I’m going to simplify a whole bunch of history very quickly for you.
In the middle of the 1800’s, the French colonized Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
They called the region French Indochine.
The tactics, brutality, coercion, and otherwise evilness it took to create French Indochine is not the purpose of this write-up about the Cu Chi tunnels.
I’ll save the details of 80 years worth of history and move forward.
When France fell to Germany in World War 2 (May 1940), it effectively made French Indochine a German colony. Then Germany got busy fighting two fronts in Europe (oops – never fight the Russians on their own territory during winter), French Indochine became chaotic, and Japan took over in Vietnam.
After the fall of Japan, France was given back control of Indochine.
(Couldn’t the people of French Indochine been given control of their own area?)
Groups within Vietnam wanted to have control of their country. One of these groups was primarily in the south, the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong began to solidify as not only an organization, but a way of life. They dug tunnels in the jungle where they lived, and from which they could base their fight against the French.
Brushing over another 15 years of history from about 1954-1969, the US and the USSR were now in stalemates all over the world, and tensions were high.
America was attempting to stop the growth of Communism.
In 1969/1970, American planes were bombing the heck out of western Vietnam and Eastern Cambodia in an effort to push north and also prevent North Vietnam (aligned with the USSR) from pushing south.
The goal was to break up the supply lines from the north into the south, as well as make the Viet Cong visible from the air.
500,000 American troops were actually on the ground in Vietnam.
In all that time, the Viet Cong had never really left their underground living during the day and surprise raids at night in the area of Cu Chi.
They had expanded their tunnel network and used it in their fighting against America.
Even though the Viet Cong were really their own organization and separate from the North Vietnamese government, in their fight against America, the two became one organization.
The Cu Chi tunnels of the Viet Cong were built in areas with very hard-packed clay; clay which even bombs dropped from B-52’s a hard time penetrating.
1972, America/Vietnam reached a stalemate, tens of thousands of Americans had died in Vietnam, and pushed by pressure at home and internationally, America began pulling troops out.
1975, North Vietnam overran South Vietnam’s government, and Vietnam became united and 100% Communist.
Lots more years brushed over…
2011, Carrie and Jonathan visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the jungle around them, as tourists.
What a strange and amazing world we live in.
Seeing how people lived in Cu Chi, in the tunnels that were dug there, made me realize how realistic the war movies were about Vietnam.
The jungle looks as you see it. The Viet Cong were as hidden as you have been shown, and they devised all sorts of rudimentary ways (traps built into holes in the ground) of killing troops coming their way.
In fact, the whole area around the tourist paths at the Cu Chi tunnels is still littered with mines placed there by the Viet Cong around 40 years ago.
Someone who came to Cu Chi as a tourist last year died after straying off the path and triggering one of these mines.
Needless to say, we stayed on the path.
The tour through the area shows you how people lived in the tunnels, how they got in the tunnels without showing the entrances to enemies, what they ate (Steamed Cassava/yucca – sometimes all they ate for years), and how they waged war by collecting bombs the US had manufactured and dropped from planes, and turned these into their own explosives.
There is even a section of the tunnels where you can crawl through, brushing both sides and your head as you move through a tunnel that’s less than 3 feet tall. You can go through 40, 60, or 100 meters of tunnel. I opted for 60 meters, though it really took some mental effort to get over a claustrophobia that kicked in the first time I tried to go through the tunnel.
We were told that the tunnel has been expanded in size by 1/3 in this section to accommodate tourists.
Even expanded, the tunnel was tiny and hard to push my way through.
It’s hard to imagine people could live this way for 20 minutes, much less 20 years.
But as many as 26,000 people lived in the tunnels at Cu Chi, and some of them actually were born in the hospital cavern off one of the tunnels
For those who really wanted North Vietnam to succeed, I suppose that this place is like a rally point to show that a seemingly stronger enemy can be defeated through inventiveness and incredible sacrifice.
However, my biggest disappointment at Cu Chi was to see the artillery range, where you can pay to shoot rifles and semi-automatic weapons like those used by the Viet Cong.
Before arriving here, I thought that it sounded really cool and like something I would want to do.
However, once here, it felt really disrespectful to those who lost their lives (on both sides) to take a place of memorial and sadness and turn it into a place where, for just a few dollars, you can experience the thrill of firing the kind of weapon that destroyed so many lives.
In my mind, there would be an infinite number of places where this kind of activity would be more appropriate… even at the entrance or somewhere nearby, but not actually in the jungles where the tunnels were dug and where thousands of people on both sides of the Vietnam/American war feared for (and lost) their lives.
At the same time, knowing that I could be at Cu Chi today, 40 years later, standing in the same place where people were killing each other not that long ago, shaking hands and enjoying laughs with Vietnamese people, gives me hope for the future of many of the places considered “quagmires” in the world today.