Chairman Hồ Chí Minh: Hero Or Villain
Although, Hồ Chí Minh is gone for close to three decades, his policies still linger on, at least in Vietnam, specially in the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), wherein the lack of a reputable leader dictates the need to continue worshipping Ho as the only answer for survival. In the United States where his name was mentioned almost hourly in the 60's, Ho is now in oblivion, except in contemptuous references within the Vietnamese refugee community.
He was a giant figure disturbing the geopolitics of Southeast Asia for many years. He had risen not only to a top position of his Vietnam, but also had a commanding role as a political thespian playing against superpower politics and might.
Hồ Chí Minh’s rise to the zenith of power was on a par with those of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. He reigned with an iron hand and tyrannized his own party and his own people into complete submission and total obedience. His mentors, Stalin and Mao, however, always treated him as a protégé and often reminded him to stay in line.
To understand the man would require a starter based on facts and documentary evidences. Whether one were an admirer or an opponent of this mysterious man, defining him as either a hero or a villain would be hard for one. Hero, he was, for his success. However, the millions of victims and the devastated destruction incurred on the nation by his practices and procedures condemned him to the rank of a villain.
Nevertheless, nobody had ever realized a clear and truthful biography of Hồâ. Millions of words in dozens of books written about him were all based on hearsay and materials produced by the propaganda machine of the VCP. Ho himself had balked at any suggestion about writing his biography. Next to his dedication to Communism was his determination to keep his past a secret.
Just to note on his birth date alone, if details from the several publications were to be selected and summarized, we would have at least five different dates.
Only since the mid 80's when some archives were opened to researchers that the reasons for secrecy began to be unveiled. Too many fabrications were made to idolize and deify this man who in reality was no more and no less than a normal person with a normal ambition. He was to lead a typical life of any young Vietnamese of his time looking for opportunities overseas.
However, it was those little unimportant historical incidents to be related further herein that made and shaped his future, a future that would haunt the very nations that rebuffed him years back.
Who was Hồ Chí Minh?
He was born Nguyễn Sinh Cung on 7.11.1891, in the small village of Kim Liên, Quỳnh Lưu District, Nghệ An Province, in Northern Central Vietnam, one of the poorest areas in terrain and in resources. His father, Nguyễn Sinh Huy, a.k.a. Nguyễn Sinh Sắc, a village teacher from a better than average family, who failed to pass the traditional examination for a Cử Nhân (bachelor) degree and had to be satisfied with being Phó Bảng (sub-bachelor/junior doctor). Cung himself had finished primary school. For some unexplained reason, at the age of ten, he got a new name, Nguyễn Tất Thành, i.e., Nguyễn of Certain Success.
French and Soviet documents and passports revealed his identity under different names including Paul Tất Thành, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Chen Vang, Linov, Lin, Lý Thụy, Lee Suei, Vương Sơn Nhì, Comrade Trần. He went to the grave taking with him the mystery of all these names none of which was explained the circumstance for requiring a pseudonym.
The world would only know him as Chairman Hồ Chí Minh, ruler of Communist Vietnam, a position incontestably his, being the head of the Indochinese Communist party (ICP) that he founded in Hongkong in 1931 by Stalin’s order. He was successively a member of the French Communist party, the Russian Communist party, an agent of the Comintern (Communist International) and a leader of the Lao Động (Labor) party.
An advocate of Marxist-Leninist dogma and an ardent supporter of the international Communist movement, Hồ Chí Minh was one rare specimen of success in the Twentieth Century. Trained in Moscow in extensive Marxist indoctrination, they knew Ho at the University of the Toilers of the East (1924) as an unimpressive individual and a poor student.
He was neither the genius and hero of his admirers nor the monster and villain of his foes. He was just a shrewd, Machiavellian, and ruthless ambitious man. It was his ruthlessness that paved the way for him to power. It was his ruthlessness that not only created havoc to all non-Communist revolutionaries, but also to his own party members suspected of possible unreliability. His most effective measure was to forward their names to the French Sureté, assuring imprisonment, a cost free process to get rid of his opponents.
His vicious method included a most despicable incident taken place in June 1925. At the time, Ho was working under the name of Lee Suei, a Soviet citizen, as an interpreter-secretary at the Mikhail Borodin Mission in Canton, China.
Ho had an arrangement with the French whereupon he would trick the celebrated leader Phan Bội Châu into their captivity in exchange for a substantial amount of money, 150,000 piasters, equivalent to the same amount of US dollars in 1925 exchange rate.
Accordingly, he sent Phan an invitation to attend a preparatory conference in Canton for the establishment of a Vietnamese branch of the World Federation of Small and Weak Nations. Phan who was always appreciative of the younger generation as a valuable asset against the French reserved a special approval for young Ho. He was unaware of the greatest betrayal of the century against him, French agents who seized him at the Shanghai railway station stalked Phan’s travel schedule and rushed him to the French Concession.
Shipped back to Vietnam, they later tried and sentenced Phan to death. However, students and several worker-based organizations conducted demonstrations throughout Vietnam requesting Phan’s release, forcing the French colonial authorities to change his sentence to house confinement outside Huế and forbid Phan from receiving visitors. He had refused to accept a high level position collaborating with the colonial administration in exchange for his freedom.
Ho later explained his obdurate action as follows: (1) Phan Bội Châu was a unique nationalist leader, thus he was a dangerous rival to the Communist movement; (2) the money was needed for activities promoting Communism; and (3) the execution of Phan Bội Châu would help heighten Vietnamese hatred of the French, thus, will help in the advancement of Communism.
Such reasoning alone should be enough confirmation of Ho’s ruthlessness. He would stop at nothing in his commitment to institute Communism upon Vietnam.
An agent of International Communism
Getting rid of Phan opened the way for the Kremlin directly to concentrate on Indochina as a prize target, a stepping stone to the natural resources of Southeast Asia.
Hồ Chí Minh became the Soviet’s most effective and most successful agent of international communism.
His dedication to Marxist Leninism served well Moscow’s strategy for world domination. He had performed impeccably the responsibility assigned to him by the Kremlin in the conquest of Indochina. His understanding of Western impatience was the basis for his strong belief that Indochina was for the taking. Thus, when he died on September 2, 1969, a date cynically coincided with the independence anniversary of his communist state, he probably died confidently believing that his comrades would carry on his plan. They did.
Ho’s legacy is still haunting the Vietnamese people to this day, more than a quarter century after his death. His legacy is a legacy of glory overshadowed by ruthless brutality, of victory eclipsed by widespread destruction, of fame obscured by treacherous deception. It is a legacy of ideological totalitarianism now in decadence under attack within and without the Vietnamese Communist Party. Worse even, this legacy has turned Vietnam into one of the most destitute countries in the world.
Most today Vietnamese, especially the younger generation, have a vague awareness of this unusual man. His supporters had managed to exaggerate the little truth about him into legendary tales. The popular amiable "Uncle Ho" often shown pampering little boys and girls was also capable of casually putting to death more than half a million of "his nieces and nephews" during the Chinese directed Mao style land reform in North Vietnam so brutally carried out that the peasants in his own natal district of Quỳnh Lưu revolted in February 1956 followed by a bloody suppression. As always, Ho stuck to his classic pattern of putting the blame on someone else, this time on Comrade Truong Chinh, second only to him in the VCP’s hierarchy, thus relieving himself of the crimes committed by his orders.
Ho and his comrades were so determined in hiding his past that it would need patient and diligent efforts searching through the files of the Russian KGB, French Sureté, British Intelligence, and the OSS (now CIA) files in order to discover the true life story of this man. Already, some documents from the Moscow and Paris archives have emerged to reveal some surprising secrets about Ho.
The following accounts from discovered archival materials would help separate facts from fictions.
Searching for his alcoholic father who had gone South to work in a rubber plantation, Nguyễn Tất Thành discovered Saigon as a door to the outside world, a world full of dream, vision, and hope for any young Vietnamese at the turn of the century. He found his father, but their reunion was to be short. His father encouraged him to head West, to France, to anywhere. He was twenty years old and without any skill except some limited French acquired in primary school. However, in 1911, such was enough for him to land a job as kitchen helper on the French liner Amiral Latouche-Tréville.
Thus, it was how Nguyễn Sinh Cung ventured into an unknown world as Nguyễn Tất Thành. His ambition then was modest and normal for a young man. His reasonable request was expressed humbly in the following translation of a letter written in French and in his own hand writing found in the Archives Nationales in France:
Marseille, September 15, 1911
Mr. President of the Republic
I have the honor to solicit your kindness the favor of allowing me to be admitted as an intern to follow courses in the Colonial School.
At present I am employed by the Compagnie des Chargeurs Réunis working in the ship Amiral Latouche Tréville as a way of earning my living.
I am totally without any resources but avidly in craving to learn. I would like to become worthwhile to France in dealing with my compatriots while being able to help them in benefitting from the usefulness of education.
I came from the province of Nghệ An, in Annam.
While awaiting for your answer that I hope to be favorable, Mr. President, please accept in advance the assurance of my gratitude.
Nguyễn Tất Thành, born at Vinh in 1892
A son of Mr. Nguyễn Sinh Huy, sub-bachelor degree
A student of French, Quốc Ngữ, and Chinese characters.
On that same date, Ho addressed another letter similar in contents to the French Minister of Colonies.
If accepted, he would, upon graduation from the Colonial School, get himself positioned among those collaborators serving the French colonial administration. It was the absolute goal of anyone aiming for power, even if this power were to come from the French. In a letter from Albert Lebrun, Minister of Colonies, sent to Nguyễn Tất Thành dated October 21, 1911, he was told that his qualifications did not meet the requirements for acceptance to the Ecole Coloniale. His dream was shattered.
Thus, Ho failed in his quest to become an official collaborator of French Colonialism. Ironically, what he could not acquire from the French in 1911, he obtained it later from the Russians in 1923. Although of a different source, he had realized his ambition to become successful with the means and support from a foreign power.
An official version of Ho’s mysterious saga had it that "Uncle Ho since his youth had always entertained a deep love for the fatherland." On his kitchen helper job aboard a French liner, it was "Uncle Ho left Vietnam to travel the world in search of truth and means to chase the French colonialist out of Vietnam." Such description of a Hồ Chí Minh since his youth already dedicated to the ideals of patriotism were quoted and requoted so often together with other make-believed stories that it had successfully transformed Ho into a super-hero, a crossbred specimen of Confucius, Superman, and Tarzan.
Certainly, the contents in the above cited letter revealed a much different Ho.
The Struggling Years
Nguyễn Tất Thành did not forget his father living in destitute in Vietnam. When he had his chance to go ashore in New York in mid-December 1912, he sent a letter written in French and in his own hand writing addressed to the French Résident Supérieurof Central Vietnam, to solicit employment for his father, a partial translation is shown below:
". . . . I even dare wanting to plead you to give him a job as Thừa biện of the Bộ or Huấn đạo, Giáo thụ, so that he could earn his living under your high benevolence.
Hoping that your kindness would not refuse the request of a son who, in order to be dutiful, has only you as support and while waiting for your answer, please accept here, Mr. Résident Supérieur, the respectful salutations from your filial people and grateful servant.
Paul Tất Thành
New York, December 15, 1912
The original in French was:
". . . . J’ose même désirer vous prier de bien vouloir lui accorder un emploi comme Thừa biện des Bộ ou Huấn đạo, Giáo thụ, afin qu’il puisse se gagner sa vie sous votre haute bienveillance.
En espérant que votre bonté ne refuserait la demande d’un enfant qui, pour remplir son devoir, n’a l’appui que vous et en attendant votre réponse, veuillez agréer, Monsieur le Résident Supérieur, les respectueuses salutations de votre filial peuple et reconnaissant serviteur.
Paul Tất Thành
New York le 15 Décembre 1912."
It should be noted that his French had improved greatly since his letters seeking admission to the Ecole Coloniale in September 1911. His new name Paul Tất Thành gave him the semblance of a French subject that he was probably trying to cultivate as an asset.
One cannot avoid feeling not just humbleness but plain fawning in this letter, incredible but true. Such was the real Hồ Chí Minh well kept in secrecy for many years, until now.
The Road to Moscow
At the start of World War I, he decided to quit seamanship and took up residence in Great Britain where he stayed until 1917. Employment was limited to shoveling snow, gardening, and kitchen helper at the Carlton Hotel. However, his friendship with the Chinese and Indian seamen in London gave him an opportunity to attend their Overseas Workers Association, a leftist organization advocating anti-colonialism. Karl Marx was already a name often mentioned to him, but not yet exemplary enough for him to revere.
It was probably at this time that a new notion entered his mind. He still retained the memory of the French rebuff of his request to enter the Ecole Coloniale (Colonial School). Therefore, if he could not join them, then why not fight them. A personal grudge minor in nature reappeared as a motive for a higher idealistic purpose. London was no place for a subject like anti-French colonialism to thrive. Ho went back to France at the end of 1917 at the height of a savage war that had already taken a heavy toll in the millions of lives.
It was also at a time when the Russian Revolution of November 1917 had caused significant reverberations throughout the world. However, Ho was still an unknown among the Vietnamese nationalists in France. One way to get himself in the act would be to associate with the famous, thus, he joined the crowd of numerous Vietnamese activists among them were Nguyễn Thế Truyền, Phan Chu Trinh, the latter incidentally was his father’s idol and already recommended to him in 1911 before he embarked the French liner in Saigon.
Life in Paris was not easy in postwar years although France had come out the victor. Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Nguyễn the Patriot, was to be his new pseudonym in his first venture into politics but he still had to gain his daily bread as a cook, a laundry boy, a gardener, whichever was needed. Finally, he decided on a more professionally respected independent occupation, that of being a photo finisher, wearing his classic dark suit at all time.
He was convinced that strong will and determination alone were not enough for the Vietnamese themselves to break the French yoke. The French Socialist party welcomed him, and being the only Vietnamese, he received the limelight usually reserved for better known members. However, Ho was already getting his inspiration from the Bolshevik Revolution. He was most attracted to the Third International [Communism] for their emphasis on the liberation of colonies as their basic objective.
Therefore, when the French Socialist party broke into right and left, Ho opted for the left, the Third International, and was qualified as a founding member of the French Communist party. He had found his spot in the world of the extreme left. From then on Ho engaged himself in serving the cause and the goal of Communism. He knew that if he had a part in Communist successes, the reward would be the realization of his own ambition.
Nguyễn the Patriot was ready. He ascended to "Nguyễn the agent of International Communism."
Pilgrimage to Leninism
His first break came when the French Communist party sent him to the Fourth Comintern Congress in Moscow, November and December 1922. His Oriental origin gave him special opportunities to meet Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, and Stalin. At this Congress, the Communist International, known as Comintern, decided to create the Southeast Asian Bureau, an unexpected opportunity for Ho to become an active member of Comintern.
He went back to Moscow in June 1923, to attend the Krestintern (Peasants’ International Congress) and was elected to Krestintern ten-man Executive Committee. Ho was now on firm land. He had acquired a position within a communist organization dedicated to free the colonies. He had secured the kind of backing no other Vietnamese nationalist could ever dream of. He was satiated with satisfaction and pride. He could act a little arrogantly toward his peers, even to his elders.
Ho returned to Moscow in early 1924 shortly after the death of Lenin, and managed to stay away from controversial activities during the fierce struggle for supremacy between Stalin and Trotsky. He received intensive training in Marxist-Leninist doctrine already reshaped according to Stalin’s whim. They knew him as Linov at the University of the Toilers of the East and as Lin at the Institute of National Colonial Affairs.
By 1925, he had received enough communist doctrine education to be assigned as an interpreter-secretary to the Mikhail Borodin Mission in China, at the time giving advice to the Chinese Nationalist Government under Chiang Kai Shek. Known as Lee Suei and assumed to be a Soviet citizen of Chinese descent he contacted many Vietnamese in Canton who knew him under the name of Lý Thụy, Vietnamese pronunciation of Lee Suei.
He was at a very opportune time. Canton was still in the midst of excitement about the attempted assassination of the French Governor in Indochina during his visit at Shamian (Xa-Diện) outside Canton by Phạm Hồng Thái. Phạm Hồng Thái was to become the only Vietnamese, the only non-Chinese, hero buried at the National Hero Memorial at Hoàng Hoa Cương together with seventy-two other heroes of the 1911 Chinese Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Ho had a captive audience of young nationalists, many of whom became members of the Indochinese Communist party, others, nonconformists, were betrayed to the French by Ho’s tactics of elimination of the unwanted and non-Communist revolutionaries.
It was also on this same year that Ho succeeded in neutralizing Phan Bội Châu and, also, earned money from the French Sureté.
Ho’s stay in China was to be interrupted suddenly by Chiang Kai-shek’s realization that the Borodin Mission was more interested in building up Communist Mao than to help his government.
Declared persona non grata, Ho had to follow Borodin back to Moscow. Except a brief assignment to Berlin, his whereabout was secret until he reappeared as a Buddhist monk in Siam (Thailand) in 1928. There was a sizable community of Vietnamese emigrants in Siam and by the efforts of Ho the monk, known under the name of Nguyễn Ái Quốc, many of these became the backbone cadres of the Thanh Niên, the Indochinese Communist party, the Lao Động party.
The Indochinese Communist Party
The Communist movement in Vietnam ushered in so many different groups that internecine struggle aimed at recognition by the Comintern was endangering the whole movement itself. To name a few, the Thanh niên, the Đông Dương Cộng Sản Đảng, the Tân Việt Cách Mạng Đảng, the Cao Vọng Thanh Niên Đảng, the An Nam Cộng Sản Đảng, the Đông Dương Cộng Sản Liên Đoàn.
The Executive Committee of the Communist International ordered Ho to take necessary action to stop all groups from divisive activities, and that Ho was to work out a unified party for Indochina. Ho left Siam for Hongkong in January 1930. His first real task for the Comintern was how to convene a Unification Conference in February. Ho’s talent for persuasion resulted in an amalgamation to be called the Việt Nam Cộng Sản Đảng (Vietnamese Communist Party). Nevertheless, the name did not please Moscow and by October 1930, it was changed to Đông Dương Cộng Sản Đảng (Indochinese Communist Party), a more international name covering larger territory.
When Joseph Ducroux and Hilaire Coulens, both French agents of the Comintern were arrested by the British police in Hongkong, they were found with documents exposing Nguyễn Aùi Quốc (Ho) as the man in charge of the Southern Section of the Comintern Far Eastern Bureau. That was enough proof for the British to arrest him. This was on June 5, 1931.
It was rumored later that he died of tuberculosis in a Hongkong jail. Obituary in the French l’Humaniteù, the British Daily Worker, and the Soviet media confirmed his death. Given his survival tactics based on his cooperation with the French police in the betrayal of Phan Bội Châu, his work under the payroll of the Chinese Kuomintang, his service with the American Office of Strategic Services (later the CIA) during World War II, it was believed that he had agreed to work for British Intelligence in exchange for his freedom, so, his disappearance and subsequent obituary in 1933. He was not to be seen or heard of any more until he resurfaced as Hồ Chí Minh which is his story in the next episode.
World War II: the Revival of Hồ Chí Minh
The "arranged death" through obituaries helped calm down somewhat serious concern about communism within the Vietnamese movement for independence.
The Japanese army invaded Vietnam on September 2, 1940, to close the Southern flank in their war against China. It was a boon for Ho to get back to open activities. More important, he had to regain Stalin’s trust.
Deep in the mountains of Northern Vietnam, in June 1941, hiding in the Pác Bố caves, Ho founded the Việt Nam Độc Lập Đồng Minh Hội (Vietnam Independence League) better known as the Việt-Minh. He invited some nationalist groups to join his League, thus, giving some semblance of a united front, however, positions of leadership were all reserved for Communists. His declarations and appeals stuck to the Marxist line also influenced the Chinese people already being pursued by Mao’s propaganda network. Therefore, Chiang Kai-shek government issued a secret order for his arrest.
In August 1942, Ho crossed the border into China disguising himself as a blind mountain tribesman of North Vietnam. A Chinese comrade at the frontier met him. Unfortunately, while Ho’s forged credentials appeared genuine, his Chinese comrade did not have the proper identification. Both of them landed in jail, and Ho decided to reveal his true identity as leader of the Việt Minh and offered his service to the Kuomintang in intelligence gathering.
The Governor of Kwangsi (Quảng Tây), General Chiang Fa-kuei (Trương Phát Khuê) immediately recognized Ho as the Soviet agent Lee Suei he had met often at the Borodin Mission several years back, therefore, he ordered Ho’s imprisonment as a suspect spying for the Vichy French.
While languishing from one jail to another, Ho tried and tried to find a way out. His opportunity came when Governor Chiang Fa-kuei was pressed hard by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek for more intelligence information about Japanese across the border in North Vietnam. Thus, Chiang Fa-kuei, in time of need, accepted Ho’s offer to provide intelligence on Japanese military movements, trading for his freedom. However, the names Nguyễn Aùi Quốc, Lee Suei, et al, were too well known in China. Ho suggested a solution, and Chiang took it.
Thereupon, Chiang Fa-kuei reported to his Generalissimo that there was a Vietnamese revolutionary leader by the name of Hồ Chí Minh willing to offer his services. Nobody cared about whom Hồ Chí Minh was as long as he could gather the necessary information on the Japanese. They released him on September 16, 1943, after more than a year in various jails. They paid him 100,000 Chinese dollars per month. His bad luck was over, prisoner one day, a revolutionary leader the next, and with ample money to squander.
However, Ho was more busy promoting his own cause than doing his job with Chiang Kai-shek. They judged his service unsatisfactory, therefore, the Chinese stopped all aids to him before the end of 1944. At this time, Ho had already targeted the Americans as a better source of assistance.
Ho’s Cooperation with the OSS
Many times in late 1944, Ho contacted Colonel Paul Helliwell, OSS Chief in China, offering services in intelligence, sabotage against the Japanese, and rescue of American pilots. On his first rescue of three American pilots he received six .38 revolvers and twenty thousand rounds of ammunition. He was disappointed at the small reward. Subsequently, he managed to talk to Richard Heppner, Helliwell’s replacement, and was somewhat more successful. However, an American intelligence Chief in the area had rejected Ho’s offer to be more closely associated with the Americans, i.e., to get bankrolled.
Nevertheless, the Americans agreed to have a limited cooperation on a mutually beneficial basis. Already warned ahead by the Chinese, American intelligence organizations could not afford to take a known Comintern agent under their wings. Also, they did not want to lose his services that, no matter how small, were still valuable, at least in the cases of rescuing American pilots shot down in Indochina.
The Soviet was his mentor and his boss. Ideological conviction attached him to them. He also understood the inability of the Soviet to provide adequate means for his activities. Therefore, true to any good Communist agent, self-subsistence was his way. And the Americans he met in China impressed him as representatives of a very rich country.
Ho’s Efforts with the Americans
He was very close to a "Lt. John" who had parachuted into his jungle hideout sometime in May 1945. John had a mobile radio that he used daily to communicate with the French and American Missions, and to forward any intelligence information that Ho’s men could gather. A few months together had developed into a mutual trust for the two. One day "Lt. John" received a note from Ho written in English with a request to forward. The note read as follows:
I feel weaker since you left. Maybe I’ll have to follow your advice -- moving to some other place where food is easy to get, to improve my health.
I’m sending you a bottle of wine, hope you like it.
Be so kind as to give me foreign news you got.
Please be good enuf to send to your H.Q. the following wires.
1. Daiviet plans to exercise large terror against French and push it upon shoulder of Viet Minh League, VML ordered two million members and all its population be watchful and stop Daiviet criminal plan when & if possible. VML declares to the world its aim is national independence, It fights with political & if necessary military means. But never resorts to criminal & dishonest act.
National Liberation Committee of VML
Ho’s crude invention about the Dai Viet terrorist plot was designed to use the French and the Americans against his most dangerous competitor and to gain international recognition in one move. The message was considered unworthy of attention and filed without action. His shrewd ploy ringed no sales. On the contrary, it had warned the Allies to be more careful dealing with this Moscow agent.
And Now, Chairman Ho
The collapse of the Japanese Empire on August 15, 1945, provided Ho with the best opportunity that his well-prepared ICP (Indochinese Communist Party) was waiting for months. French power had ceased to exist since March 9, 1945, overthrown by a Japanese military operation. Emperor Bảo Đại had declared Vietnam to be an independent nation on March 13, 1945, and that all treaties with France were to be void.
On August 19, 1945, Ho’s men pulled a coup d’état in Hanoi, forcing the government out of all buildings and declared the occasion "the August Revolution." Ho also forced Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate and Prime Minister Trần Trọng Kim to surrender his administration to the Revolution.
Chairman Ho, of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, introduced himself to the crowd in Hanoi on September 2, 1945, through his Declaration of Independence of Vietnam.
The next few months were to mark one of the most brutal communist takeovers. Nationalists were targeted for assassination. Trotskyists were considered even more dangerous opponents and were marked for liquidation and outright execution. Among the victims was the famous Tạ Thu Thâu, a popular Trotskyist and friend of Hồ Chí Minh, who had just visited Chairman Ho a few days earlier. Friendship with Ho was no guarantee against ideological differences.
Ho had managed to exterminate more patriots within a few months than the French could in a hundred years. By the standard of Communist operations, however, Ho was no more and no less brutal than his counterparts in the Communist world such as China’s Mao, or Russia’s Stalin, or East Germany’s Honecker.
For Chairman Ho, he was now the leader of a nation. Despite all the problems, none was critical enough to endanger his regime. However, he could not get recognition from any country. Even his master the Soviet Union refused to satisfy his request. Actually, more than four years later, Communist China was the first to recognize Ho’s Vietnam in early January 1950. Moscow did so a few weeks later on January 30, 1950. Rumor had it that Stalin did not like the way Ho flirted with the Americans during the months before and after Japan’s surrender.
Therefore, from September 1945, to January 1950, Ho’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was a nonentity. Ironically, the only country that gave it a de factorecognition was France in negotiations and in war.
Ho’s Flirting with French Colonialist
For one who vowed to fight French Colonialism, Ho’s actions were indeed not in line with his pledge. Proof of his double-dealing tactics could be found in the below document that Ho had requested delivery care of the OSS to the Free French Mission in July 1945:
We, the Viet Minh League, ask that the following points be announced by the French and observed in their future policy in Indochina:
1. A parliament shall be elected by universal suffrage. It shall legislate for the country. A French governor shall exercise the functions of president until our independence is assured. This president shall choose a cabinet or group of advisers approved by the parliament. The precise powers of these organs will be delineated in the future.
2. Independence shall be given to this country in a minimum of five years and a maximum of ten.
3. The natural resources of this country shall be returned to its inhabitants after making just compensation to their present holders. France shall be given economic concessions.
4. All liberties proclaimed by the United Nations shall be guaranteed to Indochinese.
5. The sale of opium shall be prohibited.
We hope that these conditions will be judged acceptable by the French government.
At a date when Vietnam was already an independent state since March 13, 1945, Hồ Chí Minh attempted to make a deal whereat the French would continue to reign over Indochina for another five to ten years. He even suggested that the French Governor be the President for that duration.
Also, nowhere in his proposal did he mention Vietnam, another proof of his international commitment to Communism.
His games did not stop there. When the Vietnamese people resisted the return of the French in the South, Ho, fearing the rise of other nationalist groups, ordered the elimination of non-Communists mostly by assassination. However, his most improper action was an agreement to allow the French Expeditionary Corps to land in North Vietnam that he signed on March 6, 1946, known as the Accords Préliminaires. The Vietnamese people would have to fight these same French troops for the next eight years.
On May 27, 1946, Hồ Chí Minh and his entourage headed for France. They were in Paris a month later on June 27, 1946, to start negotiations with France, to be known as the Fontainebleau Conference. Nothing came out of it.
On the night of September 14, 1946, Ho humbly went to the private home of Foreign Minister Marius Moutet and signed a Modus Vivendi, an empty gesture.
On September 16, 1946, Ho embarked the French sloop Dumont-d’Urville for the trip home. He arrived at Haiphong on October 21, 1946.
For a country at war against the return of colonialism, when battles raged in the Mekong Delta and the same French army that Ho had agreed to their return was attacking and occupying one city after another in North Vietnam, being away almost five months was rather strange for the top leader of a nation in crisis, many weeks on a French ship. One must wonder why not four days by plane, instead. Why did he spend so much time with the French Navy? Did he try again to make some kind of deal with them without success? These secrets are somewhere in the piles of documents in the French Archives waiting to be found.
His diplomatic venture to Paris was a capital disaster for Ho. He gave away too much, practically everything the French wanted. He got nothing back.
In Vietnam, his Lao Động Party faced widespread hostilities. The word Việt Gian was applied to him in anti-Ho leaflets. It was a bitter experience for Ho, the kind of experience that required drastic measure to save his communist assets and to rebuild his popularity.
On December 19, 1946, less than two months after his return, Ho declared war against the French. Immediately, the people rallied behind him. The Vietnamese people had put aside all domestic differences to uphold the idealistic nationalistic struggle against the French. Ironically, it was French Colonialism that saved Ho.
The Courting of America
Ho was a master at making people like him. Most American officers who had dealt with Ho had shown strong sympathy for him and his Viet Minh. Major Patti was probably the most enthusiastic one. Assigned as head of the OSS team in Hanoi, together with General Gallagher of the U.S. South China Command who accompanied the Chinese Army entering Indochina to disarm the Japanese, Major Buckley of the State Department, and other officers, all of them supported Ho.
Major Buckley organized the Vietnamese-American Friendship Association. Major Patti promised U.S. support in exchange for economic privileges. General Gallagher suggested that the Donovan financial group be given the task of repairing and building railroad, highways, and airfields. Something déjà vu for 1997 researchers and scholars. Capitalism never changed.
Meanwhile, Washington’s official line was to avoid Ho. American intelligence was well aware of Ho’s Communist connections. Americans in Hanoi were told to be neutral in words and in deeds.
Ho desperately needed U.S. recognition because only an American blessing would give any guarantee to his position and his young Communist state. He was intelligent enough to feel the cool and distant attitude of the Americans, however, he kept on his efforts until total war broke out against the French on December 19, 1946.
In a two hour long conversation with Major Frank White of the OSS in December 1945, Ho had confided that the Indochinese Communist party had saved many American pilots, that he did not believe the Soviet Union would give him adequate aid, but he would continue to hope for U.S. assistance though American policies would not allow aid to communist countries.
His courting of America was a failure, not because he was incompetent, but because it was a divided world and he was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
Today, half a century later, his heirs are again trying to court America, but they possess neither his talent in public relations, nor his intelligence in dealing with abnormal circumstances.
Relating it in a few pages the findings about a man that for more than half a century millions of words had described him in a legendary way would be impossible. Both Stalin and Mao have had their share of revelation. Many readers have displayed surprise at the true faces of these men. The real surprise, however, was that in the past, many opponents of theirs have exposed their crimes without success, and were even accused of having biased opinion.
Their own colleagues unmasked Stalin and Mao and without any pity, because both of them had ceased to remain assets to their successors. In the case of Hồ Chí Minh, his heirs now sitting in Hanoi are mostly incompetent party line parrots, they would not survive five minutes if they dared uncover the secrets about Ho. Therefore, they have to hang on to his preserved body as the only anchor holding down the communist ship from drifting away to the nowhere.
Just to mention an example as an end to these pages: A few years ago, in 1992, the weekly Tuổi Trẻ published in Saigon had an article about Ho’s love life while he was in China, and, to show the human side of "Uncle Ho" also capable of romance as any ordinary folks, they printed a letter written in Chinese from Ho to his woman as proof. Well, you guessed it. The publisher lost her job, and what else as punishment, it remains a "state secret."
Trần Đức Thanh-Phong
Note: The few selected authentic documents and anecdotes referred to herein were found in the archives of several countries a result of researches and studies made by several dedicated scholars in search of the truth. My modest contribution in this article is limited to my improved understanding of Hồ Chí Minh thanks to the works of these researchers, to whom I wish to express my deep appreciation and my apologies for quoting their works without prior approval. I am sure they would be more than pleased to know that the younger generation will benefit greatly by discovering the historic truth about a man responsible for communist glories and national disasters.
Mr. Trần Đức Thanh Phong resides in Cypress, California. A lecturer, researcher, and a regular commentator on the Voice of Vietnamese Radio Program. This article is a compilation of his research and many published articles. The Editor would like to thank Mr. Tran for his contribution to this special Tet issue of Non Song.
Mr. Trần Đức Thanh Phong resides in Cypress, California. A lecturer, researcher, and a regular commentator on the Voice of Vietnamese Radio Program. This article is a compilation of his research and many published articles. The Editor would like to thank Mr. Tran for his contribution to this special Tet issue of Non Song.