As you have probably learnt over the time of our writing I have a keen interest in history and especially military history, so visiting Vietnam held a great number of points of interest to visit including learning about the differences between views of the war between people in the north and south and also the official party line to the actions and exploits of Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and also the French and subsequently the Americans and its Allies in the war.
We had already visited a number of memorials and museums which had offered an obvious Anti-French/American rhetoric to the recant of the years of occupation and colonialism and its subsequent war years. There was also the god like status Ho Chi Minh is held to in Vietnam and especially in the North where he is held as the founding father of the modern unified Vietnam. Like all good communist leaders of the 20th century he is adored and embalmed, laid to rest in his mausoleum in the centre of Ha-Noi, we decided we did not fancy the long queue’s to catch a 30 second glimpse of the dead deity, despite our morbid curiosity.
I will not write much more on our blogs about the war but I wanted to write about our time in the DMZ as this proved to be some of the most interesting and moving time we spent learning about the war in Vietnam.
For those of you who are not aware but the so called De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) cut roughly along the 17th Parallel that split Vietnam in two during the Geneva Accords of 1954 was an area that ironically saw the heaviest of fighting during the 15+ years of American military intervention in Vietnam.
We had some recommendations that you could visit the DMZ and various locations with Veterans of the war and we did not fancy the cheap option on a tour bus with 43 other people, I wanted time to explore and learn and understand a little more about the war and its impact, a war that defined a generation in the west and the future of modern Vietnam. So we found a local tour operator and we in turn landed a private car, driver and our own guide, a Southern Vietnamese Veteran, who I will refer to as Mr. X. The reason being is that he is not a communist and despite a unified country the north and south still have its differences and generationally there are still many people who were on both sides of the war, and those in the south are not communist sympathizers or supporters and so are still harassed and suppressed today for their role fighting for the south. So much so that despite the tour with Mr. X he was very frank with his recant of his story and that of the south and America in the DMZ a good amount of honest and un-communist information he gave us he did not do in front of our driver or others he knew where communist party members.
The extent of this caution Mr. X told us is even to the fact his own daughter calls him a traitor to his country and the communist government….his own daughter! He argued that this is the communist way in Vietnam, brainwashing the younger generations through the education system. Mr. X is not a traitor, he was just a Southern Christian who did not believe in communism or the ideology of the communist north, he appreciated democracy as he saw it and fought for the right to uphold it! Like in so many other country conflicts, as history has shown, the victor will suppress and in some cases brutalize those who stood against them!
The day was a very interesting tour of the DMZ and some of its more famous locations from the firebases that made up the McNamara line including Khe Sanh Combat Base to the horrible highway where several miles of fleeing civilians where bombed and burned where they stood in the traffic escaping the oncoming war. At Khe Sanh Mr. X had served alongside the US Marines as a Reconnaissance Lieutenant, here he relived stories of his time at the base good and bad, including the siege which had lasted 77 days, one of the more famous and brutal battles of the war. Now the base is a memorial and museum to the heroic forces of the NVA, a mere grass plateau in the mountainous region of the DMZ, but there is an uneasy and eerie feeling being here and thoughts turned to those on both sides that lost their lives for this piece of real estate.
We saw views of the DMZ itself, where you can see the impact of years of Bombings, Napalm and Agent Orange usage the US used to strip the jungle of foliage in an effort to hurt the NVA. (Below you can see gaps in the foliage and the newness of the foliage that there is.)
We also saw remnants of the war dotted around the area tanks, aircraft, bunkers, outposts and watch towers that have been left and nature is slowly reclaiming. We visited the Ben Hai River which marked the divide of North and South Vietnam and crossed the Hien Luong Bridge which was a symbol of the unification of the country.
We also visited the nearby Vinh Moc tunnel network which were built by the NVA and local villagers to protect themselves from the bombing raids of the US air force and were also the in take point on the coast where armaments from China and Russian were smuggled into the country and distributed along the network of trails that were famously know as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The day was an eye opener for us both, it was something I am very glad we did and it was interesting for Steph to see the other side of the war from the Vietnamese view, lets face it we read and saw nothing favorable about the US in Vietnam and the rhetoric was nothing more but damning and derogatory, rightly or wrongly it was good to see the other side.
This may not be the tour that most folks would choose to go on but I think it is something that I would recommend for all people to do, especially for nations who fought in the war. This is not for the glory of war but more for the futility of war and the devastating impact of war on the innocent. I was taught that we should learn from the past, life has shown me that we don’t, yet we see the same mistakes and inaction every day. My hope is that more people learn, understand and face the plain cold facts of war and then maybe there is hope for the future!