Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)-17th Parallel Vietnam

"With, Without,
And who would deny, that’s what the fighting’s all about"
                                                                            -R. Waters

The Vietnamese call it the American War. In America its called the Vietnam war. In both cases it was a tragedy. In 1945, when World War 2 ended, Vietnam was a French Colony occupied by the Japanese until the British accepted their surrender and put the the French back in charge. Vietnam was a key country for their own control over the rest of Indo-china. The Vietnamese communists after 1945 led a nine year guerrilla war against the French in their struggle for independence. The War was organized by Ho Chi Minh the leader of the Viet Minh. In 1954 the French were slaughtered at Dien Bien Phu, a small valley in the North East mountains near to the Loation boarder. The French surrendered; battered and defeated they went back to France and the Viet Nimh won the war. However this left a power vacuum that left the super powers worried and concerned. This small country was about to become another pawn in the struggle for world power and influence. In 1954 at the Geneva Convention, the super powers talked not of independence, but would the country become a communist state. The peace settlement divided the country into two at the 17th parallel. The North would become a communist dictatorship allied to Russia and China, and the South allied to the USA. Both would pure billions into this county and in effect this became a war by proxy between the super powers; a pawn in a much bigger picture, The Cold War. After WW2 the ruling classes of capitalist America feared loss of control both home and abroad. They feared communism, a closed market and thus stoked up anti-Communist fear in America. If small countries like Korea and Vietnam became communist states, then a 'domino' effect would happen and other countries would fall to communism. In a world of fear and paranoia, the US government were prepared to send working class troops to these countries to stop the escalation of communism. For example 40,000 US troops died in Korea, without much opposition at home. This meant that US Governments knew they could fight a war and conduct a blood bath in South East Asia without to many issues back home. After 1954 some communists had stayed behind in south Vietnam. The southern Government persecuted them, and in 1959 a peasant guerrilla insurgency, The Viet Cong (VC) and the National Liberation Front under Ho Chi Minh grew in power. The US government denied the Vietnamese people a democratic vote after 1954, fearing the North would win. By 1965 it looked as if the communist would take power in the South, and the US began sending large numbers of troops to prevent this. The Vietnam War was about to start and ten years of aggression, pain and suffering would engulf  all of South East Asia, kill over 58,000 Americans, 250,000 South Vietnamese and approximately 3 million Viet Cong and Vietnamese Civilian's. It would cost America over 8 billion dollars, witness some of the biggest protest movements ever seen in history, destroy the Psyche of a generation and almost tear America apart at the seams. Welcome to the Vietnam war.

Apocalypse Now

We traveled to Hue in central Vietnam on the East coast on the 5th of October by a very bumpy sleeper bus. Hue city sits on the perfume river and was once the capital of the Nguyen emperors that housed in the beautiful Citadel City. We went for a walk around the ground of this city, but it was clear to see the scares of war. Hue was the scene of some of the most brutal battles of the Vietnam War. During the 1968 Tet offensive US troops fought a bloody battle to regain the city from the VC. Over a few weeks, whole neighborhoods were leveled to the ground from bombs, rockets and artillery and thousands of soldiers and civilians died. A Lieutenant at the time described the way the war was waged; 'We had to destroy the city in order to save it'.

The citadel on apiece of anti air-craft artillery

It was this big!!!!
A fish caught by one of the locals on the Citadel Canal
Its important to understand the mentality and the actions of many soldiers forced to fight for the US Forces in Vietnam. The Americans had over half a million combat troop in Vietnam by 1968, but many troops were in support units and not in the front. This meant that US troops were out numbered four to one. The US strategy to equalise this problem was to; 'bomb them back into the Stone Age'. The American Government would use bombs and artillery on a scale never seen before in the world. They dropped 8 millions tons of bombs from the air on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which is roughly three times the weight of bombs dropped by all sides in World War 2. The strategy was simple, attrition-to kill very lager numbers of Vietnamese until they were broken. This strategy was carried out by American Soldiers; they found themselves part of a cruel killing machine that was encouraged by the command who were only interested in statistics. The regular GI was ordered to carry out acts of cruelty on a scale never even imagined by himself, kill innocent people, slaughter whole villages and  since everyone in a village was a suspected  VC these actions were at first justified. However in time the acts of war could destroy a GI and by the end of 1968 American troops killed many of there officers, revolted and even refused to fight.

I wanted to learn more about the war and so I went on a full day tour around the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The DMZ spanned across the whole of Vietnam along the 17th parallel acting as a buffer between North and South. It now refers to the many US bunkers, fortified bases and battle grounds that litter the area such as the the infamous Hamburger Hill and Camp Carrol. It is ironic that this area was called the DMZ zone as it was one of the most militarised zones in the world. We first went to the Rockpile, a US Marine Corps lookout for its long range artillery, from here we travelled west along the infamous Route 9 to visit a part of the Ho Chi Minh trail (the main artery of supplies for the Norths war effort) before travelling to Khe Sanh Combat Base. There was a very strange atmosphere here, eerie, like ghosts of the past still lingering, reluctant or unable to leave this mysterious area. The combat base is the site of the most famous siege and one of the most controversial and bloodiest battles of the war, it has a claustrophobic feel, situated on a small plateau surrounded by large hills on all sides. In 1968 these hills were filled with tens of thousands of NVA and VC infantry armed with mortars, artillery and rockets. They layed siege to the base for 75 days with constant shelling. The 6000 Marines, constantly fearing a full scale assault at any time were dug in and cut off for days without  air support, unable to reach them due to the monsoon weather that servery impeded  their visibility. You have to imagine the psychological stress these soldiers were under every single minute of every single day and in some cases soldiers were forever changed, broken a term the command called 'acute environmental reaction' but what we now call 'shell shock'. It is now clear that the siege was a massive diversionary effort to draw American attention away from the main South Vietnamese populated areas in readiness for the Tet offensive, which many consider the beginning of the end of any chance of victory by the Americans in Vietnam.

Follow the link to watch footage Khe Sanh

The Rockpile

Khe Sanh -Walking towards a C130 on the Air Strip

A very eerie atmosphere at Khe Sanh as the clouds hang low over the hills
Bombs recovered at Khe Sanh

A Chinook helicopter on Khe Sanh Airstrip
To finish the tour we visited the Vinh Moc Tunnels, the coastal North Vietnamese Village that went underground to escape the unremitting American Bombing. Just under a 100 families lived underground for over five years, in tunnels that spanned three levels and over 2Km. We went into the tunnels and explored each level, going deeper and deeper underground into claustrophobic dark hot tunnels. Its impossible  to know how people lived in such conditions, how much fear they must have felt every day under some of the most heavily bombed strips of land on the planet. 

Entrance 3 to Vinh Moc Tunnels

Inside the Tunnels
It was a great tour and as some one who enjoys history I got the chance to explore  some of the most significant historical sites ,camps and battle grounds in modern history. Although its impossible to really feel or even fully understand how it must of felt to be a young GI in Vietnam I got a sense of it vastness, its fearsome alien terrain, its loneliness that must have engulfed the psyche of every soldier and made him think at least once; 'boy, you are very far away from  home'.

1 comment:

  1. That looks interesting were u headin nxt ?