Viet Nam

Khe Sanh and Long Tân

Xin Chào from Central Việt Nam,

I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh,

And my soul was sold with my cigarettes

To the black market man.

I’ve had the Việt Nam cold turkey,

From the ocean to the Silver City,

And it’s only other vets could understand.

opening verse “Khe Sanh” by Cold Chisel 1978
at the museum Khe Sanh

When the Việtnamese authorities canned the proposed Long Tân anniversary (50th) earlier this year, quite a few Australians were a bit miffed. Some correspondents even asked us if we had any good oil on the reasons behind the cancellation. This is the best I can do on that explanation. Try this for size. 

      This weekend we visited Khe Sanh in the central part of Việt Nam. It’s a site for one of the decisive landmark battles of the American War. (It won’t surprise anyone that the local Việtnamese people refer to that conflagration as ‘the American War’ as opposed to the epithet we grew up with.)

unexploded bombs – including the one in the dress
the Geneva Agreement 1954

        Khe Sanh is very close to the de-militarised zone, which mirrored the artificial border between North and South Việt Nam after the Geneva Agreement of 1954, when the French colonisers finally agreed to depart. This was contrived to be the 17th parallel, but became the Bến Hải River – a natural boundary – and five kilometres each side.   

 During the two years following, the Việt Minh were meant to migrate to the North and sympathisers with the Diệm regime were meant to migrate to the South. After two years, Diệm was to call an election to establish democracy in Việtnam. The Diệm regime was not popular and did not call the election and the North invaded. This was when the Americans (first with their so-called advisors and then with marines and troops) arrived in Việt Nam. 

helicopter still here in the clearing

      Khe Sanh turned out to be a crucial battle, largely fought during the famed Tết Offensive in 1968. (Tết is the Vietnamese new year.) Today, we travelled along a short part of the Hồ Chị Minh Trail, where the rule was : “Walk without leaving a trace; cook without smoke; and speak without making a sound.” When the Hồ Chị Minh Trail was exposed by the defoliating effects of Agent Orange, the Việt Minh crossed the border into sympathetic Laos. They were quickly followed by American bombers, thereby bringing another country into the Indochinese War.

a history of defending the nation

    The Việtnamese have been invaded/attacked by successive aggressors. They have fought off the Chinese, the Mongols, the French, the Japanese and then the Americans. They have a history of defending their nation over two thousand years. When we visited the Vịnh Mốc tunnels today – having visited the Củ Chi tunnels some time back – we got a glimpse of how determined and resilient these people are. Walking through these tunnels, you can’t help but be impressed by the astonishing stoicism of these people in the face of successive aggressors.

at the Khe Sanh museum
Move on.

       But these people are not vindictive or vengeful. They have moved on and want the rest of the world to do so, too. Many Vietnamese people are imbued with the Buddhist ethos, which says “live in the present, rather than the past or the future”. On behalf of the nation, the government preserves their war relics as living testament to their determination. They are proud of their achievements but they are not dwelling on them. The Vietnamese don’t hold grudges and they don’t want to look backwards, so the Long Tân commemoration may have been a sore point for them.

    Apparently the organisers – from Australia – had teed up the permissions long in advance for the proposed commemorations and then were surprised by the cancellation at the 11th hour. It could have been a case of one government department not agreeing with another but it could also be a case of an invading force returning and not being quite so attuned to the need of the locals to move on. 

   I hope this helps. 

Hẹn gặp lại from the demilitarised zone

“Khe Sanh” was banned by the censors in 1978, as being “not suitable for airplay”. Thank goodness we had Double J. They were the only station to play it. Jimmy Barnes said, “they banned something every week to keep the Catholic Church happy”.

Other photos from hereabouts

cemetery near demilitarised zone, Central Việt Nam
preparing for Tết
Hội An
Đa Nẵng Dragon Bridge (Cầu Rồng) every weekend 9 pm
in the Huế Citadel, from which the puppet French monarchy ruled
at the Huế Citadel
from the Pagoda Huế
cooking class Hội An
Tam Cốc

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