Cu Chi Tunnels
US soldiers ('tunnel rats') searching a tunnel in the American/Vietnam war
Recently I visited the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. The Cu Chi tunnels are about 50km north of Ho Chi Minh City. They stretch for an estimated 200km, yet they are a tiny fragment of the tunnel system that goes all across Vietnam.
The tunnels are all man-made. They began to be dug in the 1940’s and 50’s when the Vietnamese people was striving for independence from colonial rule under the French. But most of the tunnels were dug in the 1960’s during what they call the American War but the rest of the world calls the Vietnam War.
Map showing the extent of tunnel network in the Cu Chi area
I went on a day tour organised by my hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. I was part of a group of about 18 people.
Upon arrival at the Cu Chi tunnels we were shown an old movie about the war and how the tunnels were built and their purpose.
Tiny entrances to the tunnels: built for a Vietnamese-sized person
The tunnels were tiny. Just big enough for an average sized Vietnamese to crawl through, but too small for your average north american. Parts of the tunnel system were multi-layered, opening up into larger spaces for cooking, sleeping and even for hospital treatment. The tunnels served as shelter during bomb raids, for a base for guerilla-style warfare & even for accommodation for whole villages. The villages around Cu Chi were bombed daily for many years during the American war. At least 45,000 people died there.
Life in the tunnels was horrendous. It is estimated that 50% of people living in the tunnels had malaria, and that 100% had parasitic infestations in their bodies. There were vermin, not to mention snakes, scorpions and other tropical creepy crawlies.
We were given a guided tour of the area above this amazing network of tunnels. There was a small section of the tunnels that people were invited to crawl through. At the end of tour we got back into our bus. In front of me were sitting a couple. The lady turned to her husband and said, ‘That was nice’. I was shocked.
I suppose in one sense it was a pleasant place to walk. Although 40 years ago all the forest was destroyed by bombing now trees have grown back. And, yes, it was quite a nice place to walk around. And yes, you could mistake the trenches for streams and the bomb craters for small ponds.
But this was not a nice place. To me it felt like a graveyard were all the bodies had been taken away.
Sometimes we just don’t see what is right in front of our eyes. Sometimes we don’t want to see the suffering of another. Sometimes it is easier to just not see and I know I have been guilty of this many times myself.
But the work of God in our lives is to raise the level of sensitivity to others and their suffering. Not just so we become more aware of others but so that we enter into a deeper relationship with them and in so doing together find ways to understand the other and if and when possible, alleviate their suffering.
Mark Rogers, 02/10/2013