Monday, August 15, 2005

Ku Chi: Nemesis of American Army in Vietnam


In current era of Iraq war, Vietnam War may have been relegated in memory. It was a battle of communist North Vietnamese with American based in south that lasted for almost 25 years. Despite having all the military might with B52 bombers, Americans fared miserably losing nearly 60,000 soldiers’ alongwith 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers (American ally).

One place that was responsible for the nemesis of Americans was Ku Chi Tunnels, just 200 km north of Saigaon.

Ku Chi was not just tunnels but an underground city spread to 250km labyrinth with three floors beneath the soil. Army of 16,000 Goureilla used these tunnels to plot the downfall of Americans. The secret tunnels joined village to village and often passed beneath American bases. Hidden beneath they lived underground for years, getting married, giving birth, going to school. They even built hospitals where surgery was performed on causalities. They only came out at night to continue their battle against US army, attacking and disappearing, and attacking again, via camouflaged openings.

The tunnels were made in ingenious way. They dug all this with hand tools, hoes, shovels, filling reed baskets. They installed large vents so they could hear approaching planes. A small vent opened right in the middle of pale colored termite housing at the base of tree provided necessary air entry. Moreover these termite mounds were strong enough to withstand even bombardment. A smoke from dining room was taken out in tropical jungles in various criss- cross manner. Americans were flummoxed believing that it’s a smoke from burnt tree leaves that have been bombed previous day.

Was US army so naïve not to know about these tunnels? Of course not, Initially U.S. military sent in troops, but quickly realized it was a death trap for any American to go inside. Later the U.S bombed it so heavily that they made this tropical forest completely defoliated and devastated. However, even these bombardments turned out to be to be futile against the well-constructed tunnels that were built under strong hard clay soil. All Americans succeeded in creating numerous B-52 craters that are visible even today. In sheer desperation, Americans deployed "Tunnel Rats,” specially trained slimmer americans to lead an assault directly into the tunnels using chemicals and hunting dogs. The clever Guerillas foiled this by using American made shaving cream and cigarettes to confuse the dogs. If this was not enough, numerous hidden trap doors and gruesomely effective yet imaginative booby traps made sure that if any American soldier still managed to make it closer , the floor would suddenly give away to lethal pits that housed fire hardened, poison coated metal picks .

Now after two decades, the foliage and trees have grown back. Today, tourist can experience part of these tunnels. The tunnel has diameter barely enough to fit human torso. Its hot, small, creepy and dark. If one can make it to level one, that is 3.5ft High x 2feet wide fitted with every 10 feet a dim light bulb, one can pass a test of claustrophobia. Level 3 is at 30 feet under ground and I wonder if anyone can make it. Even after making it in level 1, once you surface out, you will be drenched in sweat.

It is highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein may have been to Ku Chi Tunnels, but what he did to hide from American army was perhaps just a mouthpiece of Ku Chi. if Saddam were to replicate Ku Chi in Baghdad, it would have been another catastrophe for American army in Iraq (not that they are out of it!)

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