On the occasion of commemorations for the 30th Anniversary of the liberation of Saigon, we publish a work on the life and work of the founder of Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh. By rejecting all compromises that led astray part of his own generation, Ho Chi Minh restlessly fought imperialism, either coming from Japan, France or the United States. He became one of the major symbols of independence struggle in the 20th century.
- French President Georges Bidault greets Ho Chi Minh in 1946 following the acknowledgement by France of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam
Nobody could have imagined on September 2, 1945, that that slight-built man with the graying beard, known by various names, among them Ho Chi Minh – that man who remains inseparably linked to the history of the world – would become one of the exceptional figures of Asia in the 20th century.
That September day, from the Ba Dinh Plaza in the center of Hanoi, North of Vietnam and the country’s capital, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed to the world the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In a relatively short time from that date, people would learn of the exceptional gifts of the revolutionary as a strategist. He was a renovator of his time – that fact was already known – at least in Paris, Moscow, China, and in his own country, although nobody grasped the extent of his vision, tenacity and power to unite an entire nation for a tremendous struggle against the strong redoubts of French colonialism, and later against powerful U.S. imperialism. But that vision and capacity for strategy would amaze the world.
There is film footage of the period that attests to that image of Ba Dinh Plaza, filled to overflowing with people listening to Ho Chi Minh proclaim the Republic over a microphone in a circular frame. World War II was ending. The Allies had defeated the Nazis; France, the metropolis of many overseas nations, was also liberated to a certain extent, General de Gaulle was the great hero of the Resistance. That was the tactical moment for the revolutionary Ai Quog, or Ho Chi Minh, to assume all the power of his leadership among his people and proclaim the independence of his country from North to South. It should be said that Vietnam had just suffered a cruel battle against the Japanese, emboldened as a central part of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis determined to take over the world. Millions of Vietnamese people perished. Being occupied by Germany, France was unable to offer even crumbs to offset the famine, as the metropolis interested in its colonial territory strategically located in South East Asia and south of China.
That was the general situation in Vietnam when Ho Chi Minh and his comrades from the Communist Party of Indochina and subsequently of Vietnam, founded by him, proclaimed a sovereign and independent republic, which was willing to help liberate its sister colonies of Laos and Cambodia as soon as it was humanly possible.
One cannot talk responsibly of the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam – today’s the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – without highlighting the political wisdom and knowledge of the life in the colonies possessed by Ho Chi Minh. Being still very young, while in Paris, he was one of the founding members of the French Communist Party and, from the heart of the organization, advocated the liberation of the French colonies overseas, to the shock of his comrades, although many of them finally understood him. He was fully aware of the situation of the colonies, including those in Africa, since he traveled to those countries as a kitchen hand and simple sailor on board a cargo ship that docked in those ports; he was 22 at that time. He also suffered abuse on board a French warship that anchored in the Shameen inlet in the French territory of Canton.
As mentioned above he lived in Paris as a journalist and portrait painter. He was an restless reader. At that time he was the young Nguyen Ai Quoc, who traveled from Paris to Moscow in 1923 to attend the 5th International Communist Congress as a representative of the French Communist Party, which was already concerned over the revolutionary movement in the colonies. Right there he committed himself to the mission of taking part in the Chinese revolution and stirring up the revolutionary movement in his own country. His first step was to found the Association of Young Revolutionaries of Vietnam. Later he was imprisoned and given up for dead in China, though he was not dead and returned to Vietnam.
This simple account of his revolutionary undertakings is directed at sustaining a great truth: Ho Chi Minh was a man with highly advanced ideas, backed up by the experience of struggle and knowledge of his world in the times he lived and since his very early youth. He was an educated person, the son of teachers, who knew the Vietnamese and the Chinese languages, as well as French and was able to make himself perfectly understood in Russian. When we interviewed him in Hanoi a few months before his death, he spoke to us in perfect Spanish and explained that he had learnt some Spanish phrases during his stay at so many ports.
It was still a time of joy at the victory of the Allies when France on its on decision and encouraged by the United States, launched a war to retake its colonies; Vietnam first. And with that action, an impressive war began between a hungry and barely armed people and the colonial army supported by the victorious U.S. army. The event was no surprise for Ho Chi Minh and his close collaborators, then legendary General Giap, Phan Van Dong, Le Duan and others. A popular army of peasants, in its vast majority, stood up to the might of the forces of the re-conquest. And that the way the story goes. The fighting extended throughout the North and South of Vietnam, but it was in Dien Bien Phu where the best trained colonial forces at that time suffered their total defeat in 1954. The Vietnamese combatants even entered the office of the general who led the French troops and arrested him.
- Ho Chi Minh (on the right), with Vo Nguyen Giap, who perhaps was the major military strategist of the 20th century
It appeared that after such a huge victory Vietnam could develop itself and live in peace as one united family – as it had always been the case – from North to South. However, the prevailing alliance between the United States and France in that context and time, supported by a wealthy group of Vietnamese traitors, forced a change in the situation.
In virtue of the accords that put an end to war and with it, the end of French colonialism in Vietnam, the troops of the metropolis were expected to withdraw and gather south of Parallel 17 in order to leave for their country. The accord set a period of time during which the withdrawal of those troops would take place, but wasting no time, the Americans supported the South Vietnamese "provisional" government with supplies of arms and showers of cash in order to strengthen it and thus keep Vietnam divided.
To the north, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with its capital Hanoi, and to the south, the Republic of South Vietnam, with its capital Saigon. The maneuver was not an easy one, given the immense power ranged against the North, which was still fighting hunger and training an army that could stand up to any threat. And, in addition to that, the ideals of Ho Chi Minh and the vanguard of the Communist Party of Vietnam: education for the people, all possible kind of social improvement, unity of the people, whatever their religious associations or mountain ethnicities; the strengthening of the administrative institutions, and the development of the incipient industry, starting with energy – coal – and ports, among other basic premises.
In parallel, Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party in the DRV took up those ideas for which they had fought. They would soon discover that revolutionaries in the South were organizing into guerrilla groups. These revolutionaries had support, while Ho Ch Minh in person met with Nguyen Thi Dinh, a woman from the Bentré area. A bridge was established and set up at dizzying speed, along with a road that was unimaginable to the enemy, a real road, the famous Ho Chi Minh road, which crossed rivers, mountains, and the seemingly impenetrable forest.
The liberation war in the South was already a fact. The motto of Ho Chi Minh was exactly the one standing from the very beginning: One Vietnam. Artificially divided, Vietnam had to be reunited.
It was the most genocidal war of the 20th century, unleashed by a superpower with a sophisticated army of air, sea and land forces against a small country. Chemical weapons, fragmentation bombs, Agent Orange, live phosphorus, napalm and even an electronic curtain – rapidly and ingeniously penetrated by the Vietnamese – were deployed for more than 10 years against South Vietnam and against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in a merciless aerial bombardment. A conservative counting of Vietnamese victims amounts to two million. As for the U.S. forces, there were so many thousands casualties that the empire was shaken. The Vietnam syndrome inspired movies. The war on Vietnam produced the most brutal images that were seen up until then in such an unequal war. In response to indiscriminate aerial bombings, the Vietnamese used elements that included bamboo traps in the jungle that terrified the well-armed U.S. soldiers, or tamed wasps – that is no joke – it is for real. Ho Chi Minh called this, tactically and strategically speaking: "The war of all the people" for national salvation, freedom, sovereignty and reunification. That concept gave birth to a military doctrine.
- The civilian population: first victims of US strategic mass bombings during the whole war.
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam founded on September 2, 1945, not only became a theoretical reality but a firm and indestructible one. One fine day, September 30, 1975, 30 yeas ago, TV channels across the world showed an unprecedented event: the elite troops of the United States running terrified across rooftops and anywhere that a helicopter could hover so as to hang onto its slides or any other part and flee Vietnam. It was a stampede; there was no order whatsoever in the retreat, although the Vietnamese had opened an office in Paris some years previously and established formal diplomatic contact between the U.S. government and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, acknowledged as a political entity with all the prerogatives of a government.
- Evacuation, by helicopter, of US citizens from a Saigon hotel roof in 1975
The talks were presided over by the well-known Madame Thi Binh by press reports. Her name, Nguyen Thi Dinh was similar to that of a peasant woman who rose up in Bentré and who became a vice-commander in chief of the NLF.
It should be recorded that this revolutionary undertaking, whose author was Ho Chi Minh, encouraged the development of a solidarity movement throughout the world. Cuba was the first country in the world to recognize South Vietnam’s NLF and to found the first Solidarity Committee with South Vietnam, which also extended to Laos and Cambodia. The most progressive forces of intellectuals, artists, scientists and professors worldwide joined forces in an International War Crimes Tribunal instigated by Nobel Prize Winner Bertrand Russell, which conducted sessions in Stockholm, Denmark, Paris and other cities. Men and women of goodwill in the United States, including – as already mentioned – soldiers who fought in Vietnam, became a significant factor of solidarity with that little nation brutally attacked by the greatest power in the world.
The man who proclaimed the Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945, had already died September 3, 1969 and thus he could not see the colossal victory of his people, but the political testament that he left, written shortly before his death, was a mandate: "Vietnam will be free, independent and sovereign, the enemy will be defeated, and the Vietnamese people will build a Vietnam 10 times more beautiful. It must be united.” So certain of victory was he that he wrote in his testament: "Our country will have the outstanding honor of being a little nation that, through heroic struggle, would have defeated two great imperialist powers – the French and the American – and thus would have made a worthy contribution to the national liberation movement."
And as his last will he proclaimed: "My only wish is that our Party and people, closely united in struggle, build a peaceful, unified, independent, democratic and prosperous Vietnam, and make a valuable contribution to world Revolution." (Hanoi, May 10, 1969.)
Article originally published by Cuba’s Granma Internacional.