1. Declaration of Independence

The Pacific War ended in August 1945. With France unable to accept the Japanese surrender (being knackered) and other Allied forces weeks away from establishing a presence in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was free (even encouraged by OSS) to launch his “August Revolution.”

Took advantage of popular support to enter Hanoi and pronounce on 29th of August 1945, the Provisional Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Declaration of Independence came on 2nd September 1945.
  • Ho quoted parts of the American Declaration of Independence.
    • “All men are created equal.”
    • Talked about “unalienable rights” of human beings
    • Band played the Star Spangled Banner.
    • US air force flyby.

Wrote to Washington to secure US recognition for the DRV.

2. The French War (1946-1954)

  • French riot in Saigon and kill 150 people
  • British General Douglas Gracey frees French prisoners, uses Japanese, French and British forces to attack Vietminh.
  • Chinese invade Tonkin (North Vietnam)
  • British withdraw to see to their own colonial empire.

February 1946 agreement with France sees China withdraw from Tonkin.

While he had 35 000 troops under his command, French General Jacques Philippe Leclerc wanted to negotiate with Vietminh.
  • Franco-Vietnam Accords of March 1946 saw Vietnam divided in two. Ho reluctantly accepts. – Why? – Because he wanted China out more.
    • History of arduous struggle with China. “The last time the Chinese came, they stayed a thousand years! … The French are foreigners. They are weak. Colonialism is dying. The white man is finished in Asia.” Calculated risk.

War breaks out in October 1946 following increasing tension between Ho and the new RW French Govt. Massacre of 6000 at Haiphong catalyses the war.

Ho’s role: formulation of policy and symbol of national resistance to French.

Early French strategy: kill or capture Ho Chi Minh. àdemonstrates his importance to the movement.
  • Ho eluded them despite French killing several thousand Vietminh.

Ho Chi Minh adopted the doctrine of waging a ‘People’s War’ àMao’s influence.
  • Vietminh used respite in hostilities from 1948-50 to rebuild their forces and launch an education and indoctrination program in northern Vietnam.

Fighting went on. French had 10 000 by October 1950.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu
  • Nov 1953: French amass troops at forces at a base in NW Vietnam to lure the Vietminh into a costly battle and defeat.
  • French had logistical problems
  • Set up artillery bases to cover and obliterate potential ‘waves’ of troop attacks.
  • However, Giap saw that he only had to attack the three artillery bases (‘Isabelle’, ‘Beatrice’ and ‘Gabrielle’ – named after Castries’ mistrisses.)
  • Disassembled their artillery, moved in and reassembled 150mm guns for assault.
  • Artilleried the air strip àreinforcement from Americans impossible
  • Took two artillery outposts (Gab and Beat) then turned on the base.
  • Dug trenches and tunnels.
  • By early March, Giap had 200 000 troops and workers to work with.

Impact àAmerican intervention considered. Eisenhower attempts to sell Domino Theory to public. Britain does not support. No intervention.

Base fell on 7th May. Castries and 10 000 French taken prisoner.

oGave Ho more bargaining power for upcoming 1954 Geneva conference: great powers’ discussion about Asia.
oHumiliated French – decisively beaten by a formerly denigrated opponent at a ‘conventional’ battle.
oToppled French Govt.
oCost too great to maintain possession of Indochina.

By 1954, 70% of the war had been funded by the United States.
3. The Geneva Conference (May-July 1954)

Comparing the agendas of the major powers:

- Independence
- No dominance by US, China or Moscow
- Political recognition and support though.
- Ceasefire, foreign policy of “peaceful coexistence.”
- Withdrawal of French
- Guarantees against US involvement
- 4 yrs into Mao, not pushing international communism.
- Spread Communism
- Compromise and conciliation with US (keen to avoid direct confrontation)

- Lost War
- Cost too great to fight on
- $2 trillion Francs of debt
- Economic prosperity
- Prevent communism
- Felt ‘bullied’ by the Americans.
- World superpower.
- Eisenhower fears ‘aggressive communism’
- Containment.
- Interventionist, SE Asia: important for capitalism.
- Not a great deal of home support though.
- Avoid another world war
- France out of Indochina
- Colonial interests
- Sensed Vietnam struggle was primarily about independence, not arm of USSR.

Results of the Geneva conference:
  • Vietnam divided down the 17th Parallel.
  • French have nominal control of half the country.
  • Provisions for general elections in 1956 àNever held.

In the eyes of the people, French had lost their “Mandate of Heaven” àright to rule when Japanese overthrew them.

Ho Chi Minh plays an important role as “compromise negotiator” active behind the scenes, instrumental in decision to accept compromise peace settlement in July (S Kutler) àSpoke personally with Zhao Enlai who favoured this option.
  • Came in with a strong bargaining power – Dien Bien Phu
  • Aimed to secure Russian and Chinese recognition and support but not let either dominate.
  • Strong demands, but fallback position.
  • Biding his time: refers to residents living in areas “temporarily occupied by the enemy”.

Unification was central to Ho’s philosophy.

Diplomatic failure for USA ‘lost’ half of Vietnam to Communists.

4. The Second Indochina War (The Vietnam War) [The American War]

Important role in formulating policy between the wars.
  • Agreed with the decision to advance towards a socialist society.
  • Insisted on maintaining ties with both Russia and China.
    • Many within the party wanted to discard USSR and ally closer with China, but Ho remembered Russia’s prior help and support and the nationalist in him riled against the

Ho took an active role in the decision to return to a policy of revolutionary war in the South in 1959 i.e. the start of the war.
  • Supplied the National Liberation Front (NLF) a.k.a. the communist insurgents in the South with military aid and support.
  • E.g. Guerilla tactics used in the south. NLF called Viet Cong by southerners and Americans.

Ho’s presidency confirmed in 1959 Constitution.
Party Secretary-Generalship given to Le Duan in 1960.

With failing health, “his role in decision making was primarily ceremonial” (S Kutler)

Rise of Politicians in ICP
  • Pham Van Dong – Prime Minister (Responsible for political policies)
  • Le Duan – ICP secretary-general. (Likewise)
  • Truong Chinh – Powerful figure in the Politburo (second-in-command ICP)
  • General Vo Nguyen Giap – Chief military strategist.

War Years (1960-1975)

Ho more active internationally than domestically.
  • Actively promoted Vietnamese internationally.
  • Paris Peace talks of 1968 àasked for no foreigners and a unified country.
  • Conducted correspondence with US presidents about the war.
  • Media – US people “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, dare to struggle, dare to win!”

Tried to maintain a balanced relationship w/ powerful communist allies USSR & China.
  • Military aid from both
  • Russia supplied MiG fighters and surface-to-air missiles.

Insisted continuation of fighting and took a position in the conflict.
o Message to the people: “nothing is as dear to the heart of the Vietnamese as independence and liberation” àbecame motto for the cause in Vietnam.

Died on September 3 1969, never to see the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.
After his death, Hanoi’s relations with China deteriorated rapidly, symbolizing Ho’s importance.

5. Role and Impact as a revolutionary and war leader
As Brocheux explains, he was neither a strategist bent over a geological survey map, (although he did seem to have a profound sense for timing) nor was he the general moving his forces about like a chessmaster.

“He was more the scholar-philosopher” – Peter Cochrane, Vietnam’s avuncular dictator.
“He led the war of resistance by drawing on his philosophy of human relations” – Ibid.

Preferred face-to-face encounters, direct dialogue, correspondence, recited proverbs rather than presenting arguments based on the rules of the Marxist dialectic.

M N Roy described his politics as “nationalism painted red”.

As a revolutionary leader, was primarily involved in policy making (although due to declining health, conceded that role in …) and as a symbol of national resistance.

Bui Tin describes Ho as “a symbol of heroism for the people” – Cultured and well travelled. Wise and ascetic.
This is evident in the victory slogan that persisted from the end of the Ho Chi Minh Campaign in April 1975 “You are always marching with us, Uncle Ho.”

Ho in 1954, after the Geneva accords ended the First Indochina War: “I was never married. I never had time. But I have seventeen million children.”

Because in Vietnamese tradition, predecessors are vital to family identity, Ho used portraits and slogans about Marx, Engels, Stalin, Lenin and Mao àRevolutionary fathers. E.g. 1946 press conference Ho: “Who knows when the dream of Karl Marx will be realised?”

Pragmatic attitude toward Vietnamese Independence and American War:
“We will never agree to negotiate under the threat of bombing. We have been fighting for our independence for more than 25 years.”
o Also, said that not even the atomic bomb would persuade them to surrender.
o In the context of thousands of innocent civilians being killed, quite severe.
Ho Chi Minh: The Man and the Myth
6. Evaluation

Communist/nationalist issue

o Much debate:

Michael Lind (Conservative American) - “Ho was both a nationalist and a doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist whose brutal and bankrupt tyranny was modeled on Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China.”

o Infiltrated Anti-colonial national Vietnamese groups and “Marxified them from within” (Bissel)

Duiker: “Half Lenin, half Ghandi” – Communist, and nationalist who fought successfully, pragmatically and opportunistically for the liberation of his people.

Kutler: “Ho was both an avid patriot and a convinced Marxist-Leninist who saw no contradiction between those positions.” “Above all he was a highly gifted leader, combining the talents of administrator, strategist, conciliator, and motivator in the cause of Vietnamese national independence.”

Sophie Quinn-Judge, 2002:
“Both stereotypes of Ho Chi Minh – Machiavellian apparatchik* or nationalist saint – have in my view become deadweights impeding the search for the historical figure.”

*apparatchik: the term used to describe a bureaucrat in the Soviet communist system who blindly followed his superiors in party doctrine

Ho in regard to pushing international communism àambiguity.
o E.g. In 1952 when asked by Stalin whether he would like to sit on the ‘nationalist’ or ‘internationalist’ chair, he replied “I would like to sit on both.”

Analysis of his dealings of USSR and China
o Shrewd negotiator, secured support but not domination of both.
o Even a conciliator
o “He took their tanks, ships, airplanes and missiles but he refused to allow foreign combat troops on Vietnamese soil.” – Bui Tin.
o He wanted an independant form of communism for Vietnam, not a Chinese or USSR version-caused tensions

Analysis of dealings with OSS/America:
  • OSS messages to HQ in China described him and Vietminh as “patriots” who deserved American “trust and support’.
  • Went to great lengths to secure said support – Sent letters to Washington following his Declaration of Independence in September 1945 (unanswered).
  • Ho Chi Minh wanted international support-a reason for his broad western travels and views upon communism

Also, “lack of dogmatism”, “refusal to wipe the cultural slate clean” – Peter Cochrane.

Land Reforms

“The 5-phase land reform resulted in a bloodbath all over North Vietnam.”
– Lam Thanh Liem.

  • 100,000 accused and murdered during the period before 1955, excluding another 40,000 victims who were sent to various concentration camps in the mountain areas.

100,000 killed during phase 5, the last phase of the reform campaign, known as the Dien Bien Phu General Offensive, which ended in summer 1956. Thousands of others, most of them rich farmers and land owners, were sent to concentration camps for “reeducation.”

Of more than 200,000 victims executed, 40,000 (20%) were communist cadres and Viehminh war veterans, according to Nguyen Van Canh

A British official judged Ho as “one of the worst agitators in the region”
  • “Revolutionary crime in Annam is a really low-down dirty business, including every kind of murder, even burning public officers alive and torturing them to death. For much of this crime Nguyen is personally responsible, and it is not in his favour that he has directed the affairs from afar instead of having the guts to go and take a hand in things himself.”

Ho took responsibility though addressed an assembly of Party members, confessing to having killed a number of “innocent victims.”

Military/political/opportunistic pragmatism

Necessity landed Ho and his cause (national independence) in the Leninist mould, but at an interpersonal level he broke the mould. “He much preferred to counsel than to dictate, to sway than to flay.” - Peter Cochrane, Vietnam’s avuncular dictator.

Confucian upbringing – Ideal of moral integrity of ruler, knowing one’s enemy àappealing to the cultural heritage of the people (Vietnam = highly integrated society)
  • Peter DeCaro’s idea of “the mandate of heaven” – from Chinese emperor days.
  • Chun tzu – superior “sage man” – necessity. àimage. Inadvertent, whilst ostensibly doing the opposite: cult of personality. Even the “Uncle” title: appeal to family generational respect for an elder. Asceticism.
  • Wore sandals and a simple khaki tunic. Photographed doing gardening, with children. Simple rural appeal. One vice: smoked a pipe.
  • Allowed him to infiltrate the insular minds of the peasantry. Village life: not greedy, generational, people part of the land.


In his lifetime Ho had not only liberated his own country and changed the course of colonial rule in both Africa and Asia, he had done something even more remarkable; he had touched the culture and soul of his enemy… it had been a full life” – David Halberstam, 1986.

Helpful quotes:
v“Ho is justly viewed as the father of the Vietnamese revolution”
v“He was capable of exuding great charm and also of a ruthless determination to achieve his goals…in the cause of Vietnamese national independence”
v“…his whole lifetime was devoted to working and fighting…for the freedom of all oppressed peoples” (Guardian Sept. 13, 1969)
v“President Ho Chi Minh has gone down in the history of the Indochinese peoples…as the symbol of the patriotic struggle for national independence”( Prince Sihanouk, Head of State of Cambodia)
v“The whole life of President Ho Chi Minh was devoted to the revolutionary struggle against one imperialism after another. He was a source of inspiration for the all the freedom- and peace-loving people of the world” (Dr. Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania)
v“We are determined to fight for independence, national unity, democracy and peace. A struggle, whether military or diplomatic, must be long and hard before complete victory can be achieved” (HCM after the victory at Dienbienphu May 8, 1954)
vUpon HCM’s death, an official statement from Moscow lauded HCM as a “great son of the heroic Vietnamese people, the outstanding leader of the international Communist and national liberation movement, and a great friend of the Soviet Union”
vUpon HCM’s death, an article from India described him as the essence of “the people, the embodiment of the ardent aspiration for freedom, of their endurance and struggle”
v“There seems little doubt that for Ho Chi Minh the survival of his country was first and always his primary concern. Indeed, such views aroused growing suspicion of other senior Party leaders in Hanoi, Beijing, and Moscow, who sometimes questioned whether Ho was a genuine Marxist” Historian William J. Druiker