Today was another day that differed from the usual routine of site visits and lecture classes. In the morning, after a hotel breakfast, we were on the bus at around 8:00 am and headed to the Cu Chi Tunnels System.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is a network of underground tunnels that were used by Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were created during this time, and used because of the bombing of the land by the United States; as such, the purpose of the tunnels is to provide an effective means for living underground while avoiding the dangers of above. The tunnel system is equipped with many different areas and rooms, from a medical center, to dining areas, to a headquarters room for official meetings used by the Viet Cong.
The tunnel system is a huge network that covers a large area underground, and are about 9 to 10 meters deep. Additionally, there are small entrances above ground that are camouflaged in order to allow people to get inside without being noticed. On the inside, the tunnels are in very good condition, in that they are breathable and cool. Most of the time, we had to crouch down and were not able to stand fully inside the tunnels until we got to a certain room. Since there had to be entrances above ground, this left room for detection and capture by the United States soldiers. As such, the Viet Cong took precautions to protect their tunnels. At the entrances, they would sometimes set unexploded bombs, so that the minute it was opened, it would explode and kill whoever was trying to get inside. Also, they set a number of camouflaged traps in the ground, which would appear like grass on the outside, but once it was stepped upon, would flip, and the ground would open up to a bunch of spikes. Finally, since the tunnel network was so large, there were many twists, turns, and splits that made it difficult for people who did not know the way to navigate around.
Visiting the tunnels today was the first Vietnam War site we have gone to on this trip. Before entering the tunnels, we watched a short video on the Vietnam War, which tied in the creation of the tunnels. The video was interesting because it referred to the United States soldiers as the “devil Americans,” and had many scenes of bombings by the United States that destroyed school and many children. Additionally, the video described a young girl who fought for the Viet Cong and was notorious for her shooting ability, and was referred to as the “American killer hero.” This illustrates how the Vietnam War is portrayed by the government, by putting the United States in a negative light and highlighting all of the innocents killed and lives ruined by the bombing by the United States. In terms of the portrayal of the war by the Vietnamese government, they focus heavy on the devastation caused by the United States, which in turn puts the Viet Cong in a positive light. I found this interesting because the portrayal of the war does not seem to be holistic, in that through analyzing the information used to the describe the war, you can detect what the government chooses to neglect, and different perspectives that are not considered.
From the visit, I was able to conclude that the interpretation of history is difficult, and is subject to many different factors. For example, the way that the Vietnam War is taught and portrayed in the United States is very different from the way it is portrayed in Vietnam. In the United States, I have learned that it tends to focus on both the positive and negative effects of the United States presence in Vietnam; however, in visiting the tunnels today, the information seemed very one-sided. While I found this interesting, I also somewhat expected it, because in talking to one of the UEF students the night before, she told me that some of it is propaganda, and to only believe about half of what they show us. From this interaction alone, it is clear that there are people in Vietnam, especially young people, who do not seem to take the “official” government stance in terms of the portrayal of the United States. As another example, after the trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we visited a war memorial cemetery. Visiting was shocking, because the graves lined up seemed to never end. One of the UEF photographers was walking with me through the cemetery, and said that even though our countries share a complicated history, they are still happy and excited to have us in their country. The kindness that the people here have shown me is unbelievable, and even after something as tragic as the Vietnam War, the care and respect that I have felt here is amazing, and I will never stop being appreciative.
Overall, this day was really cool. We got the chance to interact with something from history, and I was able to gain a new perspective on the Vietnam War that I would not have if I was not physically here. Unfortunately, today marks the beginning of the second week of the trip, so I am going to make every day count!