Today was our Cu Chi day trip, and it was certainly an eye opening experience as to how history can be portrayed from two different sides. I will explain this more below.
So our day began with yet another early start because we had a 3 hour bus ride to the Cu Chi area. The tunnel areas have been turned in to a museum because they were such a key contributor in North Vietnam’s military operations. Upon arrival we took an interactive walking tour of an area that was set up the way the camp was during the war. We were warned in advance to be understanding of the new perspective on this war, but it was still a shock to see these gruesome traps and realize they were meant for American men. We also saw fighter jets with tallies on them for the number of American planes shot down and that was hard to witness. Moving on though, we moved through the camp for about an hour and got a glimpse into how these people lived, and how they were constantly prepared to retreat to the tunnels or bunkers upon an American attack.
Next we moved to an area that has a section of tunnels that have been labeled structurally sound enough for tourism. I, of course, was the first person to throw my hand up when asking for a volunteer to lead the way to the tunnels and let me tell you it was a tight squeeze to get in there. In fact, these tunnels were specifically built to not accommodate a taller American guy like myself. These tunnels were designed as a means of shelter, transportation and surprise attacks for the North Vietnamese and their Viet Kong allies. There are over 250 km of tunnels in the Cu Chi area that took over 20 years to construct. They were built slowly and they were built small so that only Vietnamese men and woman could easily navigate them. I can personally confirm after my 45 minutes in the different tunnels that they are extremely difficult to move around in as a 6 foot tall person. I was practically on my hands and knees!
As you can see in the picture below, some of the entrances to these tunnels were more conspicuous then others, but one trend I did see was that all tunnels we navigated were all in very good condition. I believe that is because they have been well maintained for historical purposes though, because some of the tunnels out there must be destroyed. Regardless though, the patience and planning that went into these tunnels followed by focused execution in construction have impressed me. The multiple levels of the tunnels were layered at specific depths and the entrances were mostly hidden very well in the ground or in homes to avoid detection and capture from US forces. When this was explained to us by our guide we could certainly tell there was a role reversal in his story compared to what we have learned in history. For hundreds of years Vietnam has had to defend itself from a large group of invaders and in the case of the Vietnam war that is also how they saw the situation. As a result, the end of the war has repeatedly been referred to here as the day the Vietnam was liberated. This was certainly a culture shock but one I knew I would encounter on my way here.
The Vietnam War, or in their description the “American War”, does not follow the trend that “history is written by the victor”. In this instance both sides have different stories to tell and I suppose it is all about perspective. On one side the “unity of the country” was the motivation to fight and the other side was fighting “for those who could not” and they were fighting to spread democracy. What is interesting to me is how the people here in Vietnam are not bitter at all. In fact, even though history here portrays Americans as the invaders, the Vietnamese people still have a 94% approval rating of Americans (probably higher than we have of ourselves!). I have seen this first hand because plenty of locals have asked for pictures with me! It’s just an interesting dynamic that because this country has seen so many fights on their land, they cannot afford to hold grudges or they could never be happy. With that in mind, the people here have been incredibly kind and accommodating.
To end my discussion on the Vietnam war that the Cu Chi tunnels got me discussing, I have not taken the opportunity to discuss it all with our friends at UEF. I am interested to see what perspective they have with the government providing one story and America providing another, I just have to find a good time to bring up this sensitive topic. Stay tuned.
After visiting the Cu Chi tunnels (which were incredibly interesting), we went to lunch and then a fallen Vietnamese solider memorial. I will admit that I sort of went into this cemetery with a disturbing perspective of “why should I really care that these soldiers fell in the war against Americans”. I quickly matured and realized that these men were likely fighting for their country just like our men fight for ours. Each soldier did not send out attack orders and they did not start the war and so I am now choosing not to fault them for that. War is bloody and war is messy but I am learning that war does not always mean the men are fighting because they choose to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I still disagree with this communist country and I appreciate the men and woman from the states who were affected by the war more than anything. That being said, I respect that our countries are mending relations and that a student like myself could pay respects in that cemetery and have a day like today to learn.
What an incredible day it was too. I have learned about the Vietnam war for years but finally seeing things in real life and connecting them to the lessons is exciting!
Enjoy the pictures! A lot more will be posted to Facebook!