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Monday, October 28: Day 189 – Tunnel Vision

Today we drove to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This extensive network of tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to live underground and undetected for years. Much of the bombing was to eliminate these tunnels.

Cu Chi Village was a Viet Cong stronghold where 44,000 Vietnamese and 10,000 American troops died in 21 years.

On our drive Law talked about the war in his country.

The Vietnam War is complicated and depends on which way it is viewed.

What is it called? Vietnam Conflict?Vietnam War? American War? Civil War?

Who won? Communist? Vietnamese? American? Nobody?

Who lost? Who was right? Who was wrong? What was learned? Time will tell.

Law was born right after the war. His opinion is that the fighting had no meaning and many people died for nothing. He calls it a Stupid War because nobody won!!

However, one can’t change what happened. It is now part of history.

Originally, the war was between communist north and the democratic south, a civil war.

Later, it became the American War since the USA sent troops to support the democratic south.

Three million lives were lost in the north, plus two million in the south which is not counted by the Vietnamese government. How can one claim a victory when so many lives were lost?

Vietnam won politically only as it was reunified under communism. We are fortunate that a nuclear bomb wasn’t used. It would have started WWIII.

North fought against south and America. Young boys were sent here to fight and prevent the spread of communism called the Domino Theory (if one country in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect). Many Vietnamese did not want to fight and cut off their trigger finger. All 18 and 19 year olds, whether one was north or south, were required to fight.

Vietnamese villagers had to choose between U.S. soldiers who threatened to burn down their village if they helped the Viet Cong or the Viet Cong who threatened to burn down the village if they didn’t help.

The first American troops arrived in 1963. Other anticommunist countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Philippines, and South Korea sent troops as well. I didn’t realize this.

In WWII 3.4 million tons of bombs were dropped in total on the Axis powers. In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, seven million tons were dropped – twice as much.

Public opinion in the USA and elsewhere stopped the war. The public could no longer support the USA war effort.

Laos was once known as the land of one million elephants. Vietnam refers to Laos as the land of one million landmines.

There were 4,000 American operations in Cu Chi, and the Viet Cong still survived. Their survival is legend.

There were 5½ lbs. of bombs dropped/square yard or, looking at it another way, 5½ lbs. of bombs dropped per person living in Cu Chi.

All Vietnamese veterans that fought there are dead. The main cause of death: Bombs, Malaria, Skin disease. Many lost their eyesight.

To fight the Vietnamese, the enemy must kill all the people since everyone will fight until there are no more.

Young Americans who came here were not sure why they were here. They lacked motivation. They were scared. They couldn’t tell who the enemy was.

The Vietnamese families didn’t know why either. It was a people’s war, and everyone fought for their homes – old and young.

When the Geneva Peace Accord was made in 1954, they had one year to have a general election. Since it was determined that Ho Chi Minh and the Communists would win, the South blocked the election. Many deaths later, in 1975, the Communists took over…..Hmmm.

Today Vietnam is communist. The Americans did not stop it, and the Domino Effect did not happen. Vietnam has no terrorism, but they also have no political freedom.

They have a free market. They call it “freedom in a box”.

The government may lose more power as people have more knowledge. Social media has given a voice to the people.

Today’s communist leaders are rich. The Vietnamese wonder how and why.

The first tunnel was built sometime in the late 1940’s during the war against the French. Each village would dig a small tunnel to hide in during the day.

Eventually they would link village to village. They had to make the tunnels more complicated since the South knew that they existed.

Due to B52 bombings the Viet Cong had to dig tunnels even deeper. There are more than 125 miles all linking together with three to four levels: 10 feet, 16 feet, 26 and sometimes 33 feet deep.

All tunnels were dug by hand to the Saigon River. On average each person dug 3 feet of tunnel in their lifetime.

The soil is 60 percent clay so the tunnels were stable and hard.

At one time there were 16,000 people living in the tunnels. They even had hospitals and schools. It was a stronghold.

The first level might collapse. Americans knew that tunnels existed but not where. Bombs were dropped to destroy them.

The Viet Cong didn’t have money and resources, but they had people. They dug and fought. They would take the soil to the river or put it in a bomb crater or rice field throughout the night.

Day time is American time. Americans are too strong and control the day.

Night time is Vietnam time. Guerillas were not strong but were creative. A bad situation spawns creativity.

Flooding the tunnel system didn’t work nor did gassing. They had water locks and would swim to the river to escape.

Can you imagine being sweaty all the time? The smell was strong due to humidity and human waste. Disease was common and many became sick due to lack of sun and food.

Eventually German shepherd dogs were used to sniff them out. The Viet Cong originally used pepper to discourage the dogs, but it gave them away when the dogs started sneezing.

The dogs were successful until the Viet Cong put American soap and uniforms over the ventilation system to confuse the dogs.

The American body was not small enough to go through the tunnels and that doesn’t include guns, food, and water.

For “tunnel rats” who were trained to enter the tunnels one at a time, there were traps of scorpions and snakes waiting for them.

Some tunnels were below rubber plantations. The rubber plant was brought here by the French. Rubber trees can live for 30 years. Sap collection begins at 5 years.

The AK-47 was the best firearm which was made by Russia. It could even be used when coming out of the water.

Law was giving us insight into the topography of the Iron Triangle between the Saigon River on the west and the Ring River on the east. Note the digging tool and dirt basket that was used.

  • Red zone – can bomb because all people not involved in fighting had left.
  • Blue is American base
  • Dark green jungle
  • Light green rubber tree plantation.
  • Black lines are tunnels.
  • Red dot is exit and entrance.
  • Yellow – farmers turn into guerillas in the night.
  • Blue triangle set up areas friendly to Americans.

Nobody knows the whole system. Locals only know their own tunnels.

The black dotted line is the Ho Chi Minh Trail built to support the Viet Cong with supplies from the north. There was a Ho Chi Minh trail on the ocean as well.

In the tunnels they had to talk with no sound and cook with no smoke. They ate two times per day. They were very skinny and ate mostly cassava root which has no protein. Half had malaria and most suffered from intestinal parasites.

Hammocks were popular for sleeping. There were bomb shelters, storage bunkers, and fighting bunkers. The Viet Cong could disappear inside. They spent the day underground preparing for the night. Americans called them Ghosts!!!

They used bamboo tubes for air ventilation, but there wasn’t enough air. The air vents faced the wind and at a 30° angle so no sound would be made when the wind blows. During the day in the tunnel the Viet Cong faced the ground and breathed slowly.

There was a water well inside the tunnel for getting water. Wells outside had been poisoned.

This bomb crater has become smaller and less shallow since it is affected by weather.

Mass graves were made in bomb craters. They wrapped the bodies in plastic and put their name in a glass jar so someday the family could bury them. They often use fortune tellers to find their relatives.

A wooden door was used. It blends in and swells in the rainy season.

They would dig tunnels like a triangle – small on top, wide on bottom.

When they dig, the first day, it will be used for a trap. The second day, it will be a tunnel. Twenty meters away there is another tunnel that will be linked. Dirt piles are made to look like a termite mound.

Here is a fighting tunnel. It faced the American base. It was high on the outside to protect from the back. If found, a grenade was thrown in and shots fired. Minimal damage was done since it turned immediately. Zigzag tunnels were stronger.

There would only be 2 to 3 guerillas fighting during the day. To make the Americans think that they were engaging with a larger number of enemies the guerillas would emerge from different tunnel entrances. They wore green in the day and black at night. There seemed to be a lot of people. The Viet Cong were smaller and flexible.

When tanks were destroyed here, the Viet Cong would recycle the tank parts in a military workshop.

Here is a picture of an American M41 tank. The operator was killed, so out of respect Law requested that we don’t get on top. Sadly, tourists from other countries were climbing all over it.

Additional losses at Cu Chi: 256 airplanes and 22 boats at Saigon River. The above ground village was destroyed. Tunnel building stopped in 1972.

We have seen seen many cemeteries in Vietnam and are surprised that they are unkept. They are overgrown with weeds. Perhaps more emphasis is put on the altar at home. When a son left for war, the family would assume that he wasn’t coming back and put his picture on the altar.

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