I am pretty sure that most of us have seen many movies about the War in Vietnam – we all know “Good morning ,Vietnam ” ( 1987 ) with Robin Williams or the famous Musical of ” Miss Saigon ” being shocked by the scenes and the dramas in those films but I have to say that this was nothing against what I later realized when I visited South Vietnam and saw the real places where this war took place…
Actually the War in Vietnam took place from 1954 – 1975 and was an Indochina War between the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam , the Viet Cong against the government of South Vietnam and its allies who have been the United States of America. In Vietnam itself this war was also called the ” War against the American to save the Nation ” and was on large scale a part of the Cold War that was taking place between the US and the Soviet Union and their allies in that region.
In 2013 after we had our first visit to Cambodia, we moved to our next stop Ho Chi Min City ( Saigon ) in the South of Vietnam. One of our main destinations was the War Museum in Ho Chi Min City and the Cu Chi Tunnels which are a part of the War Museum and located about 30 miles ( 50 km ) outside the city.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were an underground network of passageways of about 250 km and were controlling the rural area of Ho Chi Min and extending to the Cambodian borderline .They served as a strategic place for the Viet Cong soldiers to communicate and strategize between the villages in that area against the US army forces and they were key to the success of the Northern Vietnamese army.
The Cu Chi tunnels were smartly hidden in the forest under the ground and could not be seen from outside.
During daytime the Vietnamese farmers were working on their fields in the villages and were controlled by the American while in the night they disappeared in the hidden channels of the network underground , gathered , organized attacks against the US army in the night ,and could not be found as nobody had the idea that there was a living city under the forest terrains.
I was shocked when I saw the first entrance lid opening to one of the tunnels due to its size .
A western person would have serious difficulties to enter the tunnelway – just very slim and only very small persons like kids might be able to get through . I even did not think of trying it as just the idea of such a tight space is crazy and shows how cruel the war was , how resistant these people were and how long they fought to survive and how much they sacrificed to stay alive – it is unbelievable.
When you look at the entrance lit of a tunnel , you think that it will take just minutes that you are going to die as you will get no oxygen and if you are claustrophobic you have no chance to survive anyhow but those people spent years over here ! Unbelievable …
Thousands of people were living there – the tunnels were home to the Viet Cong guerillas and were used as living spaces ,as hideouts , as supply routes, as dorms , as bathrooms and as hospitals where lots of women gave birth to their babies . People ate here , slept here and sometimes died here till the end of the war.
The underground was also used as a school , as a kitchen , as a theatre ,as a military meeting point, as a weapon factory and storage and also as a cemetery .
The longer and the more cruel the war became, the deeper the people were forced to dig their tunnel ways into the ground, up to 10 meters deep to hide and cover and not to be found by the enemy.
At 8-10 meters down they had also access to drinking water .
Each tunnel was also somehow connected with the Saigon river that could be used in an emergency case as a way to escape .
Some spent several years in the tunnels which were absolutely dark and very tight and an air ventilation system was mostly under the ground of the anthills or termite mounds which have very small holes that were used to get some oxygen under the earth as otherwise it was too risky to leave the tunnels as it would put the lives of thousands of people into danger. For this reason the quality of oxygen under the ground was also very poor and lots of people died due to the lack of oxygen .
Around the tunnels there was also a complex system of traps , booby traps and bomb shelters to defend against the American troops . 11% of the American soldiers died in these traps in the Vietnamese war. The Viet Cong were smart in using the military waste of the American soldiers to build new weapons – so it happened that the US soldiers were somehow killed by their own weapons and tools. Long time the US army was not aware of this tunnel system and could not understand how the Viet Cong were managing the attacks to the American troops and all of a sudden disappear in the dark as the guerillas just used their secret entrances to the tunnel ways which were always very close by.
After years the American began to use German Shepherd dogs to find the ways to the tunnels but the guerillas were very smart not to leave any traces behind .To avoid any smell for the dogs they used certain soaps or even uniforms of American soldiers ,who died , at the entrance of the tunnels which were not recognized by the dogs as they thought that these are areas of friendship and not of enemies . Lots of dogs also were killed in the traps of the region so that the American gave up using them after a while .
The American also used chemicals to extinct the vegetation in the region to have a better view to detect the tunnels but even this did not work out , the Viet Cong survived.
The region was a hell to the American soldiers.
There were also special units in the US army being educated for special attacks in the tunnels which were called the “tunnel rats”. They were just armed with a knife, a pistol and some light but they were not able to fight against the Viet Cong due to their body size and the Viet Cong were better used to the tunnel system.
The Cu Chi tunnels were a sophisticated base of the military operations around Ho Chi Min and key to the Vietnam War and feared by the American soldiers. It was said that” if the Cu Chi tunnels can survive, Vietnam will win the war.”
You get respect for the Vietnamese people when you realize all that and when you remember the movies of the War. When I thought about all these locations , I really could not believe what all happened over here…
You are touched when you see the tunnel network , you are touched when you see the traps which hit the young US soldiers ,you get scared when you see the density of the wide forest with all its dangers … the breath of death was always so close…
Finally the war ended just about 40 years ago, in 1975 ,and the tunnels were cleaned up and turned into a museum . Isn’t it scary and very sad to know that this all is part of a very close history and reality?
The Cu Chi Tunnels later became a War Memorial and remind us today of what WAR is – brutality , struggle for survival , cruelness, torture , death.
There is never a winner of a war .
Even the slightest imagination on what all happened over here makes you sick ! Not even talking about what really happened here for long brutal years . What a strong community and empowered army that was living and defending its nation at this place .
The Viet Cong were also making use of the tyres of the US soldiers as they used the material to make shoes for themselves .
But the shoes had a special construction – they were constructed in the converted direction ie when you were walking with these shoes , the traces that you left behind were just the other way round ie if you were walking to the left side , the traces that you left behind showed that you were coming from the left side and walking to the right side .
Today people all over Vietnam are visiting this place to commemorate their fellows fighting like hell for their country and remember their strong struggle for their life and freedom.
Everybody who has the opportunity to visit South Vietnam should definitely take the opportunity to visit the War Museum in Ho Chi Min as well as the Cu Chi Tunnels as they are important witnesses of war .
When we leave the site we know that we have learnt a lot about the World History of Mankind and are thoughtful and in commemoration of all the people suffered and died on this soil and do hope and pray that it will never happen again though we know that there is always a war outside there in the World …
For sure everybody knows the kids in below photograph. It is the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken at Trảng Bàng during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. Kim Phuc, the naked and burned nine-year-old child in the middle who is known informally as the Napalm girl, became the symbol of the Vietnamese War.
Today she is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and UNESCO refers to her as: “Kim Phuc Phan Thi was designated as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for culture of peace in November 1997, in recognition of her courage and generosity in promoting a culture of peace through reconciliation and tolerance”.
In December 2016 she was guest of the Sarıyer Municipality in Istanbul, due to the 50th Art Anniversary of Mr Zulfu Livaneli, a famous musician and author in Turkey, and we had the opportunity to get to know her in person and to host her in our country.
As Atatürk said, we wish “Peace for the Country, Peace for the World!” .