Sunday, October 21, 2007

Vietnam War

I did a tour of both the DMZ area in central Vietnam and the Cu Chi Tunnels 40 kilometers from Saigon in southern Vietnam. The Vietnamese people endured horrible hardship during the war of resistance against the French and then the Vietnam War (known as the American War here). Unfortunately, the official Vietnam displays and historical information is completely controlled by the government and it is so biased against Americans as to be cartoonish and completely lose what otherwise might have been an effective message. It is interesting that the French, Vietnam's colonial occupiers, were not really even mentioned that much.

The informational films in the exhibits were nothing less than propaganda. However, I was just a guest in the country and just tried to learn something without complaining.

The tourists from other Western countries all said the same thing about the cartoonish bias. Most of the exhibits are labeled something like this one, of which I happened to take a picture and the caption reads "The American soldiers panic at Lang Vay base. What's President Johnson thinking? "

The Vietcong lived secretly in the "Cu Chi" tunnels for many years just 40 kilometers from Saigon. The south Vietnamese knew they were in that area, but it took them years to figure out that they were living in tunnels during the daytime. They were very small and cramped and all dug by hand -- we got to squeeze through some of them. Cu Chi is a local tree that grows fruit that tastes sweet but is poisonous to humans.

You can also fire weapons at Cu Chi -- the Vietnamese are converted capitalists now and they have found this is a good way to make a buck. Naturally, I had to take a few shots with an American M-16 rifle (6 rounds for $6). I later found out that the ammunition used for the guns is left over from Vietnam War era stockpiles, meaning it is not really safe to use. But I had blast knocking off a few rounds!

Below are some of traps that the North Vietnamese "were forced to build" by the Americans. This first one, the green ball with long blades sticking out, would swing down from a tree:

This next one was buried in the ground. Once a leg was caught in it, it could not easily be removed -- trying to do so would embed the needles more. And the Vietcong used their human waste and other products to cause infection when the needles of any of these weapons penetrated flesh:

This one is the folding chair trap. Ouch:

One thing that I liked about the historical displays was that you could actually experience them. In a country like America, there would be too much liability to allow people to go into tunnels, to see any traps that were not in a glass display, or to fire M-16 rounds for fun.

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