11 November 2009

Cu Chi Tunnels

From Saigon we took a half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels that played an important role during the Vietnam war. The Vietcong from North Vietnam built an extensive tunnel system in the south so they could fight against the Americans, hide during the day and get protection from the bombs. Parts of the tunnels have been made accessible for tourists, the Vietnamese way.
At the beginning of the tour, there was a video about the Vietcong and how they fought against the Americans. It was just plain communist propaganda. They talked about some Vietcong "heroes" who received the distinction of "American-killer" because they had killed a certain number of Americans. They glorified the simple village people and peasants, how they fought the Americans who destroyed their innocent villages.
(Now of course, I won't deny that America shouldn't have gone there in the first place, and that they committed many atrocities, but a tiny bit of self-criticism would be welcome, as the Vietcong were not angels either.)
Then we followed a path through the jungle, and our guide showed us how the entrances to the tunnels were concealed. They were really small holes, and the smallest tunnels measured just 70x80 cm, so try to imagine crawling inside it.... Then we were shown the "booby traps", traps in the ground, concealed under leaves. American soldiers would step on them and fall into a hole, that was filled with sharp bamboo spikes pointing upwards.... I don't want to imagine. Our guide was also very proud to show us all the different kinds of traps the Vietcong built with very simple materials, to kill or injure American soldiers. How can one be so proud of such horrible things?
Further on we saw kitchens, common rooms and storage rooms used within the tunnel system. All decorated with life-size puppets to illustrate it better. There was also an old American tank (those who wanted could climb up and have their picture taken). Further on there was a shooting range where one could shoot with American rifles... I found this very bad taste. Right next to the shooting range was a souvenir kiosk, selling cheap copies of weapons and landmines... now this was really bad taste.
All in all it was quite an interesting outing, not so much for seeing the tunnels (I could also have watched a movie about it or read a book) but more for the whole thing, with all the pro-communist and anti-american propaganda that just seems so much out of place. Travelling around Vietnam, I didn't come across many things that I would describe as "communist". The gap between poor and rich is clearly visible, schooling and medical care are not free, and only children whose parents own a piece of land can attend secondary school. But here they are, glorifying this horrible past, never admitting the atrocities the Vietcong committed against their own people.

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