The Irony: Saigon’s Most Heavily Guarded Building is The Former US Embassy.
Above Photo: A Vietnamese guard objects to my taking a photograph of a monument commemorating Viet Cong dead in the Tet attack on the former US Embassy, which is located outside the old US Embassy compound in Saigon.
The Viet Cong famously attacked the former US Embassy in Saigon during the Tet Offensive in 1968, but it seems those shots fired at the Embassy might have been the last the Vietnamese will permit.
Certainly taking them with my camera and not a B-40 rocket recently brought down a world of over-officious hassle when I was in Saigon.
On the night of the 1968 attack on the Embassy, an elite Viet Cong sapper squad blew a hole in the Embassy wall and stormed the compound. Eighteen of the nineteen-strong VC squad were killed, and one was captured. Five Americans were also killed that night.
Given the role this attack had in North Vietnamese propaganda (and continues to have in the Vietnamese history of the war) and the fact they have erected a big monument outside the former Embassy’s walls to the Viet Cong dead that night, you’d think they’d be happy for people to come along and photograph it, but apparently not.
As you can see in the headline photo, a Vietnamese official came tearing over when he saw me take out my camera and forbade me to take any photos of the monument (I’d beaten him to it, however).
It was the same when I tried to take some of the outside wall of the former Embassy. Guards were appearing from everywhere.
I can understand security concerns in a world of international terrorism, but building a US Consulate in the former Embassy grounds, the site of an important former Vietnam War landmark, surely invites interest from tourists to Saigon who are interested in seeing locations from that conflict.
On that fateful night back in 1968, the South Vietnamese police who’d been tasked with protecting the Embassy proved to be worse than useless. Perhaps it is this, the desire to prove that the former North Vietnamese authorities can do a better job of protecting US interests than their Southern foes did, that lies behind the incredibly strict security here.
At least Americans can be assured that the Vietnamese are taking Consular security very seriously in Saigon.
After the War, the Embassy was occupied by a Vietnamese petrol company, before being handed back to the US when diplomatic relations were re-established in the 1990s. The Embassy was demolished in 1998 and a park for Consular staff now marks the site of the actual building.
I was lucky enough to see the original Embassy building when visiting the city on my first ever trip to Vietnam in 1992.
The site remains one of the most important “must see” locations in Saigon for visitors to the city who are interested in the Vietnam War, and it’s worth going along to take a look at it. Just don’t let the guards catch you with your camera out.
And whatever you do, don’t try to find the Vietnamese word for ‘irony’.
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
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