Today we visited the CuChi tunnels which were used by the Vietnamese soldiers to escape and to hide amidst the fighting in the Saigon region. The tunnels allowed the Vietnamese to operate as a ‘ghost army’-appearing and disappearing in a matter of minutes. The United States was used to fighting ‘conventional’ wars in which one army fought another army head to head on a battle field. But the Vietnamese used guerrilla warfare tactics which eliminated the technological and militaristic advantages the United States had in conventional warfare. By building and utilizing the CuChi tunnel system the Vietnamese could hide from the United State’s planes and were protected from bombs and foot soldiers. They could emerge from the tunnels to kill when it was advantageous to them and hide when it was not. The United States had no idea where the Vietnamese were. The tunnels also had an escape route into the Saigon River which greatly aided the Vietnamese in escaping the United States.
The soil in the CuChi area is perfect for the construction of the tunnels because the soil tends to stay in the same shape and is sturdy. By building the tunnels into an arch shape, the Vietnamese were able to construct the tunnels so that they could withstand bombs, heavy use, and time itself-because they are still standing today. The CuChi area was strategic not only because of its proximity to Saigon but because of its soil.
The Vietnamese portray the struggle as one for national unity and independence, and by portraying America as an enemy to those goals the Vietnamese government hopes to evoke pride and nationalism. Therefore many of its complexities must be brushed aside. There can be no mention of the Cold War and the domino theory which instigated the arrival of the United States, nor of the division amongst Vietnamese during the war. By portraying the United States as ‘devils’ they can create a common enemy which they have overcome, further uniting the nation. It is interesting how feelings of animosity towards the United States remain in the Vietnamese recollection of war, yet are absent in their relations and feelings towards the United States in the present. Somehow the Vietnamese have divorced the America of the 1970’s from the America today.
My high school history teacher always told me that history is an interpretation of facts, not a collection of facts. And the Vietnam war is certainly an embodiment of that statement given the drastically different interpretations in both countries. I think a more fitting way to put the saying: ‘History is written by the winners’ is ‘History is subjective.’ Often times there is no clear winner or loser in history, so the history is written by the winners statement does not always hold up. In the context of the Vietnam War it can be argued that the United States and Vietnam simultaneously won and lost-there is no clear winner and no clear loser. But by remembering that history is subjective, and that what you read and learn about something depends not only on what actually happened but on the author or the teacher, we can learn to be careful in the conclusions that we draw from history.