Blame America


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, December 18, 2004 was originally posted on December 21, 2004.

DAY 427:  Allow me to reiterate a statement from a previous entry:  “History is written by the winners.”  In Vietnam, “history” has painted US Troops of The American War in Vietnam as heartless, imperial scumbag bad guys, the same way the Germans are painted as in Hollywood World War II films, and aliens are painted as in the movie Independence Day.  To be fair, the Vietnamese can say whatever they want in Vietnam; it is their country after all.  As a visitor, I wanted to be respectful of it; besides, it’s always nice to hear the other side of the tale.

This “other side” couldn’t have hit me on the head as hard as it did that day when I saw two touristy sites, the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum.  In the end, seeing the Vietnamese version of history ashamed me so much for being American, I wanted to give myself papercuts with a page from my US passport.

THE CU CHI TUNNELS (PRONOUNCED “COOCHIE TUNNELS”), which lies about a two-hour drive out of HCMC, provided my first insight of the “other side” in southern Vietnam.  I had booked a half-day tour guided by a funny middle-aged Vietnamese man named Son who really played up his humor with his cheesy grin and loud broken English.  For example, he summed up centuries of Vietnam’s history in nine simple words:  “The Chinese went out, then the French come here.” 

Son led a whole coach bus full of tourists from the parking lot to a briefing room at the Cu Chi Tunnels site.  “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a video!”  The lights dimmed and a video was played on a monitor in the front of the room.  The program, created from old grainy black and white newsreels and a rather cheesy soundtrack, was reminiscent of the old US propaganda and educational newsreels from the 1950s.  But in this instance, US propaganda was replaced by US-bashing, as the female narrator started to explain, in her calming voice, how the Cu Chi people were a proud and happy race in the early 1960s, until the arrival of US troops.  The footage of smiling kids and happy market vendors soon cut to a clip of bombs falling from the sky.

“Like a crazy band of devils, [the Americans] fired at women, fired at children…  They fired in schools, at Buddha statues…” went the woman in her conversational tone.  She continued on and on about how ruthless Americans were in the invasion, all over footage of war battles destroying the Cu Chi village.

The VietCong Cu Chi people didn’t go without a fight of course, and using their ingenuity, they fled underground, creating an intricate series of tunnels to survive and fight the enemy with “a rifle in one hand and a plow in the other.”  Ultimately the VC Cu Chi became triumphant in suppressing the American aggression with clever guerrilla warfare, a lot fought out by women guerillas.  These men and women were honored by their country with the honorable title of “American Killer Hero.”

“The Americans wanted to turn Cu Chi into a dead zone, but the Cu Chi would survive…  As much as the Americans wanted to take Cu Chi, they were defeated,” concluded the narrator over some inspirational music.

AFTER THE ANTI-U.S. FILM, the lights came on and Son introduced us to the daughter of Cu Chi guerrillas in The War, who gave us a briefing in Vietnamese with a big map on a map and a pointer stick.  Son translated with his stick and explained the different strategic points the Cu Chi used to win; it was like a military briefing for the other side.  Afterwards, Son led us from place to place in the former Cu Chi village, explaining the different guerrilla tactics the Cu Chi people used to fight Americans:  trapdoors covering spiked pits, hidden holes where people would emerge from, rotor spikes, snares and nail-in-the-foot traps.  They even commandeered US tanks and bombs to use to their advantage.

“I DON’T LIKE THIS.  Don’t they know there are children here?” I overheard one concerned parent traveling with kids say.  The noise of gunfire emanated from just beyond the jungle foliage, and when we got closer and closer to the source, we saw there was a shooting range where tourists could buy live rounds and fire a weapon of their choice towards cardboard targets far away:  the M-1, the M-3, the M-4, the M-16, the Thompson, the shotgun, and the “Queen of the Battlefield” (as Son put it), the AK-47. 

No one in my group really jumped at the opportunity to pay the one dollar per bullet.  Personally, I felt they didn’t need another American out there firing a gun after all that had happened, even if it was towards a piece of cardboard.  Watching others from another group was enough, especially with the immediate ringing in my ears after every shot.  Instead of bullets, I spent my dollar on ice cream.

Eventually we were invited to crawl into the Cu Chi Tunnels themselves in a designated underground shaft that was actually widened so Western tourists could fit.  Back in the days of The War, the Americans couldn’t fit either, thus the creation of Red Fox, a troupe of US-trained Hawaiians and Mexicans sent to scope for VC.  Little did they know that the VC Cu Chi guerilla warriors devised a system where, at secret designated times of the day, the left trail of a fork in the tunnel would lead to a death trap.  V.C. = Very Clever.

Being of Hawaiian/Mexican size and build, I managed to complete the entire tunnel “course,” which gradually got narrower and shorter the farther one proceeded.  (Exit points came every 20 ft. or so for those who couldn’t make it.)  I had heard that one fat woman got stuck a while back; they managed to pull her out, but without her shorts on.  I assume she was red with embarrassment and there were plenty of tourists there with cameras to record the event.

THE SITE I WENT TO THAT AFTERNOON didn’t have the capacity for such slapstick hilarity.  In fact, it didn’t have the capacity for anything fun at all.  I am referring to the War Remnants Museum in HCMC, which was originally named the “American War Crimes Museum.”  It was changed after lobbying from, what I will presume, were Americans.

The name may have changed, but the content inside clearly did not.  In seven exhibition galleries, the museum presented The War in a completely biased way, one-sided in favor of Vietnam.  Photos from courageous photojournalists, many from legendary Life photographer Larry Burrows, captured the violence, the drama, and death of the war zone.  One section was dedicated to the international journalists that died in the battlefield to get their stories. 

Other exhibits showed off old military vehicles and bombs, while more poignant ones showed the effects of America’s chemical warfare in the Vietnamese people:  burns, deformations and birth defects.  America’s Agent Orange was more than a killer in Vietnam; it was more like a chemical plague with after effects still seen today.  The Vietnamese can only blame America, and I really felt the guilt in my throat. I couldn’t even play up my Filipino background to lessen the guilt; the Philippines, along with Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea and Australia, were all allies of the Americans and had their own troops there as well.

But the museum wasn’t all depressing photos of Americans killing and capturing Vietnamese; oh no, there were depressing life-size dioramas of prison cells (a.k.a. “Tiger cells”) and torture devices.  One exhibit explained the methods of torture that American and South Vietnamese troops used, including Chinese Water Torture where one bloated the stomach with water and then kicked it around.

However, there were some positive things in the War Remnants Museum, like children’s drawings showing kids’ conception of war and peace (well, okay, maybe that’s not that positive) and the last exhibit, which explained how pretty much every country across six continents opposed The American War in Vietnam (picture above) — even the former military global bad guys of Hollywood World War II films, the Germans.  The only positive light Americans were put in that I saw were in the images of American protesters back in the States that opposed the war, from the hippies to the Black Panther Party.

One could argue the American perspective of The War — i.e. “It’s not like the Americans didn’t go through torture and hell too, you know” — but there are plenty of exhibitions and movies in the USA for that.

I WALKED BACK TO MY HOTEL AFTER THAT, feeling like I should slit my wrists or something, or at least invoke some papercuts to myself with my US passport, but I was quickly cheered up with the lighting of Christmas lights on the street and at one of the local malls where a kitschy life-size dancing Santa danced to Christmas songs.  With Dancing Santa and a bowl of pho, I was back to my usual Filipino-American self again, content that since I wasn’t booked for any more historical tours in Vietnam, I wouldn’t have to deal with another glimpse into the “other side” any more.

Next entry: Mekong Enterprises

Previous entry: The Touts Are A’Changin’

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Comments for “Blame America”

  • HERE’S TWO MORE… I’m almost all caught up…

    I’m off to Manila now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  02:25 AM

  • Sweet

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:03 AM

  • COOCHIE TUNNELS…............hmmmm

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:07 AM

  • man, it’s like deja vu all over again…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:33 AM

  • Did anyone notice that “Son” cheezy grin pic showed a Canadian flag pin on the front of his hat.  I guess they like Canadians!  After reading your entry I am glad “I Am Canadian”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  02:54 PM

  • Harsh Erik. Remindes me of the Holocaust museum in D.C.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:08 PM

  • Enjoy Manila. Merry Xmas. Will email you later, at work right now

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:34 PM

  • As I’ve been to the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum, I completely understand that type of emotion which takes over as you stare at the horrific photos in the museum. However, at the end of the day, I left feeling angry because the museum was so completely one-sided. A war that started as North vs. South Vietnam is seen here as the United States vs. Vietnam with no mention of the history of how the U.S. even came to be involved. Anyhow, you would think that the local people would dislike Americans, but we found the opposite to be true. We had a great time in Saigon and would like to explore other parts of the country. BTW, I couldn’t resist shooting the AK-47.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:50 PM

  • i really don’t see the point of hating any type of person. if any country and its people should hold a grudge, they should hold it against the GOVERNMENT of the offending country, not the people who live there. plenty of americans were against the vietnam war, as many now believe the war in iraq is a mistake. many americans protested against the war in iraq. but at the end, who is to blame? certainly not the lower class person who voted for kerry, but the idiot who is running the country right now.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  05:59 PM

  • Hey Eric,

    Thniking of you & wishing you a great Christmas & Happy new year!

    Missed you at the bna Christmas Party last weekend in Portland.

    Hope all is well and look forward to meeting someday.


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  08:43 PM

  • Hey buddy, I’m off work for a few days till after Christmas.  Probably won’t get a chance to comment till then, so I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Ho-ho-ho!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  10:13 PM

  • Erik and TD0T - I am in Chiang Mai and just did a hillside trek with the Libra guest house.  fantastic!  I like Chiang Mai a lot.  It really helped to read about it here on the blog.  I can’t believe how loud the farm animals are in the morning on the trek.  The rafting, the elephants, it was just great

    I will receive my Vietnam visa today and I’m trying to get a flight to Hanoi.  I only had time to scan your Hanoi entires, (unlike at work!) but it’s nice to see the pictures and hear about someone who was just there!  Sorry we couldn’t meet up Erik.  I’m definitely going to either kayak or do some boat trip in Ha Long bay.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  11:52 PM

  • The “Red Fox” you describe Erik, are more well known in military history as “Tunnel Rats.” They were an elite group of Army soldiers that infiltrated the tunnels in Cu-Chi and other parts of the Nam and ferreted out the NVA and Vietcong. There’s a FANTASTIC book out called “The Tunnels of Cu-Chi” which gives the reader fantastic examples of what both sides went through during that war.

      I think now that United Airlines has resumed direct flights to the Nam, they will definitely be changing the names and the displays in those musems to capture our tourist dollars!

      Word Life.


    Posted by Supreme Moman  on  12/22  at  01:10 AM

  • GREETINGS FROM THE APPLE CENTER, SM MEGAMALL, MANILA, PHILIPPINES…  Internet usage will be spotty during my stay here…  Hope to have a batch up three up soon…

    Looks like it’ll be tricky balancing visiting relatives and producing/writing The Blog…  But stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  05:01 AM


    A Festivus for the Rest of Us!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  12:58 PM


    ROBIN:  Point well taken.  BTW, I’ve fired a shotgun before and my shoulder cramped for three days with the recoil. 

    ALICE:  Most people know that governments and people are two different things.  Americans are normally well-excepted.

    SOCALGIRL:  Hey, there you are.  Happy Holidays to you too.  Uh, there was a party I missed?

    SARA:  I’m glad you enjoy!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  01:30 PM

  • well, there are places where people seem to hate americans in general. so why target individuals because of their nationality? you even resorted to telling people you are from the phillipines at times. if people are as rational as we would like to believe, it shouldn’t matter where anyone is from. and the latter generations should not be held responsible for the actions of their past governments.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  07:41 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Mekong Enterprises

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The Touts Are A’Changin’


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