Rounding out our first full week here in Ho Chi Minh City, we took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnel System, located about two hours north of the city. The Cu Chi Tunnels were designed and built by the Viet Cong over a span of twenty plus years, and they were a huge asset to the Cong in ultimately defeating the U.S. Army.
The tunnels served as a way to conduct operations in close proximity to the U.S. Army base while staying hidden at the same time. Because the soldiers and families of the Viet Cong people were essentially living in these tunnels at times, the system had to provide all the basic necessities. Each system of tunnels included kitchens, water wells, make-shift hospitals, and much more in addition to the military necessities, such as meeting rooms for commanders. The scale of the system as a whole and the thoughtfulness with which it was developed was very impressive.
With that being said, after having passed through a few of the tunnels, I would not exactly call them comfortable. All the others and I had to crouch down in a very uncomfortable squat position just to fit, and this made walking (more like waddling) very difficult. Thankfully the few tunnels we had the opportunity to walk through were only a few dozen feet long. Aside from the size issue, however, the tunnels seemed to be in great condition. There were no signs of decay, and the rooms we got to explore were actually quite spacious.
Besides the tunnels, another interesting aspect of the day was hearing the story of the war told from the Vietnamese perspective. As one might expect, their story is a much more triumphant one than ours, and we heard all throughout the day about the great strategies the Viet Cong people used to defeat the enemy American army. The one thing that struck me the most, however, was learning of a young female Vietnamese soldier who fought so well she was awarded the “American Killer Hero Award.” Hearing that was quite a shock to me, and although it provoked all kinds of emotions, I had to remind myself not to take it personal. From their perspective, this was a war of American aggression, a war they fought hard in and ultimately won. There is no reason for them to not celebrate what they saw as a great success.
While this was the way the war was portrayed by the Vietnamese government, I feel as though the young Vietnamese students don’t necessarily share the same opinion. It is true that they have only ever been taught that the war was a success for their country, but they certainly don’t feel as proud about the victory as the elder generations. Virtually the same thing can be said for us as well, as our generation does not feel the same sting from the war as our predecessors do. All in all, this day was a unique experience that really opened up my eyes to a new perspective.