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War Tours?

By:  Danica Taylor

I found being in Vietnam at such a time of change and development was a true learning experience. From history, we know that developing countries are good for the people benefiting from the developments and bad for those left behind. Although Vietnam is at the early stages of development, the separation between those fortunate and those not was extremely apparent.

        In and around Ho Chi Minh City the transnational element was quite evident. New skyscrapers being built in what my tour guide described as “new town”. A place where international companies were opening stores and the government was investing money in developing and maintaining westernized landscapes, roads and complexes.  There was no evidence that this country was once a battlefield, a place where almost all vernacular architecture was destroyed by air raids and grenades. The Vietnamese however have restored their old way of life. Many still reside in the delta, villagers who came out of the Cu Chi tunnels to rebuild their thatched roof homes and digressed back to the life they lived prior to invasion. I was so intrigued to see how contently they were living their life, even after having to completely reconstruct their villages that were destroyed during the American War.

         After the war, foreigners, especially Americans were scared and uninterested in visiting the land that so many soldiers sacrificed their lives on. But more recently, as Christina Schwenkel points out in her article titled Recombinant History: Transnational Practices of Memory and Knowledge Production in Contemporary Vietnam, “Vietnam has adopted tourism as a prime development strategy to produce economic growth” (p. 4), and as a result the locals have had to adapt to the large increase in tourism; caucasians with blonde hair and blue eyes, technology unimaginable being used to snap pictures of their villages, of their homes and of their families.

        Vietnam is developing, the cities are alowly transforming into a more westernized land, transnational elements are beginning to bombard and replace the vernacular ways of life and attract tourists with modern, desirable amenities and accommodations.  Schwenkel points out that Vietnam is also capitalizing on the remnants of the war, “Vietnam is not only about romantic encounters with 'natives'…the battlefield tourist is driven by the desire to see, experience, and understand mass destruction and violence in the modern era” (Schwenkel, 4). The war has now become a transnational source of income for the Vietnamese. Everything from the Zippo lighters that the US GI’s carried, to pieces of shrapnel found in the delta is being sold to tourists. The Vietnamese have begun to use “expressions, artifacts, knowledge, and spaces primarily linked to wartime experiences of US forces that have little meaning to the average Vietnamese person” (Schwenkel, 7).

        We visited the Cu Chi tunnels where a local Vietnamese man guided us though the various traps and tunnels. The locals are making their living from telling personal stories from the war, and are even being educated in “the conflict as it has been represented in the United States history and pop culture” (Schwenkel, 7). The guide was in no way telling us actual stories he had of the war, it was a fabricated speech given to the tourists to be informative and supportive of the VC and still not offend American tourists. To top off the whole tourist experience, at the end of the tour there’s the opportunity to shoot “authentic” war guns. At the small price of around $5-$10.
        Overall, Vietnam
was very interesting, as I mentioned earlier it really offered many learning experiences, being able to witness and experience a culture that is trying so desperately to become industrialized and enter the world market with economic prosperity. It was also fascinating to see not only the US citizens interest in the war, but people from around the globe who were making their rounds to all the battle fields, museums, and consuming artifacts…its strange to think the tragedy that once threatened the Vietnamese existence is what the economy is now profiting from. I doubt any of the locals thought that in the long run the war would be the source of their daily profits, and that the majority of the sales would be from United States citizens.

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