Vietnam: The Cu Chi Tunnels

December 30th, 2010
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As an American traveling to Vietnam, the elephant in the room is clear. We sort of had a war here. And we sort of lost. And we’ve sort of been arguing about it ever since.
When Tammi told my father in law about out trip, he was baffled. “You’re going to ‘Nam?” he asked. He’s just young enough to have missed the draft, so the idea of spending a couple days visiting scenic Saigon probably didn’t make any damn sense to him. I expect that my little godson, only a few months old will go somewhere like Afghanistan or Iraq in decades to come and that I’ll be equally perplexed.
To see more about the local perspective of the war, we went to the Cu chi tunnels. A network of what amount to crawl spaces spread miles around the town of cu chi and as far as Saigon. Built to fend off the French, the US went and built a base right on top of it, having no idea that the enemy was literally under their noses.


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Much of the museum is made propaganda that insists incongruously that the US was evil and attacked women and children and then went on to say that women and children often served as the “Number One American Killer.”
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Clearly, the script there was written to ham-fistedly glorify the Viet Cong for beating back the Americans in order to form a unified Vietnam. Of course, this was softened ahead of time by our guide, a local to Saigon, who told our group how dumb Communism is and that the South Vietnamese never really bought into it. He told us that in the 10 years after the Fall of Saigon, the communists ran the economy into the ground and had to institute major reforms including reaching out to the US to reopen trade.
I can’t say whether he gave us this little post-war history lesson to let butter up his audience of westerners for a decent tip or if it really represented the larger feeling of many in what was once South Vietnam, but in the end I don’t know that it matters.
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The tunnels themselves are ridiculously small. Others in our group had to back out after having a claustrophobic panic attack. Being bigger than nearly everyone in the country, I found myself crawling on my knees just to get to the next ‘exit’ wondering how someone like me could have possibly fought in these conditions.
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I’m no flag-waver, but it’s a hard not to be sad looking at the traps and hiding places that the Viet Cong used against our troops. And by troops, I mean kids who probably hadn’t left their towns and neighborhoods before, who were conscripted and taken across the world to fight a losing battle.
It’s harder still to walk through this monument to American failure as an invading power without thinking of the two wars we’re in the midst of. The parallels are pretty straightforward: a large network of entrenched and resentful locals against us as we fight a war we don’t want to be in anymore but don’t know how to get out of.
Thirty years from now, if my little godson does end up visiting Tikrit or Kandahar, I wonder what obvious lessons he’ll see that were right in front of our faces.

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