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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Vietnam memories: the story part 33: The Devil’s Own


The Devil’s Own

There is a side of life in Vietnam that I have avoided dealing with. It existed and was part of our off duty time, at least at the beginning. This was the presence in some towns of bars and massage parlours etc. Saigon was known for it, particularly the area around Tu Do street. As this had the Hotel Continental at one end and the Hotel Majestic at the other plus the National Assembly and the Caravel Hotel and two very respectable cafés, one called Brodard and the other I forget the name, we had two worlds living together. You learnt to tell a taxi driver in French to take you to La rue Catinat, which was the old French name.

Vung Tau as I have said was an in country R&R centre where front line US troops could let their hair down for a few days, if that expression is correct for the inevitable crew cuts. It was infested with bars etc. and respectability had been pushed into a small corner. I certainly claim no moral innocence here and one usually established one's own place soon after arriving. Such things are inevitable in war. But are they necessary? The town of Dalat was completely free. The town of Baria near to where I worked was also free. This was largely Australian territory. Now the Australians aren't exactly angels either but they had let Baria alone. I had always felt the people of the town were rather more pro communist than pro government. However they were never corrupted in the same way the people of Vung Tau and other places were. Perhaps less money circulated, but where was the happiness associated with this money?

For people only in the country for one year as most of the military were or eighteen months as many of the American support personnel were (for tax purposes) there was no reason for it to change. If you decided to stay on, usually because you were beginning to like the country and the people, after about a year you left this style of life behind you. Quite simply I lost the taste for it. The Vietnam War was not a place to attract the great innocents of this world, it probably also drew many of the worst types. I do not hold any regrets that have never been one of my policies in life. I consider everything a learning experience. I will maintain however it did as much to destroy the soul of Vietnam as the communists ever did.

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