Arguably the most dominant Southeast Asian character on the world’s radar, regardless of their historical education is Ho Chi Minh. Many people know him simply as the man who led the Vietcong to defeat the French, the Americans and ultimately set up the best-known communist republic in the region. This is no small task for any one man to accomplish, and Ho Chi Minh was no small man. This essay will examine the idea that Minh was not only a product of history, but also a man who will undoubtedly remain well known both inside and outside of the area for many generations to come. First the history leading up to Ho Chi Minh’s presence will be examined. Then the results of his life, his legacy will be examined. It is the mission of this paper to explore the facts that surrounded his and Vietnam’s rise to power and independence as being inspired and being an inspiration to history as a whole.
In 1873, Vietnam came under the occupation of the French. It was divided into three areas, and the French Catholicism was spread heartily throughout region and class. As is prevalent with all colonial-colonized relationships, the French exhibited their culture, their education systems, their brand of government and their laws onto the Vietnamese people.[i] This is not always a beneficial relationship for both involved parties, and often results in exploitative relationships with the people being colonized suffering more than they are aware.
Minh was educated and employed in Paris, as many occupied peoples were sent back to the ruling nation as a cheap labor source and in an effort to train locals, so the government of the colony in the style preferred by the occupying force.
Minh’s education must have included the popular brand of historical self-congratulation that is popular in every country. This means he would have undoubtedly learned about the French revolution. The first of many lessons in popular revolutions that leave the people of that nation to govern themselves as they see fit, this French revolution would have been the first of a pattern of successful and beneficial revolutions.
The second revolution Minh would have come across would be the American Revolution, as it was another example like the French one, of a group of people with differing ideas about government changed the lives of the masses for the better. In addition, the French aided the American colonies win their independence, so it would have definitely been emphasized in French history classes.
The third and most important evidence of revolution that Minh was exposed to did not come in a classroom, but in real life. It was after the Versailles Peace conference, where Minh petitioned and was denied Independence for the Vietnamese people when Minh was “left open to the 1920 appeal of Lenin, the leader of the newly created Soviet Union.”[ii] The appeal was for Asian Nations to join in the general communist principles advocated by the Soviets. As an international communist missionary working for the Soviet Comintern,[iii] Minh got experience from the acknowledged masters of revolution and communism: the U.S.S.R.
During World War II, Minh pulled another popular move used throughout history: gaining third party assistance. Like the Thai in pre-colonial times, Minh attempted to play off of international superpowers’ fears of one another. Minh was successful at this “to a point.” In exchange for rescuing downed American Pilots, the American Office of Strategic Services sent trainers for the Vietminh’s technicians as well as helping Ho Chi Minh to “frame a U.S.-style declaration of independence for Vietnam.”[iv]
Turning to history again, Minh borrowed the Lenin-esque strategy vis a vis “Bread, Peace and Land,” to gain popular support among the starving peasantry during the famine beginning in 1944. Minh would use the popular support gained from this move when he acknowledged his historical forefathers by citing both the American and French revolutions to bolster the Vietnamese claim of independence after the Japanese post-war exodus. [v] This, like the original plea of Minh at Versailles was short-lived when China, as an ally in WWII filled the vacuum left by the French in the north.
Today in Vietnam the Capital City is named after Ho Chi Minh. The highway planned to connect the north and south is named after Ho Chi Minh. There are posters of his face, statues of him, books and films about him and almost anything else one can imagine. As Lenin and Stalin were celebrated in the Soviet Union, and Chairman Mao was in China, Ho Chi Minh was and is celebrated as a national hero and to some extent is deified like the other big-man communists.
It is due to this fact that Ho Chi Minh can never be pulled, or rescued from history. History was trapped in him, which led him to greatness in organizing what would eventually become his dream: an independent communist Vietnam. He is trapped now in history, and the historian that revises the way the books are written has a large task in front of them. It is hard to visualize a myth being stronger than actual fact, and this is not an exploration, or an investigation of that myth.
However, the historical facts at this point are not disputed. If in the future they do become doubted enough for a large-scale investigation, much more than fallacies must be overcome in the correcting of possible errors; years of nationalism and general pride need to be proven as incorrect to accomplish the goal of rescuing Ho Chi Minh from history.
[i]Chandler, David… et al. The emergence of Modern Southeast Asia. Pp. 115, 116.
[ii] Chandler, David… et al. The emergence of Modern Southeast Asia. Pg.340.
[iii] Chandler, David… et al. The emergence of Modern Southeast Asia. Pg. 340.
[iv] Chandler, David… et al. The emergence of Modern Southeast Asia. Pg. 343.
[v] Chandler, David… et al. The emergence of Modern Southeast Asia. Pg. 344.