DMZ tour

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Here it's called "the American War." When the troops stormed these long, palm-lined beaches, crept through the endless rice fields, fought for control over these hilltops once defoliated with chemical poisons, I was just learning to crawl. So looking out across newly planted bright green fields of rice, I have only my imagination and the water-filled bomb craters that dot the fields to make the war a personal, living event for me. Though I'm interested in learning more of the history now, my knowledge of this war is patchy at best, so my personal opinions feel somehow unjustified. But it's also difficult not to pass judgment when I see the remaining effects - entire valleys once covered by dense jungle where vegetation still struggles to grow, beautiful mountain-ringed fields where one wrong step could set off a mine, the stories of the generation now being born with severe deformities as the toxic chemicals pass from parents to newborns.

Our one-day tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) takes us to many of the infamous locations - Doc Mieu Base, once a monitoring station for McNamara's Wall, the Ben Hai River, which was a demarcation line between north and south, Con Thien firebase, Khe Sang Combat Base, Dakrong Bridge, the Rockpile, and the Ving Moc Tunnels. There's not much to see now. The bridge has been rebuilt, the "Rockpile" looks like any of the other surrounding limestone hills, and the bases were stripped and dismantled by the locals once they returned after the war.

Our guide, a strong and edgy Vietnamese woman employed by the state, presents us with various facts, figures, and information clearly slanted in favor of the Communist Party and the North. And the museums display a few photos with dramatic and obviously propagandist captions - "The American Soldiers show the extreme consternation on their faces on leaving Khe Sang" and lots of references to the "liberating forces" of the North.

The visitors' book at Khe Sang is the most interesting part of the day for me. Mixed in with the "Jeremy and Rachel, March 2007" entries is the occassional "May all who fought here - Americans and Vietnamese - be at peace," and even fewer comments by American vets who were stationed here or nearby, who usually write a gentle apology or wish the Vietnamese well. But what really stood out most were the entries on every page from visitors across the world, including many from the U.S., drawing parallels to the current U.S. war in Iraq, many asking what it will take for the U.S. to learn from its previous mistakes, calling for the U.S. to "get out of Iraq now."

The ongoing deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq, the increase in troop levels, the lack of any definitive timeline, and the startling similarity between statements made by the American administrations during the Vietnam war and the current Bush administration about the justifications for the wars, raise difficult questions. Is war ever an effective method to "promote democracy and freedom"? What legacy will the U.S. actually leave in Iraq? For how long will the resulting suffering there continue after the U.S. military withdraws? Will that country be left with environmental impacts and unexploded ordinance similar to Vietnam and Laos? What did the U.S. learn from its war with Vietnam, and is the current administration repeating the same mistakes?
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