Friday, November 17, 2006

Cu Chi

I have been asked about the reference to Cu Chi in the photo. Cu Chi (“coo chee”) is famous as the site for the tunnels built by the Vietnamese resistance, or Viet Cong, about 45 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Being this close to Saigon they were used to focus attacks into the heart of the South Vietnamese military and political administration, including that of the Americas during the Vietnam War. Earlier they had been used in the fight against the French.

In military history they are infamous for the fact that the US Army 25th Infantry Division set up base right on top of them. They are famous for the Australian and American soldiers (Tunnel Rats) who, armed with only a torch, a pistol and their courage, went into the tunnels to hunt out the resistance. But they are especially famous for the amazing length and complexity of the tunnels. Here people lived and ate and slept, and died. Here they had workshops, hospitals, schools, manufacturing plants, storage facilities, training rooms, generator rooms, kitchens and wells. First dug in the late 1940s and in used right up until 1975 they are a potent symbol of what lengths people will go to in order to secure their own land and take control of their own destiny.

I crawled through a one hundred metre section of these tunnels, apparently widened to accommodate bulky visitors. But they were still a very tight fit. It took some effort to negotiate hard turns left or right or up or down. And I was forced to take a deep breath when the lights went out and our guide vanished into the darkness. Thirty metres underground and no way to back out – and in complete, smothering blackness. And no way to see forward. You only have one choice and that is to feel you way forward until the little lamp of the guide finally came into view around a sudden corner and down a sharp drop into a hole. I made more of an effort to keep up. And did so with a newly inspired respect for those who lived and fought their wars in these places.

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