De Beruchte En Ingenieuze Ho Chi Minh-Route

De Ho Chi Minh-route verbond Noord- en Zuid-Vietnam niet alleen tijdens een wrede oorlog, maar het hielp ook Vietnamese soldaten. Het pad maakte de tocht bijna vijf maanden korter en werd gebruikt als een soort geheim wapen. Cameron Paterson beschrijft de geschiedenis en het gebruik van het beruchte pad.

Deep in the jungles of Vietnam, soldiers from both sides battled heat exhaustion and each other for nearly 20 long years. But the key to Communist victory wasn't weapons or stamina, it was a dirt road.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail, winding through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, started as a simple network of dirt roads and blossomed into the centerpiece of the winning North Vietnamese strategy during the Vietnam War, supplying weapons, troops, and psychological support to the South.

The trail was a network of tracks, dirt roads, and river crossings that threaded west out of North Vietnam and south along the Truong Son Mountain Range between Vietnam and Laos. The journey to the South originally took six months. But, with engineering and ingenuity, the Vietnamese expanded and improved the trail. Towards the end of war, as the main roads detoured through Laos, it only took one week.

Here is how it happened. In 1959, as relations deteriorated between the North and the South, a system of trails was constructed in order to infiltrate soldiers, weapons, and supplies into South Vietnam. The first troops moved in single-file along routes used by local ethnic groups, and broken tree branches at dusty crossroads were often all that indicated the direction.

Initially, most of the Communist cadres who came down the trail were Southerners by birth who had trained in North Vietnam. They dressed like civilian peasants in black, silk pajamas with a checkered scarf. They wore Ho Chi Minh sandals on their feet, cut from truck tires, and carried their ration of cooked rice in elephants' intestines, a linen tube hung around the body.

The conditions were harsh and many deaths were caused by exposure, malaria, and amoebic dysentery. Getting lost, starving to death, and the possibility of attacks by wild tigers or bears were constant threats. Meals were invariably just rice and salt, and it was easy to run out. Fear, boredom, and homesickness were the dominant emotions. And soldiers occupied their spare time by writing letters, drawing sketches, and drinking and smoking with local villagers.

The first troops down the trail did not engage in much fighting. And after an exhausting six month trip, arriving in the South was a real highlight, often celebrated by bursting into song.

By 1965, the trip down the trail could be made by truck. Thousands of trucks supplied by China and Russia took up the task amidst ferocious B-52 bombing and truck drivers became known as pilots of the ground. As traffic down the trail increased, so did the U.S. bombing. They drove at night or in the early morning to avoid air strikes, and watchmen were ready to warn drivers of enemy aircraft.

Villages along the trail organized teams to guarantee traffic flow and to help drivers repair damage caused by air attacks. Their catch cries were, "Everything for our Southern brothers!" and, "We will not worry about our houses if the vehicles have not yet gotten through."

Some families donated their doors and wooden beds to repair roads. Vietnamese forces even used deception to get the U.S. aircraft to bomb mountainsides in order to make gravel for use in building and maintaining roads. The all-pervading red dust seeped into every nook and cranny.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail had a profound impact on the Vietnam War and it was the key to Hanoi's success. North Vietnamese victory was not determined by the battlefields, but by the trail, which was the political, strategic, and economic lynchpin.

Americans recognized its achievement, calling the trail, "One of the great achievements in military engineering of the 20th century."

The trail is a testimony to the strength of will of the Vietnamese people, and the men and women who used the trail have become folk heros.


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