Taking the figure of a gremlin—my back arched dramatically and chin tucked close to my chest—I bolted through the tight crusty tunnel before me. Bumping my shoulders at the packed dirt just inches all around, I clenched my jaw and peered in front for any sign of light. Suddenly, an ascension of stairs came into view and I immediately gave a sigh of relief. For in those very few moments down in the tunnel, I entered the mind of someone else. Someone who won the war and had the ability to rewrite history.
DISCLAIMER: I want to make it clear that I in no way hate anyone that supports the communist government in Vietnam. I acknowledge that some Vietnamese may have been mislead or even born into believing the communist ideology. My hope is that one day Vietnam will be restored to its original state free from corruption and oppression.
Today we had the opportunity to learn more about the history between the United States and Vietnam as we toured the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an elaborate network of underground tunnels devised by the Vietcong—Communist forces in South Vietnam—to help combat U.S. and South Vietnamese forces primarily in Saigon at the time. The Vietcong soldiers would build deep tunnels into the ground to help them travel great distances undetected from enemies on the surface. Spanning approximately 100 km in length, the tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to move from one location to the next while being virtually untouchable. They could transport goods and weapons from one end of Saigon to the next without interference and even hide underneath there when the opposing forces unleashed massive gunfire or bombs above. Further, there were many rooms underground that allowed the Viet Cong soldiers to conduct operations in safety, such as: a sleeping quarters, meeting room for top officials, and even treatment rooms for injured soldiers. Just by crawling through the few amount of tunnels in our very location, I couldn’t help but be in awe at the impressive feat the Viet Cong pulled off.
In terms of the structure of the Cu Chi Tunnel System, it certainly isn’t one that is worth spending great lengths of time in. Although I believe it has deteriorated over time since the Vietnam War, the majority of it has remained intact and most likely well reflects what the system was like back then.
The first thing you will notice when entering the tunnels is that the holes are extremely tight and that you will have to bend down in order to go through them. The reason the tunnels were made this way is so that the American soldiers could not fit through them if they happened to discover the tunnels given the fact that the Vietnamese were much smaller in size in comparison to the Americans. Also, almost the entire tunnel system was built with hardened dirt and clay probably because the resources were easily accessible and could be used to create new tunnels fairly quickly. Further, there were barely any light sources down in the tunnels as a means to confuse any unwanted trespassers in the tunnels and lead them astray. All of these factors contributed to the security of the Cu Chi Tunnels and why they were one of the ultimate secret weapons of the Viet Cong.
Now as we toured the Cu Chi Tunnels and explored historical landmarks around the area, we quickly picked up on the fact that the Vietnam War is portrayed completely different here in Vietnam than back home. By reading the descriptions of photos in the museum and watching a documentary, we learned that the Americans were actually the “bad guys” in the war. For anyone that managed to kill an American soldier, they were proudly given the title “American Killer” and in some cases even a medal to reward them for their valiant efforts. It truly was interesting and a bit uncomfortable to see the Vietnamese government depicting the Americans during the war as a menace to the country and the ones preventing Vietnam from achieving their desired goal of becoming a united country. The temptation to speak up and voice displeasure kept bubbling inside me, but I had to understand that we must look at this war from their perspective to get an idea of what was going through their minds during those dark times.
Here are a few photos of booby traps that were scattered all over the area to kill anyone that fell for them, specifically the South Vietnamese forces and American Army:
So is “history written by the victors”? Well in the case of Vietnam, yes. Since the communist government came out victorious during the Vietnam War, they got the power to control how history went down. Therefore, they had the ability to educate the people of Vietnam about the war and taught new generations that the Americans are to be hated. But this idea is obviously not true because the “losers” of the war will have their own interpretation of what happened during the war. I’m not implying that America lost the Vietnam War, but we clearly are taught much differently and are given a much truer account than what the Vietnamese people are told. Yet there are other factors that come into play in the interpretation of history aside from the so called “victors” and “losers”, one being: the survivors.
My parents survived the Vietnam War and thus were able to escape Vietnam and make their way to America. As a result, they really know the history of Vietnam during and prior to the war and what the communist government was like. People like them are one of the main reasons why the truth will always be out there somewhere, gradually being passed on to later generations down the road or to those who genuinely want to know what actually occurred during the war.
But what is even more surprising is that with my interactions with the Vietnamese citizens, particularly some of my UEF friends, I have learned that all of them share the same sentiment that we share of the communist government. I had a long discussion with one UEF friend of mine about the Vietnam War and the aftermath and learned quite a lot about the people of Saigon and their wish for how things used to be. Initially my friend was taught that the United States was bad, so he originally grew up with the mentality of hating the U.S. However as he grew up and got exposed to the Internet, he was able to truly educate himself about the war and come into realization that the government is actually corrupt to the bone. Thus, many Vietnamese want to leave the country and go someplace else where they can live a better life free from the government. This is indeed astonishing because although Vietnam is now transforming in to a developed country and building itself a strong economy with promise of more businesses and jobs in the near future, the Vietnamese people do not care whatsoever and would rather leave their own country to find work someplace else. I honestly had no idea that many Vietnamese citizens felt this way.
The last activity we did for the day was visit the Nghia Trang Liet Si Huyen Cu Chi Cemetery. Buried in this cemetery were all the Vietnamese who lost their lives fighting for the communist government against the South and the United States. Although they fought and killed many of our U.S. soldiers, we still paid our respects to the deceased there. We even got essence and walked around the cemetery offering them to random individuals who died during the war. It was a really unique experience that I never thought I would partake in. After all, they were just human beings like us who were on the wrong side of things.
Until next time friends