War and war stories are those composed of the victors and the vanquished, stories of pains, death, torture and how one escape it to tell their stories for the glory of one’s understanding of history is an adept one by one approach towards the study of history. I have my first taste of these distortions in my recent travel to Vietnam and when I took the half-day group tour that brought us to Cu Chi Tunnels. Prior to undertaking the rather important walk through history tour in Vietnam involving the communists, I have prepared that war propaganda will be introduced to my own psyche.
As a voracious reader of war and its history, I even bought considerable book collection about the war in Vietnam and how America lost it but this is my first time to subject myself to a storied study which validates my previous understand of the Vietnam war, an opportunity to even test my graduate degree in Foreign Service.
As we entered the complex of the Cu Chi Tunnel, our guide from TNK Travel was generous enough to show us a prepared video presentation introducing the tunnels and how it came to be. As I don’t want to be less attentive, I seated at the front row of the benches on the gallery. When the presentation started, our guide apologizes to the American tourists going with us that day and all burst into laughter including me. However, when the film was shown, utter mention of Americans as “evil” and “murderers” and other degrading moniker, I was squirming literally in disbelief. I can’t wait to call the attention of our guide and give him lecture afterwards. During the entire presentation, the gallery was silent, utterly silent, may be because we absorbed the gross affront to humanity or maybe we were ashamed of the time we spent watching the movie that labels modern Americans generally as “evil” and “murderers”.
Afterwards, our guide signalled to us that we will trek around the tunnel complex. The academic in me rise up at the moment and I called our guide. While walking, I told him that the video is an obvious black propaganda and that needs to be corrected in accordance to what we learn from factual bases and historical events. I told him that yes, there were Americans guilty of manslaughter and murder, but that was war and a war involving the communist of North Vietnam, and upon the invitation of the South Vietnam government, collaborated with the Americans to attack the guerrilla in which whose lands we stand on are hallowed grounds because of their blood and pains. He was reflective when I told him that next time, they needed to include the culpability and role of the South Vietnam government in the war, because it is unfair to squarely blame America for the offensives in Vietnam and besides, in the era of tolerance and peace nowadays, we can remember the heroism of the Vietnamese people to fight for their lives but let us not also be too myopic to narrowly point the blame on one race and one nation. We are all humanity’s tapestry and we care deeply about what has happened in Vietnam as it is elsewhere.
Realizing I have said too much to him already, I patted him on the shoulder and congratulated him for his guiding techniques. That was the time he relaxed and smile at me. I explained to him that, as a backpacker, I came to Cu Chi to learn about the tunnels and how the communists managed to survive and the least I wanted to know exactly was what I heard on the gallery. It is counterproductive for diplomacy, history, civility and tourism. Simply put, I can’t imagine that in the future, a similar guided tour is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bludgeoning issue is the “Evil” Americans.
The only learning curve I have observed I gained while trekking at the tunnels in Cu Chi is in its detailed ground work and survival skills. I have seen the ingenuity of the Vietnamese to find ways to survive during the war. Their efforts and their resilience is one that taught me to also find ways to avoid my own Waterloo.
Particularly, this visit to the Cu Chi Tunnel is one chance for me to also reach out to my own olden history class about the world however in the Philippines; we were never taught about the Vietnam War unless we major in BA History programs. I learned about it when I started to buy books about the Tet Offensive, the wars and the years that were. I knew it was painful but wanting to move on further, one must understand and conditions one’s mind that the Cu Chi Tunnel is a way of life, a survival maze that Vietnamese carefully put in place to repel the ill-effects of war. As it was and is, the brilliance of the human mind when threatened by death and destruction, comes to fore and an unimaginative passageways and tunnels were constructed and maintained for all backpackers and tourists and even locals to get a hands-on, half-day lesson of the history of the Vietnam War, its victors and the vanquished. As for me, I learn to see beyond the victors and the vanquished in order for me to see beyond the war and find heroism in every man, woman, child who survived the war, a war no one asked and a war no one even ever wanted to happen.