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Hue 1968

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I'm looking forward to reading the new book from Mark Bowden, 'Hue 1968' (He also wrote Blackhawk Down and Killing Pablo).

I was in Hue, Vietnam in 1993, just a few days before the 25th anniversary of the Tet Offensive. Various members of the Vietnamese family I was traveling with would point out bomb craters or damaged buildings, then somberly nod their heads and say, "Tet". The Offensive is celebrated as a great achievement by the Communists, but the citizens of South Vietnam probably see it as the beginning of the end of their freedom. 

The Tet Offensive lasted for 24 days. The Communists took advantage of the fireworks explosions of the Tet holiday, and attacked U.S. facilities in the South. In some places, it took hours for people to realize the explosions were coming from bombs and bullets and not just fireworks.

According to some historians, as many as 30,000 North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrilla fighters were killed during the attacks, compared to 3000 U.S. fatalities. Following that battle, many Americans became disillusioned with the war, and celebrities such as Jane Fonda became involved in the anti-war movement.  (I may have to change the casualty numbers after I read Mark Bowden's book. When I first wrote about Tet following my 1993 trip, I came across those numbers in my research.)

We "toured" several of the ancient palaces around Hue, which was the former Imperial City of Vietnam. When I say "toured," I mean we paid a small entrance fee, and then walked around inside the buildings and the palace grounds. No tour guides, no roped-off areas or beautiful landscaping, no crowds. What should have been national treasures were basically just large abandoned buildings. That was the nature of Communism (out with the old ways, in with the New Ways!) before they realized that tourism could bring in a lot of foreign cash.

During Imperial times, each Emperor would have a new palace built for himself. I think it was the palace of Emperor Gia Long that had a huge wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling mirror in what I suppose was the Royal Reception Room. That gigantic mirror was gifted to him by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800's.

In a moment of pure vanity, I walked up to the mirror, pulled my comb out of my back pocket, and combed my hair. But really, what else is a mirror good for?



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