|Cu Chi, VietNam
It's hard to be in VietNam and not think about the war here. It seems to be seared into the collective American consciousness (just watch any presidental election), but I'm not sure if the same is true for the Vietnamese. Maybe it's just that like me most of the people I interact with here are too young to have lived through it -or at least to remember it. However, it is a large part of the (recent) history of VietNam, and we took a day to visit two war related sights, the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a vast underground network of tunnels just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. They were first used against the French and later against the Americans. At their height, there was an estimated 250 km of tunnels dug up to four stories deep! They had storage depots, water wells, kitchens, and hospitals inside, and even underwater entrances. An impressive display of determination and quite a feat of engineering. Ann and I had the (very touristy) experince of being tunnel rats. That's the name of the American guys that were sent into the tunnels to fight -and I don't envy these guys one bit. Needless to say, the tunnels that we crawled through were short, lighted, widened, and devoid of deadly traps and soldiers. To get the full tourist experience, we even fired some M-16 automatic weapons. We were a bit off target (Ann did much better than I), but its incredible how loud these things are!
The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the War Crimes Museum) was basically a photography exhibit from the war and its aftermath. Room after room full of horrible images of war and destruction. Although it had a lopsided point of view (and why not? -the victors often get to write history as they saw it), it drove one point home in brutal fashion -that war is hell for everyone involved. There were also hollow shells of old American military hardware littering the compound -tanks, helicopters, planes, cannons, and the like. In the end, I'm much happier to be here visiting as a tourist than as a soldier.
I'm not sure how visible the scars of war will be on the Vietnamese countryside -or how we will be greeted as Americans, but as a character in a recent novel said, "To my generation, VietNam is a country, not a war." Having paid some of our respects to this country's history (I'm sure there will be more to come), I hope we'll be able to travel and enjoy all the beauty of this country and it's people unburdened by the tumultuous past.