On Day 3 in Saigon we headed on a tour out of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were built by the Viet Minh and the Viet Cong during the American Vietnam war. At the height of the war the tunnel network, stretching for about 200 kilometers, hid and housed thousands and thousands. The Viet Cong would hide in the tunnels during the day and emerge at night to tend crops and do the nasty business of fighting the war. The tunnels provided the perfect hiding place from which to launch surprise attacks.
When we saw the tunnels it was hard to imagine that you anyone could actually live in such a place. Rob and Fearon went down for a few short feet and then needed to come up for air. Eric and I stayed down and made it through the narrow passage ways that we were allowed through. It was certainly uncomfortable and a tight squeeze. We were glad to see the sky even after our short crawl through. We just could not imagine living there.
One of the best things about the day was our Guide, Binh. He had actually fought in the war for the American side and he kept us enthralled as he shared his memories. The war memorial sites throughout Vietnam are all filled with propaganda that paint a very nasty picture of the multitude of war crimes inflicted by the U.S. We all know, however, that there are two sides to every story and Binh provided us with more perspective on the other side. No matter how you cut it or whose side you are on there is nothing about war that is pretty.
The more we learned throughout the day at the tunnels the more we appreciated what it would have taken to build them and what it would have been like to live there. The tunnels were all dug by hand. Reed baskets were filled with mud that was moved quite far away to the river. This was all done in darkness so as not to be discovered. We could barley move in the tunnels but the Viet Cong lived in them along with the darkness, the spiders, the ants, the terrible air and every other underground horror that you could imagine. They even managed to cook and care for their ill and injured whilst burrowed down there. Sophisticated networks of chimneys removed smoke far from where the smoke was actually being generated. Try as they did, the Americans could not figure out the tunnel network and stop the Viet Cong.
The traps that they concocted to capture Americans may have been relatively simple in design but they were horrific and very effective. The Viet Cong may have lacked the sort of ammo that a large bank roll can provide but they certainly did not lack the ability to torture their enemy. Their ingenuity was amazing.
Seeing the tunnels and listening to first hand accounts of what it was like to fight there provided us with another history lesson unlike anything that could possibly be taught in a text book.