Despite the superior firepower of the American military, the determination of the Viet Cong was on another level entirely. In the 1940s Ho Chi Minh, one of the founders of the Viet Cong, stated “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. Even at those odds, you will lose and I will win”. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, perfectly summarised the problem in 1969: “the conventional army loses if it does not win, the guerrilla wins if he does not lose”. The Viet Cong were simply experts at utilising their surroundings to their advantage. Historians, for example, estimate that booby traps caused around 11 percent of US causalities in the Vietnam War.
Punji stake traps found in the tunnels highlight one of the most disgusting and feared examples of Vietnamese booby traps. Several Viet Cong members knew the American soldiers had boots with plated soles to help prevent injury to their feet. Because of this, they often targeted their legs instead. These soldiers made punji stakes out of heated and sharpened wood or bamboo. Sometimes, they would smear the tip of the stakes with urine, faeces, poison, or other contaminants to infect the wound when it penetrated the skin.
Next, the Viet Cong would dig a pit and jam the punji stakes upright in it. If they were feeling particularly cruel they may point the sticks downwards at an angle. The soldiers then camouflaged the pit using natural undergrowth, mud, or crops. The stakes would then spear any soldier that fell into the pit. If the stakes pointed downwards, soldiers became unable to remove their limbs without causing severe damaging. In particularly horrendous circumstances, enemy soldiers would dig another pit directly beside it. That way, when a soldier fell into a pit and became trapped, he would call for a colleague who would rush to his aid and collapse into the trap next to it. In 1980, recognising the cruelty of such devices, the Geneva Convention banned them as weaponry.