It has been 37 years since the Vietnam War ended, but you don't have to look far to see the scars of that war — people who have lost limbs, people suffering deformities from the extensive use of chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange by the US military.
Hui, our guide on a trip to the famous Cu Chi tunnels, was born after the war ended. He is healthy, but there are people younger than him who bear the scars of the war. These, he explained, include the second and third generation victims of Agent Orange and the like. On the way to Cu Chi we visited a handicraft factory operated by these victims.
There are also the farmers and their children who have been injured by the significant amount of mines and other unexploded ordinance still scattered across the countryside even after decades of mine removal. At Cu Chi, my 10-year-old measured up to a row of bombs. The biggest were taller than her and were dropped from way above the clouds from B52 bombers.
Hui showed us an enormous bomb crater before we explored the incredible network of tunnels that allowed liberation fighters to operate just over an hour's drive from Saigon (now named Ho Chi Minh City), the capital of the US-backed puppet government of South Vietnam. Later, he showed us an array of deadly home-made booby traps with which the guerrillas fought the technologically superior enemy.
We saw war scars of a different kind a few days later at My Son in central Vietnam, where some of the most intense fighting took place (the infamous My Lai massacre took place not far from here). The historic Cham civilisation ruins in this verdant valley, overlooked by the dramatic Hon Quap (Cat's Tooth Mountain), survived since they were abandoned to the jungle in the 13th century, but in the 1960s the US military bombed more than two thirds of the surviving structures.
My Son is the equivalent in Vietnam to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borubodur in Indonesia; relics of ancient Indianised kingdoms in South-East Asia. The curator of the Guimet Museum in Paris wrote to US President Richard Nixon, who then ordered US forces to continue killing Vietnamese but not to do any further damage to the ruins.
These are scars from a war that ended more than three decades ago. What will be the scars that linger on for decades from the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
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