The UK inquiry into the Iraq war has heard that it was the failures of Vietnam that held back the US in planning the reconstruction of Iraq. 25 years on from the Vietnam war, it is easy to forget what happened in the South East. A visit to Vietnam will soon show you that the war is far from over.
Vietnam, one of the most scenically beautiful countries in the world and one of only a few places left where tourism has yet to ruin its culture. However, a new industry is booming in this suppressed country, that of war tourism, where occupants see no harm in exploiting their harsh history.
I can only describe Vietnam as being the only place in the world where I have felt ashamed to be white. Even when purchasing a bottle of water from a street seller you may be met with the hostile question, “Where are you from?” I can only assume that if you answer America, you will be treated with even more hostility. And yet although today’s government line, “We’re all friends” is the constant response to Vietnam’s attitude towards America, it is clear that bitterness is ever present.
The infamous conflict of the 20th Century has boosted Vietnam’s tourism industry with locals thriving off of remnants from the war. Millions of Zippo lighters belonging to fallen US troops engraved with G.I mottos have been found buried under former battleground. These have become highly sought after by many westerners and can be bought from street vendors for less than $5. I use the dollar as a currency, because much to my amazement the dollar is more commonly used than the Vietnamese Dong. It appears that America left more than death and destruction behind them.
Another reminder of the war is the vast amount of ammunition and artillery left behind by the Americans. Unfortunately local residents soon realised that this is a potential tourist attraction. Whilst sauntering through the hectic streets of Ho Chi Minh (formally Saigon) being approached by men on mopeds offering to take you on trips through the countryside is not uncommon. This is almost always safe, and a great way of seeing life outside of the City. Sadly, these men have extraordinary preconceptions of why tourists wish to visit their country. For $15 you can shoot a chicken with an AK-47. For $50 you can shoot a pig with a M16. And for $200 you can fire a B40 rocket launcher at a cow.
A must-see tourist attraction is the Cu Chi Tunnels, one of the most famous battle grounds of the Vietnam War. It is an immense network of connecting underground tunnels covering some 75 miles, used as living quarters for the Vietnamese guerrilla fighters. Today, a quarter of a century since the end of the war, much of the tunnel system as it was has collapsed, but an area named the “heroic village” has been preserved and a section of the tunnel enlarged to accommodate the large frames of visiting Western tourists. As if this wasn’t enough to satisfy any tourist’s desire to experience life during the war, before leaving the site, you are given the opportunity to fire a gun. For a dollar a bullet, a steady stream of westerners looking for that “Nam experience” queue to fire an AK-47 or an ageing US-made M16.
Why anyone would wish to visit a blood stained country for a chance to shoot a gun, especially on such an inspiring site, ceases to amaze me. You can’t blame the locals, they are just using what happened to their advantage, and if they can make money from the war why shouldn’t they? What worries me is how keen Westerners are to fire a gun on such significant land, with no thought for how many people have fallen on the ground on which they now walk. Will we be seeing this new industry develop in the Middle East in 25 years time? I hope not.