To many people, Ho Chi Minh was not only a great leader, but also a father figure in the eyes of the Vietnamese. He was a man who was born a peasant, but died an icon and hero. Ho Chi Minh’s perseverance helped make him a key figure in the history of Vietnam. He remains a fascinating figure in history. Ho’s supporters called and referred to him as “Uncle Ho”. He was respected because he was humble and smart. Ho Chi Minh worked hard throughout his life to achieve his goals despite many difficulties and hardships.
Ho has had a tough life right from the start. His father was one of the illegitimate children of Ho’s grandfather. Ho’s father, Nguyen Sinh Huy, was a peasant. The family lived in near-poverty as peasants, but Ho’s father had a high intelligence level, attending the school in his village when he was a young man. Nguyen was so interested in learning that when his teacher moved, Nguyen moved with him. Ho’s father had obviously committed a large portion of his life to education. This commitment attracted the attention of Hoang Thi Loa, Ho’s mother. They eventually married and had three children. Ho Chi Minh was the youngest of the three, born in a village indirectly controlled by the French. Generally speaking, usually a French lord controlled the economic and political infrastructure of the local government, usually to benefit himself, seeing as Vietnam was still part of French Indochina then.
As he matured, Ho became aware of the deep resentment many Vietnamese people held toward the French. In the area where Ho grew up, intellectuals began organizing rebellions against the French government. Vietnam had suffered hundreds of years of colonization under France, enduring abuses and neglect. Many were ready to break the trend. The environment Ho lived in greatly affected his future thoughts and actions. The revolutionist attitude he saw in his hometown would later shape what he would become.
Ho Chi Minh did not stay in Vietnam his entire life. On the contrary, he traveled the world and spent much of his life outside of the country. When he was 15 years old, Ho went to a Franco-Annamite school. Franco denotes French influence, while Annamite is the region in Vietnam where that school was. Ho studied French at the school, eventually becoming an expert. This knowledge helped him get a job at Phan Thiet University teaching it. Knowing French also helped in the future communicating with France he would do later on. Next, Ho went to London.
He worked as a mess boy there and eventually joined the Overseas Workers Association, an organization of Asian people who protested colonialism. In 1917, he traveled to Paris, where he earned a living retouching photographs. Photography however, was not one of the most ‘respectable’ jobs, and thus he could not afford to enjoy some of the fine luxuries in Paris that others did; the only thing Ho could afford to indulge in were cigarettes, preferably Camels or Lucky Strikes. While in Paris, he changed his name to Nguyen Ai Quoc, meaning “Nguyen the Patriot”.
This was the second of the many aliases he took during his life. Many reasons lay behind the name changes. Ho took some because he thought they fitted his patriotic views, while others were taken because his enemies knew of the previous name. The many antagonists, too many to name under one country, that disliked and despised Ho’s political views and revolutionist ideas. He was a scheming revolutionary who pretended to be well meaning and concerned about the welfare of people in order to manipulate enemies and rivals and set the stage for the creation of a totalitarian regime.
During World War I, Ho moved to the United States and lived in new York City’s Harlem… he witnessed white on black racism and wrote a pamphlet entitled The Black Race, noting similarities between the African-American and Vietnamese experiences, which seemed to be comparable. Both had suffered years of oppression and abuse. The French put down Buddhism in Vietnam and strongly enforced Catholicism. African-Americans also suffered abuse with lynching and segregation. These shared traits were very intriguing to Ho and strengthened his will for independence.
After WWI, Ho went to Paris to attend the Versailles Peace Conference, where he intended to present a plan for Vietnam’s independence. Ho was not even able to get inside. Feeling shunned by the Allies, he then turned to communism as the best hope for his country. Strangely enough, Ho’s decision join communism might have been prevented if the Allies had not been so careless. All Ho was asking for was a little acceptance and somebody who would listen. Instead he got the cold shoulder and a friendly boot to the rear. This was just the beginning of his long crusade for freedom.
While Ho was in France, he joined and founded many organizations, all opposed to colonialism, such as the French Socialist Party, the French Communist Party, the
International Colonial Union, and the Intercolonial Union. These organizations provided Ho an opportunity to study models of government that might preserve Vietnam’s noncommercial culture. Ho also went to the Soviet Union, the center of the communist world. He studied the revolutionary techniques and the philosophy of German intellectual Karl Marx. In Moscow, Ho became an authority on communist and socialist government and sharpened his leadership skills. In 1925, Ho went to China to spread information about the communist movement. He gathered many Vietnamese refugees in China and made a youth group of the revolutionaries.
Ho was always in constant danger of being imprisoned for his revolutionary activities. Many people, communist and noncommunist alike, did not have warm feelings toward Ho in his campaign for Vietnam’s independence. Most of these people viewed him as another radical who would not succeed his cause. They believed that there was no point in supporting Ho. This would bring many problems later as friendly relations with other countries are just what Ho would need.
WWII soon started in the coming years. Ho went to Vietnam and formed the Vietminh. The Vietminh was one of the groups that challenged the Japanese and later the French, during their occupation. Ho also helped Mao Zedong bring a communist revolution to China. While he was in China, Ho completed his plan for Vietnam’s revolution. The US, being against communism, naturally reacted by taking the other side.
The US’ reaction was to send supplies and eventually troops to noncommunist South Vietnam. The main reason behind the US opposition to communism is because a Communist takeover usually results in civilian deaths by the government, a violation of human rights. As the South was originally a democracy, it failed and was replaced by a military dictatorship. Yet the US continued to support it. The redundant support the US gave was hypocritical. In time, Ho Chi Minh’s ideology convinced many Vietnamese that communism was right for them. Although Ho’s revolution was successful, his reform policies were not. His most significant failure was modeled on land redistribution and collectivization schemes developed by the Chinese communists they were moreover, very unpopular with the peasants. Ho’s government killed an estimated 5,000 people to make the policy stay. Problems from the French also started to form.
France, wanting to keep its territory of resource-rich Indochina, sent troops to assure it. France and the Vietnamese signed an agreement after fighting broke out due to tensions. However, negotiations broke down and fighting resumed. The Vietminh, with their superior skills in guerilla warfare, defeated the French at Dien Bein Phu in 1954. On September 2, 1945, the Vietminh defeated the French at Hanoi. Ho declared the country an independent state and became the new nation’s first president. There was no official election, but in the succeeding years the high-ranking officials repeatedly appointed him as president, twice.
Achieving peace would be a long and tiresome process, as Ho still had many problems that lay ahead. The US then stepped in when Ho wanted to reunite the country under communism. The US, blinded by its belief of superiority, never anticipated the number of soldiers they would have to commit to even attempt to stop the spread of communism. Ho’s guerilla tactics proved increasingly successful as US gains diminished while casualties rose.
Even after these problems, the US still held on, supporting South Vietnam, but eventually a surprise attack in central Vietnam in 1968 finally convinced US officials that winning the war would be too costly. The US began negotiations to stop the fighting. The US finally realized its limits throughout the world. Ho Chi Minh had finally accomplished what he had set so many years aside to do: free Vietnam. However, Ho could not prevent one thing: aging. Now in his mid-70’s, the once valiant revolutionist was now becoming an elderly grandfather.
On September 3, 1969, after being ill for several weeks, Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack at the age of 79. Although Ho did not live to see Vietnam free of all aggressors, he did gain the independence of North Vietnam. Ho had actually wanted to have his ashes buried in urns on three hilltops in Vietnam, but instead his colleagues put his embalmed body in an eerie mausoleum. This was to serve as a permanent reminder of the one person that changed Vietnam forever and helped it gain independence.
Even though not everybody in the world agreed with his ideology, Ho was able to win the respect of many people, communist and noncommunist alike, with his excellent skills in charisma and intelligence, while remaining modest. Ho Chi Minh was a dedicated revolutionary who never married, but he was widely viewed in North Vietnam as the father of his country and often referred to as Uncle Ho.
Many Vietnamese today see Ho Chi Minh as the very soul of the Vietnamese revolution and the country’s long struggle for independence. His personal qualities of simplicity, integrity, and determination brought him respect and admiration not only in Vietnam, but all over the world. He is a patriotic figure who used Communist doctrine and strategy as a means of freeing his people, but whose basic instincts were humanitarian and democratic. Whatever the arguments are about the smaller details of Ho, there is absolutely no dispute that he was one of those people that worked their hardest to achieve what they wanted.