Vietnam: Retrospective Part 3 of 8
No, Ho Chi Minh is nothing like George Washington. I should know. Washington and I share a birthdate, and I was reminded of this fact every year in the form of a cake embellished with cherries alluding to the myth of Washington cutting down his father's cherry tree and then owning up to it. As I studied history, I was fascinated to learn that Washington was far more complex and interesting as a real man. The myths fabricated to endear him to the citizenry and elevate him to giant proportions were distracting to me. I can imagine the same being true of any Vietnamese child learning about Bac Ho – Uncle Ho.
“Truth is what is beneficial to the Fatherland and to the people. What is detrimental to the interests of the Fatherland and people is not truth. To strive to serve the Fatherland and the people is to obey the truth.” - Volume IV of Ho Chi Minh's Selected Works, from a 1956 speech.
In fact, it’s difficult to find any parallels between the Father of America and the Father of Vietnam. For the Father of America to be compared to Ho, Washington would have had to have begun his career engineering the slaughter of American revolutionaries.
Ho Chi Minh was abroad during the Second World War. He studied in America, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. He returned to France to help form the Communist Party there, and then returned to Vietnam when the war ended. The Vietnamese Nationalists welcomed him as a hero until they learned that Ho had signed agreements with the French allowing them to return with armed forces to reclaim the colony Japan had driven them from. The Nationalists fled to the hills and formed a revolutionary army, the Viet Minh, to fight for independence. Ho followed with French and Vietnamese forces bent on annihilating them.
Ho's problem with the Nationalists was that they were not fighting for a communist state. Once he eradicated their leadership, he was able to transform the Viet Minh into a communist revolutionary army.
Ho's history is also out of step with Washington's in that he did not suffer the privations and dangers of the battlefield. I'm not claiming that he was a coward. Ho simply was not up to the rigors of the battlefield. He suffered from tuberculosis. Other Vietnamese heroes led the front-line fight against the French and later the Americans.
Ho then made his move to take command of the Viet Minh. Using his connections with the Soviets, he was able to offer them the promise of virtually unlimited funding and supplies. It was an offer they could not afford to reject. Once embedded as their new leader, Ho refashioned the Viet Minh (Free Vietnamese) into the Viet Cong (Red Vietnamese).
With the defeat of the French foreign legion at Diem Ben Phu, the opposing sides met in Geneva to fashion a peace treaty. Ho was clearly upset that non-communist leaders from the Viet Minh sent their own representatives to the meeting. After much dickering, an agreement was fashioned to divide Vietnam into a communist enclave in the north and an anti-communist enclave in the south.
The agreement crafted in Geneva also provided for free elections to unify the country at a later date. This provision of the treaty was seriously flawed inasmuch as the country was to be divided into two irreconcilable halves.
The parties also agreed to allow Vietnamese to choose which half they wanted to live in. Ho was confident that his cause would prevail. However, he was greatly disappointed when hundreds of thousands queued up to flee communism. Ho was forced to allow a token amount to make the trek so as to appear to honor the accord.
One must wonder: What caused so many to flee communism? Why can’t communism exist without the leadership of a strong tyrant and enforced loyalties?