Today we took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong to conduct operations. They are located directly in the middle between the border of Cambodia and the city of Saigon. This location was especially strategic during the war for multiple reasons. For one, the United States base was located near the Cu Chi Tunnels so it was quite easy for the Viet Cong to attack. Second, the city of Saigon was South Vietnam’s capital and the Viet Cong needed to keep guard over the city. Finally, the border of Cambodia served as a possible escape route if they were to be attacked.
The Cu Chi tunnels were multi-layered and served as the living and strategic fighting quarters for the Viet Cong. Today we were able to go inside of the tunnels. Originally made for the Vietnamese soldiers, the tunnels were quite snug. Additionally, it was very obvious that the tunnels were planned very carefully. For one of the tunnels, there was a lid covered in leaves that must be removed before one could crawl inside. With the leaves as camouflage, no one would have known there were tunnels there. Also, there were entire rooms underground. The last tunnel we went in was nearly 50 meters long. In the middle of the tunnel, there was a large room that was used as a dining area for the soldiers. It was astounding to see the complexities of the tunnels. I enjoyed every moment of it except for the few minutes when a group of us thought we were lost in the tunnels! All we could think and say to each other was “just keep on moving.” Sure enough we found our way out just fine!
The tunnels were also very interesting because we were standing on Vietnamese soil and viewing the war from the Vietnamese perspective. It is not uncommon for the Americans to be referred to as the American Devils. Because history is written by the victors, we are not used to this portrayal of the war and it is often unsettling. However, I think it is very vital to understand all sides of history and going to the Cu Chi Tunnels today showed up part of the Vietnamese perspective. I also believe that there is now right interpretation, perspective, or side. All things that are retold or interpreted can be altered or viewed differently based on the facts presented. For example, our guide today explained that the farmers in South Vietnam during the war had little education. All they knew was that the Americans invaded the country and killed Vietnamese people. Therefore, they were vehemently against the Americans. In the words, they had a strong opinion based on the facts presented to them just as all people involved with the war did.
Although the Americans are portrayed in such a dim light, it appears that the Vietnamese people today do not hold such a negative view of the American people. They do not share the same position on the war as the “official” government position. Instead, the Vietnamese students reached out to us and help conversations and asked questions about our take on the war. We were all able to put the politics aside and talk constructively. I think this is all possible because the Vietnamese people are always looking forward. They do not dwell in the events from the past. Instead, they learn from the past and move on. In this case, Vietnam and the US have solidified relations and are now working together as partners instead of enemies. As partners we “just keep on moving.”