Today was a bit different than the other days on this trip so far, we visited the Cu Chi tunnels, and a cemetery for Vietnamese soldiers. The Cu Chi tunnels were used by the Vietnamese as a place to live, work, and fight their enemy (the US). They had kitchens, infirmeries, weapons rooms, and holes where they were able to shoot the Americans through. These tunnels enabled the Viet Cong to not have their settlements detected by American planes flying above which protected them from having their whole villages destroyed. The Cu Chi tunnels, even after all these years still seem very well preserved, the entrances vary in size some extremely small and others quite visible, but all included steps down until the actual depth was reached. The tunnels were very small, I had to bend over entirely just to fit and they were also extremely narrow. I was amazed when the guys on our trip managed to travel through, although most had to squad down just to fit. This was the exact reason why the tunnels were so small, so that American soldiers would not be able to fit into the tunnels or travel at any reasonable speed through them. At the end of some of these tunnels there were openings to larger rooms where I was able to stand, some serving as dining areas or weapon supply rooms like I mentioned earlier. In the tunnels I felt very trapped and was very uncomfortable, I wondered what it would be like to have to live underground like that for long periods of time and what that would do to a person. It was a weird experience because at home we always hear about the terrible things US troops had to do and see in Vietnam, but I never really imagined how the other side lived or felt during the war.
I find it quite interesting, because even though Vietnam won the war the narrative is still controlled by the US when it comes to what we learn in school and what a lot of other countries learn as well. The United State’s assault in Vietnam and the following loss sounds eerily similar to what happened when America won it’s independence from Great Britain (although we did not have colonies here and wished to but the southern Vietnamese government in power not rule it ourselves), yet we still discuss the Vietnam War as a tragic American military loss- no teacher has every really described it as Vietnam gaining its freedom and a tragic loss because of the loss of life on both sides.
The students we’ve met are awesome and seem to hold no grudges, no lingering judgement of us. It’s probably because we were all born after the war, into a time when relations between our two countries were strained but improving and they knew Americans through TV and movies; not just as the people that left unexploded bombs in their country and sprayed Agent Orange and Napalm on innocents (although they definitely do know about it seeing as their are still people being born with defects because of Agent Orange). One of the professors the other day said that Vietnam does not hold grudges against those who invade or attack it, because so many have that they wouldn’t have very many options for friends if they did. I believe the people here also choose to not hold grudges, but to remember. This was very clear when we went to the cemetery.
It was very difficult to look at all of the rows and rows of graves, and the pots filled with incense that had burned down into small sticks of wood before sputtering out. People had clearly been coming to each grave, lighting incense for the dead and paying their respects for decades. It was a very powerful and also very difficult day, but in my opinion a very important part of the trip was learning about our shared history from another side.