"Check out that missile launcher!" Nathan exclaimed as we took a cab drive out of Saigon. "And over there, look at these B-52 bomb craters. Now they're duck ponds." Nathan was a war buff and he knew the names and places of all this stuff. "Checky. Out there, on the side of the road, an Iroquois troop carrier and a downed minivac helicopter. Let's pull over and climb on 'em, mates."
Charlie atop a blown out M-48 tank.
After satisfying our boyhood urges, we jumped back into the cab for the days real treat -- the Cu Chi tunnel complex and underground base for the Viet Cong. Historians agree: it was these intricate tunnel systems throughout all of Vietnam that helped win the war for the North. They provided supply-lines, refuge from American troops, escape routes, and a network of entrances that allowed for surprise attacks. When the American's began setting up military bases in the 1960's, they were unaware their new Saigon Air Force base was built right on top of an existing tunnel system. It took the Americans three years to figure out how the V.C. were infiltrating the camp, shooting at troops, then disappearing as mysteriously as they came. When high command finally realized the damage caused and extensiveness of Cu Chi, they ordered an all out napalm and bombing campaign of the surrounding area. All returning planes were ordered to drop the rest of their payloads on Cu Chi. Much of the land around Cu Chi is treeless today and the soil is poisoned and unfit for growing crops.
Entering a secret passage into the Cu Chi tunnel complex.
Surprising as it may seem, most of Cu Chi survived the war intact and can be accessed through a number of hidden entrances. A Vietnamese guide took us on a tour through the multi-level underground base. He showed us the hospital, the war room, sleeping quarters, the mess hall, and all the branches leading out from it, including one tunnel that went 200 km into Cambodia.
At the Museum of American War Atrocities.
The final stop on the "Wrong Wars of the Past Tour" was at the Museum of American War Atrocities. An excellent example of how a government can program its own propaganda, the U.S. included. The museum was a chilling account of all the horrors American G.I.'s bestowed upon the Vietnamese people, including photos and stories of the Mai Li Massacre, ruthless American mercenaries, chemical warfare damage such as deformed fetuses in jars, weapons and bombs used, and torture techniques performed. There were photos and paintings of the brave Viet Cong fighting their aggressors, and a black marble wall listing names of fallen V.C. soldiers. It all reminded me of my Hiroshima experience --depressing, interesting, and yet strangely enlightening. As advanced as our civilization likes to think it is, the reptilian part of our collective consciousness continues to drag us to new human lows. Will we ever learn?
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