite perspective.
Despite the government’s official viewpoints on the war, it doesn’t seem to me that the local Vietnamese continue to buy into the idea that the Americans were acting as evil. Still, it is the unflattering portrait of the U.S. that is written in their history books, not the more forgiving one that the people may paint.
Later in the day, we visited the military cemetery in Cu Chi. We all participated in a traditional ceremony that involves placing incense on the graves of fallen Vietnamese soldiers. Admittedly, it was somewhat difficult for me to distinguish men who had once sought to kill Americans; however, I came to realize that those men were fighting for a cause they believed to be as just as ours, and that their sacrifices are equally as tragic and honorable.
Our day in Cu Chi was our first that really dealt with the violent history between Vietnam and the United States, and it really has been eye-opening for me. Despite the bloodiness of the war, the people of Vietnam hold no grudge against Americans and aspire to many of the same things we do. If that lesson isn’t of paramount importance to this whole experience, I don’t know what is.