Tue 2 Nov 2010 - Thu 4 Nov 2010
The ancient town of Hué boasts some of the oldest attractions in Vietnam; the ancient citadel and palace within the city walls, as well as Emperors’ tombs outside of the city. We saw both during a day tour, as the heavy rain made walking around seem very unappealing. While I enjoyed learning about the historical features of the town, there was another reason to visit this area.
I refused to leave Vietnam as ignorant as I entered. Hué is a city just south of the DMZ, so Toby and I signed up for a day tour to explore the locations that played a part in the American War. While the sights themselves were not visually striking, hearing the history and imagining the gamut of emotions felt on both sides was something we felt we needed to do.
The DMZ is the de-militarized zone that surrounded the border between North and South Vietnam. Naturally, it saw a lot of action during the conflict. The Communist North (the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh, and Viet Cong, the Southern guerrilla soldiers) dominated the South (led by Catholic Diem and joined by the US troops) despite advances in technology and weaponry. We saw locations of US bases, significant bridges and trails, a complex tunnel system built by locals for protection from bombs, a museum and several monuments.
While in Hanoi at the Ho Chi Minh museum, I noted that the Southern soldiers were referred to as brave and strong. The general feeling about the American soldiers seems to be positive, and the current generation see that they were fighting for what they believed in – “to prevent the spread of communism across Asia”. It sounds as though Clinton's visit in the 90's did a lot to mend the relationship between Vietnam and the US, and the US continues to financially support programs to rebuild or establish infrastructure in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people we have spoken to see the event at My Lai (the sight of a brutal mass-execution of locals by US troops) as exceptions to the typical style of American fighting. However, when watching Hollywood movies about the Vietnam war (e.g. Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter), I noticed that the feelings were not mutual. North Vietnamese fighters were portrayed as vicious and inhuman. I understand that this is a strategy of war – the enemy is often called cockroaches, vermin or other names to imply less-than-human status.
I realized with a shock that anyone in Vietnam over the age of 40 experienced the war in some way, and others continue to live with the effects of buried bombs, Agent Orange poisoning and lost loved ones. The Vietnamese people’s strength, optimism and courage are to be admired, and I feel fortunate that I was able to learn firsthand about a monumental time in Vietnamese history.