So after a nice, relaxing beach vacation in the middle of our adventure, we headed to our final Vietnam destination: Ho Chi Minh City. When I had a couple of free minutes on the computers in the Green Fields lobby, I did a little bit of Wikipedia research about the Vietnam War (which is referred to as the American War in Vietnam). I wanted to make sure I had my North and South straight and to understand a little more about where battles took place, when, and how. We were heading for the Cu Chi tunnels the next day, which are near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). This is in the South, but the Viet Cong (from the North) used the tunnels to fight the South and the Americans. Here is some information about the Cu Chi tunnels: http://www.history.com/topics/cu-chi-tunnels
Going to the tunnels was far more emotional for me than I had anticipated. Tears were not expected. But when our tour guide, Chi, told us that we were on the same road where this famous photograph was taken, I couldn’t help but cry.
Photo from this NPR article.
I just finished reading Rachel Maddow’s book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, which was a critical look at how our military has drifted away from what our founding fathers had intended. She argues in the book that our checks and balances are purposefully designed to make going to war difficult and hard on the whole country, so that power-hungry or war-monger presidents won’t go to war on a whim. But things changed drastically during the Vietnam War. Suddenly, American men and women were being sent to a foreign land to fight battles that did not in any way affect people on their home soil. It wasn’t like World War II, when citizens came together for the war effort — regular pilots becoming Air Force pilots, mechanics becoming military mechanics, women going to work to replace the men who went to fight, etc. Instead, Americans could live their daily lives while soldiers fought against something abstract (Communism). Maddow writes, “America’s structural disinclination toward war is not a sign that something’s gone wrong. It’s not a bug in the system. It is the system. It’s the way the founders set us up — to ensure our continuing national health. Every Congress is meddlesome, disinclined toward war, and obstructive of a president’s desire for it — on purpose.” But during the Vietnam War, Johnson and Nixon paved the way for the executive branch to have more power and an ability to send troops to war, without calling it that and without getting permission from Congress. It was deeply moving to be on a battleground, one where people from my home country fought, killed, and died. It made war seem very real, very palpable, and all the more terrible. I was suddenly less concerned with politics and more focused on life and death. I saw a tank. I saw bullet holes. I saw an overgrown crater where a bomb had exploded. I saw tunnels where people lived, fought, and died. I saw the weapons used to kill each other. We were standing on ground where my soldiers, and the soldiers of places I visited and loved (North, Central, and South Vietnam) had fought, killed, and died together. I was standing above three levels of tunnels that became the gravesite of 11,000 people over two decades.
Our tour guide, Chi, was so great. He was knowledgeable, honest, and as open about Communism and the results of the war as someone living under Communism could be. He’d spent a day in jail before, so he asked us to kindly refrain from asking him questions that might lead him to being critical of his government. That was ridiculously eye-opening. It made me wonder what would have happened had the South and the Americans won the war. Chi told me that his country would have advanced much faster. “We’d be like South Korea by now!” he told me. Sean told me, after we talked about my experience at the tunnels, that he wondered what Vietnam or North Korea or Cuba or China would be like if their Communist governments would have actually turned out to be the way Marx had envisioned. We’ll never know. For now, Chi has to be home before midnight, he cannot say anything bad about the Communist Party, he can never own land, and in order to leave his country, he’d have to give the government $7000 USD to ensure his return (he makes about $10/day, and that’s with a good tourism job).
I felt extreme hatred for war while at the Cu Chi Tunnels. I just simply hate it. I also hate that hoping for world peace is seen as naive, idealist, and childish. Well, call me a naive, idealist child because all I want is peace. Here are three of my favorite quotes on this topic:
“Imagine all the people living life in peace/You, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one/I hope some day you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.” -John Lennon
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” -Albert Einstein
“Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” -George Carlin