Questionable Decisions By The Americans

Clipping Armpit Trap

Throughout our time in Vietnam, Peter and I continuously came back to one question — whether it was when we were examining a giant cave, used as a field hospital, that was completely indiscernible from air, or visiting the extensive Cu Chi tunnel network the North Vietnamese army built around Saigon, or even just staring into the dense jungle foliage that covers the country: what the hell were we doing there?

Forget the politics and morality of war. We just couldn’t believe that anyone who had set foot in the country and met the people could ever have believed we could win. Take, for example, these photographs of one of the entrances to the Cu Chi tunnels, proudly demonstrated to us by our guide:

Now you see it. . . .

. . . Now you don't.

We learned that when North Vietnamese troops needed to cross rivers, they’d poke breathing straws through clumps of floating plants and swim across under the surface of the water. When American troops sent out dogs to try to sniff out the entrances to these tunnels, the North Vietnamese started using American soap and sprinkling pepper on the ground (a native product, no less) to confuse their sense of smell. To sabotage troops walking through the jungle, they created camouflaged traps — such as the armpit clipper above — that used nothing more than sharpened bamboo sticks and the victims’ own body weight to kill or maim them.

Thanks for the illustrations.

As continues to be demonstrated today, the world’s most powerful army has nothing on determination, cleverness and local knowledge. (Not to mention the monsoons. Did no one know about those?)

On a lighter note, though, here is another unwise tactical move on the part of the Americans: on our second day in Hanoi, Peter decided to get a straight-edge razor shave from a guy on the street. (Thankfully, he used a new blade.) As I watched the barber hold a razor against my beloved husband’s neck in the middle of North Vietnam, one thought kept popping into mind: I’m glad he doesn’t hold a grudge.

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