From battlefield to tourist trap (68)
|All right, I admit, the title of this photo is a bit exaggerated, but after 36 years in journalism I just can't deny myself the pleasure of a punchier headline. |
This is from Khe Sanh, where one of the major battles of the Vietnam war was fought in the first half of 1968. Today nothing remains of the huge American base that used to be here. Instead tourists are coming here to get an idea of what happened all those years ago. It's actually very difficult to get a good idea of anything, since there is nothing at all to see.
Khe Sanh is a fairly remote place in a less touristic area of Vietnam, so it couldn't possibly become a tourist trap on a level with the Fontana di Trevi or the Eiffel Tower. The locals try their best to make a few dong from guiding visitors or selling bullets or shrapnel they find with the help of metal detectors. That is probably what is going on in this photo.
My guide, from the Hue branch of some government ministry, gave me a bullet which he found just by looking at the ground. I had been sent to Vietnam in April 1985 to write stories ahead of the 20th anniversary of the end of the war. Khe Sanh was one of the legendary places I wanted to see, but there were certainly other places that I found more interesting.
Khe Sanh made the headlines of newspapers and TV reports all over the world in 1968, when the North Vietnamese troops in the nearby hills laid siege to the base for several months. American aircraft dropped incredible amounts of bombs on the hills, according to Wikipedia roughly 1 300 tons every day.
Hundreds of Americans and thousands of Vietnamese were killed during the fighting at Khe Sanh, and yet it seemed afterwards the the siege was merely an attempt by the North Vietnamese to draw the attention of the Americans away from the Tet Offensive, which started roughly at the same time. During Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, in 1968 North Vietnamese troops assisted by the southern National Liberation Front, known in the US as the "Viet Cong", entered a number of South Vietnamese cities through quick and surprising attacks, in Saigon even managing to get inside the US embassy.
There are those who even today claim that the Tet Offensive was an attempt to draw the attention away from the battle of Khe Sanh. Well, who knows?
In a workshop you can see a wider view of Khe Sanh, as well as a place where Vietnamese soldiers found their final rest. All photos were scanned from Kodachrome slides.
Here is a larger version.