A two hour bus ride after breakfast took us to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were used by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War to evade and attack US troops. Construction of the tunnels began in the late 40s and ended in the early 70s. Together, the tunnels totaled around 250 kilometers in length. They housed people, had infirmaries, held meeting places, and were used to rise up and shoot the enemy.
The visit started off with a tour of how Vietcong lived and operated of the tunnels. We were shown barracks, ditches, and the thing that shook me the most, traps. A US soldier could step on what looked like grass and then fall to their death onto sharpened bamboo. This shook me simply because it sounds horrifying. After this, we went to watch a video about the war.
The video was extremely interesting for a few reasons. First, it told me more information about the war. It showed the stretch of land where the tunnels were located and the role of non-soldiers in the war and construction of the tunnels.
The really interesting thing about the video was how the war was shown. First off, it was from the Vietnamese side of things, which was different in itself. But it was also the words used to describe events and people. It very often used words like “kill Americans” and praised the soldiers for getting the most kills. The movie felt like propaganda. A fight of good vs evil and good triumphs. It did not mention the casualties taken by the Vietnamese, only by the Americans. According to the government, North Vietnam was the clear winner of the war, and praise those who fought against the evil enemy to ensure victory.
This was in stark contrast to how Americans learn about the war today. We now support the people who fought in it, but it definitely is not seen as good vs evil. I think this is also how young Vietnamese (especially in the south) view the war. Americans have a 94% approval rating here, so if it were really seen with Americans as evil, I don’t think the approval rating would be so high. Additionally, they have lots of information open to them on the internet and at the American Center in the US Consulate.
After the video, we went into the actual tunnels. The ceiling was extremely low. I did a sort of catcher’s squat to walk around. They seemed to be extremely well made, though. The one that held a room where you could see out and shoot people was very well done, giving a good vantage point to the Vietcong soldier. I can’t even imagine living in there for extended periods of time, though. I’d go mad from lack of sun and my back would get sore from bending over when traveling in the tunnels.
We ended the day with a visit to a war cemetery. It was vast with tombstones going on and on and on. We did a ritual with incense to pay our respects to the fallen soldiers. Being there left me feeling a lot of things, most of which was confused. I wasn’t sure if I should say sorry to the soldiers or thank you or what. In the end, simply paying respect seemed appropriate.