This morning we Dong Ha to go to the Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ is significant because it marked the line between north and south Vietnam after the end of the First Indochina War. The DMZ approximately follows the 17th parallel and the Ben Hai River. We had the same guide as yesterday, Tam, who told us more stories about his life during the war. He told us about a time his cousin served in the South Vietnamese army along side his comrades, but was taken shortly after and interrogated because the army suspected he was a NVA spy. The very men that he had served with interrogated him. Paranoia that anyone could be a NVA spy was common, because the North Vietnamese used guerilla tactics that made it almost impossible to know who the enemy even was.“
Tam also explained that many families were separated by the DMZ, including his own. Many Vietnamese had very large families spread out all over Vietnam. As we read in The Sacred Willow, filial duty is extremely important to the Vietnamese, so being cut off from their loved ones living across the border was extremely difficult. One of Duong Mai Elliot’s sisters was a devout communist who lived in Hanoi during the war, and so she was not able to see her sister for many years because attempting to cross the border was too dangerous. Families with young men would often have family fighting for both sides of the war. We stopped at the Hien Luong Bridge, which spans the Ben Hai River and officially marks the border between North and South Vietnam. Today, anyone may pass over the bridge without fear, but during the war, families would be risking their lives to attempt to cross over without authorization.
Next, we drove to the coast to visit the Vinh Moc Tunnels. These tunnels were not used by the military, like the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon were. These tunnels were constructed during the war by local villagers to escape the relentless bombing by American B52s. The Americans believe the villagers were supplying NVA troops and wanted to force the villagers to leave the area. The villagers were incredibly resilient, and instead built tunnels 10m deep to avoid the bombing. When Americans designed bombs to penetrate 10m underground, the villagers pushed the tunnels even deeper to escape. The villagers built a complex network of tunnels that had everything needed to survive, including living rooms, schools, and places for health care. I could hardly spend 10 minutes in the tunnels without getting claustrophobic from the small spaces and stifled air, so I couldn’t imagine living down there for months without being able to go outside for fear of the bombing. These tunnels are another example of the incredible resilience of the Vietnamese we learned about before coming. In the movie A Path to War, we saw LBJs growing frustration at the ineffectiveness of the bombings, and the Vinh Moc tunnels are prime example of why the bombing was ineffective. The US dropped more bombs by weight in the Vietnam War than all of World War II combined; yet the bombing was of little benefit to the US.
After we had lunch on the beach, we drove back to the city where we waited to board the train to Hanoi. We left for Hanoi around 6pm and spent the night aboard the train. We all crammed into one cabin and played games to pass the time. The train was not very comfortable; it was cramped and the bathroom were disgusting. We met another group of travelers from Australia in the cabin next to ours. They were having a good time and invited us to come over and chat with them. I went to bed early, but couldn’t sleep. The train was loud and the bed was too small for me, so it was quite an uncomfortable night. We arrived at 5am in Hanoi and drove to the hotel. I immediately fell asleep. I felt as if all the travelling had just caught up to me at once.