By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail


Ho Chi Minh, who looked weak and vulnerable physically was so strong emotionally, ideologically and politically that he challenged France and America, two super powers of 20th century in his lifetime. He had such a faith in his ideals and people that he was confident that Vietnam would not only gain independence but also start her journey towards economic equality and social justice and one day embrace socialism. In spite of rubbing shoulders with the world’s greatest Presidents and Prime Ministers and being invited to the royal palaces and assembly halls, he led a simple life. He ate simple food, wore simple clothes and performed his regular exercises daily. Like saints and guerrilla warriors, he had discovered two great secrets quite early in life: discipline and humility. No wonder he became a legend for millions of freedom fighters and revolutionaries all over the world.

In the last few decades, Vietnam War has become a symbol of all those wars of small proud countries all over the world that want to end their social, economic and political exploitation by rich super powers. Ho Chi Minh’s struggles like Mohandas Gandhi’s struggles have been inspiring many communities and countries to challenge British, French and American capitalism and imperialism and pave the way for justice, freedom and peace in their homelands.

        Ho Chi Minh cherished two dreams: a dream of national independence and a dream of social justice and all his life he struggled to transform those dreams into realities.

        While reading Ho Chi Minh’s life story I was struck by different names, personalities and identities he adopted at different stages of his life. He chose those pseudonyms to promote his message, avoid persecution from police and move from one country to another by confusing immigration officers. Not only some of his acquaintances but also his relatives did not know that all those names were the social persona of the same person. He had become the political Sybil, a revolutionary with multiple personalities. Even when he wrote his autobiographical essays, they were written under different pseudonyms and he talked about his life in a third person. No wonder it had been very hard for his biographers to decide with certainty which writings belonged to Ho Chi Minh and which did not. That is why his biographer William Duiker wrote in the introduction of Ho Chi Minh…A Life, “He adopted more than fifty assumed names…it is hardly surprising that no serious biography of Ho Chi Minh has been published in English over the last 20 years.” Stories of people like Ho Chi Minh become part of folklore and like famous folktales the message becomes more important than the author giving birth to world mythology.

        Ho Chi Minh liked to keep a mystery in his personal and political life. Whether it was his relationship with women, social organizations or political movements, he did not want to divulge the whole truth. He was quite aware as a guerrilla warrior that information was power and he did not want to give away the power to others, especially those he did not trust. In early stages of his life he used to have blind trust in other people, but that blind trust was going to cost him his life a few times, so he learnt to be selective and cautious. He kept many aspects of his life secret till his old age. A few years before his death he stated in one of his interviews, “An old man likes to have a little air of mystery about himself.” (Ref 1 p 7)

        Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890 at the end of 19th century when European countries had colonized Asian countries. While Britain had focused on India and Burma, France had taken control of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was the second son of Nguyen Sinh Sac, a Confucian scholar who kept nationalistic feelings and socialistic ideology close to his heart and tried all his life to avoid working for his government that he did not have much respect for. He named his son Nguyen Sinh Cung. When he became a teenager, according to the traditions of the community, he was given an adult name of Nguyen Tat Thanh, which meant a successful person. At that time his father did not know that his son would be one of the most successful revolutionary warriors of 20th century but would be known by the name of Ho Chi Minh.

        Ho Chi Minh was taught by different scholars including his father, who was a well respected teacher of the community, and then remained faithful to his father’s philosophy, by embracing the values of equality and social justice and developing reverence for the wisdom of Confucius. As a teenager he was an avid reader and used to contemplate about what he read. Alongside reading the aphorisms of Confucius he also read contemporary history and sociology and became politically aware how French imperialism had deprived his country men of their basic human rights. He developed empathy for his people and a dream to free them from the foreign rule, a dream that shaped not only his own future but also the future of his motherland. He wanted to end the suffering of his people and see them happy and prosperous.

        As a young adult Ho Chi Minh developed an ambivalent relationship with French politics and culture. On one hand he resented them and held them responsible for the suffering of his people but on the other hand he wanted to study their history and culture as he had read that 15th century Confucian scholar  Nguyen Trai “had pointed out that it was necessary to understand the enemy in order to defeat him.” (Ref 1 p 27)

        While studying the biographies of revolutionaries I found it interesting that some of them had nothing to do with the imperialistic powers because they hated them with passion while others wanted to interact with them to study them before they declared war. Ho Chi Minh belonged to the second category. He not only worked hard to study French language but also decided to go to France and have a closer look at the enemy before he planned the revenge of his ancestors.

        Alongside respect for his parents Ho Chi Minh also had rebellious tendencies in his personality that expressed themselves in school. He used to challenge the autocratic traditions and authorities. Once he was reported to the superintendent of his school who gave him ‘ a severe reprimand.” (Ref 1 p 35). While Ho Chi Minh was still a young man, there was a strike in town against the autocratic government. Ho Chi Minh who had been waiting to express his rebellious feelings and his political ideas joined the strike not realizing that the mob will lose control and get violent. Police attacked Ho Chi Minh and his friends but they were successful to run away and save their lives. Unfortunately police had recognized Ho Chi Minh so they came to his school the next day, reported him to the authorities and he was subsequently dismissed from school. That was the end of his formal schooling after which he became a life long student of the university of life.

        Joining the local strike was the beginning of Ho Chi Minh’s active involvement with politics and his first close encounter with police and death. To avoid further conflicts with local police and authorities Ho Chi Minh disappeared for a few months. He was already blacklisted by police. His decision of hiding and going underground might have paved the way to become a guerrilla warrior. It did not take him long to realize that if he stayed in the country he would be imprisoned or executed by the government because of his rebellious thoughts and activities. So he decided to get a job in a ship and travel to France to study French culture and plan a strategy of future struggle of independence.

        During his journey abroad he adopted a pseudonym of Nguyen Ai Quoc which he used in his autobiography for that period in his life. Ho Chi Minh arrived in Paris in spring of 1911 when he was twenty. While living in France he realized that French who lived in France were gentle and kind and were different than those French who ruled Vietnam in a cruel and autocratic way. Gradually he developed a more realistic view about French nation. Alongside his hatred for the political oppression he also developed some compassion for common people even when they belonged to the enemy nation. He expressed his observations in a letter to his friend in these words, “ The French in France are better and more polite than those in Indochina”.

        During his stay in Paris, Ho Chi Minh did odd jobs, learnt French and got involved in politics. He not only made contacts with the local Vietnamese community but also French Socialist Party. In the beginning French intellectuals found Ho Chi Minh emotionally shy and ideologically naïve. Over the years, like a good student of life, Ho Chi Minh gained knowledge, experience and confidence. As French socialists got to know him better, they were impressed by his passion, dedication and intensity.

        With increasing social and political maturity, Ho Chi Minh also developed his creative talents and started writing short articles focusing on the struggles of Vietnamese people. Those days he was also impressed by American democracy and used to quote President Woodrow Wilson who was supportive of ‘self-determination of all peoples.” (Ref 1 p 58) Ho Chi Minh, as a young and naïve idealist, was optimistic that America being a symbol of freedom would support Vietnamese to gain independence from French dominance. As Ho Chi Minh got involved in Vietnamese politics French Government asked the local police to keep an eye on him. Because of his pseudonym French authorities were not aware of his true identity.

        When French socialists accused him of his political naivety, Ho Chi Minh started reading the classics. His first attempt was to read Das Kapital but he was utterly frustrated by the writings of Karl Marx. After Marx he approached Lenin. While reading Lenin he experienced an ideological and political breakthrough. He described his excitement in these words, ‘ What emotion, enthusiasm, clear sightedness and confidence it instilled in me! I was overjoyed to tears.” Finally he had found his mentor, his role model, and his call in life. He realized, “This is what we need, this is the path of our liberation.” (Ref 1 p 64) Ho Chi Minh remained a great admirer of Lenin’s genius all his life.

        In spite of reading the classics and philosophical treatises of socialist literature, Ho Chi Minh remained down to earth in his own political struggle. He used to avoid academic discussions with French intellectuals, as he believed that those discussions were a reflection of intellectualization that distanced intellectuals from common people. Ho Chi Minh was more of a practical than a theoretical man, he believed more in practice than preaching and was more willing to offer sacrifices than speeches. He remained loyal to masses and faithful to common people. His simple, honest and sincere lifestyle gained him respect not only by his admirers and disciples but also by his critics and enemies.

        After writing small articles Ho Chi Minh wrote a significant book sharing his political diagnosis and economic prescription for the plight of Vietnamese people who suffered under French rule and named it The Oppressed in which there was a ‘lengthy critique of French policy in Indochina.” (Ref 1 p 67) As his fame grew so did his notoriety. Finally a stage came in Ho Chi Minh’s life when the French police discovered that Nguyen Ai Quoc was the same person as Nguyen Tat Thanh, who was in conflict with police in Vietnam because of his rebellious behaviour and subsequently declared him a ‘dangerous agitator.” (Ref 1 p 70)

        Whenever Ho Chi Minh discussed the possibility of a socialist revolution with Chinese and Russian intellectuals he was disappointed as they believed that ‘in most “backward” countries revolution would be long delayed.” (ref p 74) Those traditional communists believed that Asian and African countries could not experience revolution as the objective conditions were not fulfilled. They thought that industrial revolution was a prerequisite for a socialist revolution. Ho Chi Minh, like Che Guevara from Latin America, did not agree with the hypothetical and academic analysis of those European socialist academicians. He believed that if there was a critical mass of dedicated and committed revolutionaries and they could join him in his struggle , then he could overthrow the French Government. His European comrades believed he was a young naïve dreamer who did not fully comprehend and appreciate the political dynamics of a socialist revolution. Since Ho Chi Minh did not like wasting time in idle academic debates he, like saints and Confucian scholars, used to keep quiet and smile.

        When Ho Chi Minh became a well known personality in the local Vietnamese community he started publishing a newspaper. That step alerted police even further. There were occasions the police harassed him and beat him up to intimidate him but those beatings made his resolve even stronger and added fuel to the fire of revolution. Gradually Ho Chi Minh realized that even in France his days were numbered as the French police perceived him as a dangerous revolutionary.

        There were a number of occasions when Ho Chi Minh was called by different government officers for interrogation. Once when he was invited by Ministry of Colonies and interrogated in 1922, he was quite abrupt with the officer and after briefly answering a few questions stated, “ …what I need most of all is freedom for my compatriots. May I go now?” (Ref 1 p 83) For French authorities he was an enigma. They were baffled by an eccentric revolutionary, who was not intimidated by police officers and other authorities and was willing to offer every sacrifice for his dream and cause. He did not seem to be afraid of prison, punishment or persecution.

        Realizing his days of freedom in Paris were numbered he left France secretly and decided to travel to Russia by arranging a visa carrying the name of Chen Vang, a Chinese merchant. To fool the police he told everybody he was going on a short vacation. When he reached the Russian border he was detained for a few weeks as the immigration officers got suspicious of his papers and identity. After he was released as the authorities could not prove anything against him, he made new friends and registered in a university to study Russian language and the politics and economics of socialism. During his stay in Russia he developed great admiration for Lenin and was sad that he could not meet his mentor in person. After Lenin’s death in Jan 1924, Ho Chi Minh walked a few miles in bitter cold to attend the funeral. Russian socialists were quite impressed by the dedication of Ho Chi Minh and his fascination for Russian culture and revolution. Ho Chi Minh attended meetings of socialist party and putting on the agenda the plight of colonial people. He asked them to help Vietnamese to gain freedom and independence so that they could also enjoy economic equality and social justice.

        After he learnt enough about socialism and made enough contacts in Russia he decided ‘to return to Asia to launch the process of building a revolutionary movement in Indochina.” (Ref 1 p 102) But before going to Vietnam he wanted to visit China to broaden his existential, ideological and political horizons. Ho Chi Minh’s experiences in France, Russia and China prepared him well to organize a revolutionary armed movement. He was determined to play a major role in the future of his fatherland. Finally Ho Chi Minh decided to start an armed struggle for national independence. Some of his friends challenged him and asked him to adopt non-violent politics and follow the footsteps of Mohandas Gandhi. Ho Chi Minh told his friends that in spite of his respect of Mohandas Gandhi he believed that Gandhi was a reformer than a revolutionary. There were other communist friends who criticized him for his nationalistic struggle. They told him socialism was fundamentally a class struggle. When Ho Chi Minh was criticized for his nationalist feelings by internationalist socialists he told them that he saw no conflict between nationalist and internationalist struggle. He believed in acting locally and thinking globally. As time passed his popularity and his following grew and he became a well-respected leader for Vietnamese people inside and outside Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was quite an introspective leader. Rather than putting all the blame on the shoulders of the enemies, he asked his comrades a chilling question, “For what reason have the French been able to oppress us?” (Ref 1 p 126)

        Ho Chi Minh trained a guerrilla army and step by step prepared them walk on the road of independence. He told them they were going to travel on a tortuous road full of hurdles and sacrifices. He was willing to work with them all night long of oppression till they could embrace the dawn of freedom and social justice. Over the years more and more people accepted him as their leader as they were impressed by his ideology as well as philosophy. Like other revolutionaries he also had a certain charisma in his personality. He had the mind of a revolutionary but the heart of a mystic, which is a rare combination. On one hand he was hoping to earn freedom by peaceful means but on the other hand he was also willing to fight the longest war of freedom if needed. He had sybthesized the teachings of Lenin and Confucius in his life that gave him a more balanced outlook about life. Later on, in his struggle he was also impressed by the political and guerrilla tactics of Mao. Ho Chi Minh shared his vision of revolution in his book The Revolutionary Path.

        For years Ho Chi Minh played hide and seek with police. They could not find him as he lived as a political gypsy. When he decided to go to Russia he was afraid to be caught so he changed his name again but all those changes of identities were a mixed blessing. There were as many times he got into trouble because of that as it kept him out of trouble. He had to be detained on borders and kept in jail and beaten up, as he was perceived as a dangerous character. But he retained his faith in his holy cause and he accepted all that torture as a sacrifice for his sacred dream of liberation. He was in love with his ideal and every sacrifice made his heart beat faster for his beloved revolution.

        There was time Ho Chi Minh was followed by police everywhere he went. For a while he travelled as Father Chin, a communist as a Catholic priest. All those tactics were ways to hide and stay out of jail. Alongside his essays and books he also wrote poems expressing his revolutionary themes. In one of his poems he said

        And whoever should wish to seize

        Must first kill us to the last Vietnamese

He was not willing to sacrifice his own life on the altar of liberation he was inviting every one of them to follow his footsteps.

        Ho Chi Minh always focused on similarities than differences. He believed in unity of goals. He used to be upset to see followers of Lenin fighting with the followers of Mao. He used to share with to bring a socialist revolution all over the world, they need to learn to transcend their differences and work together. Ho Chi Minh always tried to build bridges between different people, organizations, institutions and ideologies. He was even a peacemaker between different armed and violent struggles.

        All those years Ho Chi Minh lived and travelled in Europe, Russia and China he made many attempts to go back to Vietnam but he was “unable


 to cross the border because of police vigilance.” (ref 1 p 163) Finally he met with his comrades in Canton and brought all his followers under the umbrella of one party. He suggested the name Vietnam Communist Party in 1930 and his friends accepted the name. For Ho Chi Minh it was a major step in his struggle and he became more hopeful to fulfill his dream. After creating that party he approached other socialist and communist parties. They not only welcomed him but also offered him support. While Ho Chi Minh was struggling for Vietnamese revolution Mao Ze Dung was preparing for his Cultural Revolution in China. Mao wanted to overthrow Chaig Kai-Shaik’s oppressive regime.

        In Vietnamese Communist party there were a number of militant communists who wanted to pick up arms and start moving towards revolution in Vietnam but Ho Chi Minh wanted them to wait as he thought the Vietnamese were not ready and he did not want people to lose their lives unnecessarily. Ho Chi Minh, in spite of believing in armed struggle and guerrilla war wanted violence as the last and not the first step towards revolution. He believed in negotiating till the last minute. He saw military struggle only as means to an end of political struggle and not an end in itself.

        While staying in Hong Kong he was once arrested by British Police in 1930s and was put in jail where he spent a few painful months. French Government was also waiting for him. When ordered to be deported, he was afraid that if put on a ship or a plane by the British Government, he would be killed. So he got some legal help and mysteriously disappeared. He had another close encounter with police and death at that time. He finally succeeded to go to Russia where he was a suspect once again. During 1930s when he was in Russia he used to say that ‘he had only one wish and that was to return as soon as possible to his fatherland.” (Ref 1 p 227) in 1938 he went to China one more time and wrote a number of articles in French under a pseudonym of P.C. Line.

        When the second world war started in 1939 Ho Chi Minh was in China. He hoped that the war would weaken France and that would strengthen his cause. During the second world war when France had to surrender to Germany, Ho Chi Minh was very happy. He could imagine Vietnamese victory after French defeat. That is why he said, “The French defeat represents a very favourable opportunity for the Vietnamese revolution.” (Ref 1 p 242) Ho Chi Minh had realized that the revolution was a long and complex process in which a number of national forces and international dynamics play important role. He paid attention to all those political changes in the world that made the future of Vietnamese people brighter.

In 1941 he focused on guerrilla war activities and followed the footsteps of Mao. He was different than other revolutionaries as he encouraged women to join the cause and fight side by side with men. He acknowledged the sacrifices of women in one of his poems in these words

        Vietnamese women forever

        Have sacrificed themselves for our country and our race (Ref 1 p 259)

        In 1942 when he was secretly traveling he became a Chinese reporter by the name Ho Chi Minh and that name of all the fifty names that he chose throughout his life stayed with him and found him worldwide fame. There were many times there were news that he died or he was killed. There were also times nobody knew where he was as he was in some unknown jail with an unknown name. In spite of all that he never lost hope. Even when he was in jail, he wrote

        It’s miserable to be ill in prison

        I should weep, but I’ll sing instead

When America joined the world war, Ho Chi Minh started looking forward to the possibility of American help in the struggle of Vietnam. He thought that since Americans believed in democracy and self-rule they might help him in the efforts of independence. Ho Chi Minh met with US military officials in Kunming and tried to bargain with them. Ho Chi Minh offered ‘the use of a thousand trained guerrillas located near Cho Chu for operations against the Japanese…’ and asked for ‘arms and medicine’ (Ref 1 p 289) for the Vietnamese. Americans were interested in receiving the help but reluctant to make a commitment.

Ho Chi Minh being an eternal optimist saw every new development paving a way for his cause. He used to listen to the news very attentively. When he heard that atom bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, United Nations was created in San Francisco and Soviet Union entered the war against Japan, he could imagine the world war coming to an end hoping that all those changes will push Vietnamese struggle closer to the finish line.

When Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and ‘US General Douglas Mac Arthur headed for Tokyo Bay to present Allied peace terms…’ (p 307) Ho Chi Minh and his comrades took full advantage of the vacuum created by the Japanese surrender. They asked Emperor Bao Dai to leave so that they could make a new government in Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh was so lucky that ‘…Japanese occupation authorities immediately turned over power…’ and he could take over the government.

August 1945 Revolution was celebrated by thousands of people coming to the streets all the way from Hanoi to Saigon. A new chapter had started in the history of Vietnam. To make a new government Ho Chi Minh moved from his guerrilla base in Tan Trao to Hanoi.

Ho Chi Minh could not take over all of Vietnam as Allied forces had decided to ‘divide French Indochina into two separate zones’ (p 317) Ho Chi Minh celebrated the liberation of the North Vietnam and made a speech on September 2, 1945 ‘declaring national independence.’ (p 321) It was a short speech in which he shared that Vietnamese people had the right to same privileges as French and Americans had. Referring to the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776 he said, “All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live and to be happy and free.” He also mentioned the Declaration of the Rights of Man of French Revolution in 1791 which stated, “All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.” (Ref 1 p 323) Ho Chi Minh wanted to give the message that Vietnamese were equal to all the citizens of the free world and would like to celebrate the same rights as Americans and French have been enjoying for two centuries.

After liberating the North Ho Chi Minh focused on the South Vietnam as he had the dream of liberating the whole nation. He wanted the French to leave but they were reluctant. Ho Chi Minh thought America might become a bridge between him and the French and mediate a settlement. Although Ho Chi Minh presented himself as a nationalist French authorities presented him as a Communist. America did not want to support a Communist regime in Vietnam. When Ho Chi Minh did not get expected help from America, he shared with his followers, ‘We shall have to depend upon ourselves.’ P 345

Ho Chi Minh wanted to have a peaceful settlement to liberate all of Vietnam with France but he was not successful because “French President Charles de Gaulle was unwilling to negotiate until he had restored French authority in Indochina.” (Ref p 353) When Ho Chi Minh put more pressure and started fighting for his demands French Government told America that ‘total independence was not under consideration.’ (p 359) By French attitude Ho Chi Minh came to the conclusion that French authorities had left him no alternative, other than fighting the war of independence.

        At that time there were a number of Chinese troops in North Vietnam. French authorities had made a deal with them to leave and French troops were going to take over. Considering the situation of North Vietnam Chinese troops refused to leave the country and there was a time when there were violent confrontations and the world saw ‘French and the Chinese…exchanging fire…” (p 363)

        When French realized that Ho Chi Minh had the support of the Chinese troops they showed a willingness to negotiate. Ho Chi Minh made a deal with French in which French agreed to

A, accept Democratic Republic of Vietnam


B, have a referendum to possible unification of North and South Vietnam

On the other hand Ho Chi Minh agreed to have 1500 French troops temporarily replacing Chinese troops in North Vietnam. When Ho Chi Minh signed that agreement with French authorities he was criticized by his radical and militant followers but Ho Chi Minh was willing to become a diplomat alongside a guerrilla warrior. He was willing to lose a battle to win the war. When he was accused of being a traitor he reacted strongly clarifying his loyalty by saying, “I, Ho Chi Minh, have fought alongside my compatriots all my life for independence of out Fatherland. I would rather die than betray my country.” (Ref 1 p 364)

        In May 1946 Ho Chi Minh was invited to France for peace talks but those talks were unsuccessful as French were not willing to agree to complete freedom. During his visit Ho Chi Minh visited those places in Paris where he had started his political career as a naïve socialist and used to be harassed by the local police. Now he was visiting as a head of a state. When the negotiations fell through he decided to stay in France for a while and then travel back by ship. In September 1946, when in an interview he was asked how he was going to fight France, a superpower, he expressed his faith in his people by stating, “ We have a weapon every bit as powerful as the most modern cannon…nationalism…” (Ref 1 p 379) While traveling back from France he stopped in India and met Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who were struggling to win independence for India from British Rule. In spite of their difference in philosophies and political strategies they had one thing in common: a dream of freedom for their people.

        While Ho Chi Minh was exploring all the diplomatic options, he was also getting ready for guerrilla war once again. His final goal was to end French dominance and gain independence and to earn that freedom he was willing to go all the way. French were also becoming aware that the peace negotiations had entered a dead end street. They were even seriously ‘organizing a coup to overthrow Ho Chi Minh” (P388) and have a puppet government of their own liking. Ho Chi Minh had become a thorn in their soul. French even asked America to offer military help. They told America that if they did not stop Ho Chi Minh, he will join the Communist camp and French Vietnam will finally become the victim of ‘Chinese Imperialism.” (p 392)

        While Ho Chi Minh was preparing for a long guerrilla war, in October 1947 French attacked with full force hoping to capture Ho Chi Minh, but he escaped, having another close encounter with death. After that episode he moved from one home to another leading his dedicated soldiers from underground.

        In 1949 when Mao defeated Chiang Kai Shaik and established People’s Republic of China, Ho Chi Minh sent his congratulations. In January 1950 he went to see Mao who offered him moral and military support to fight the French. After that meeting Ho Chi Minh openly joined the Socialist Camp. Ho Chi Minh even went to meet Stalin asking for help for his cause. Stalin was in favour of socialism but not in favour of nationalism. When they met Stalin offered him two chairs, one for nationalists and the other for internationalists and asked him to choose one. Ho Chi Minh, who was far wiser and inclusive than Stalin responded, ‘Comrade Stalin, I would like to sit on both of them’ (Ref 1 p 422) Ho Chi Minh did not see any conflict between his dreams of nationalism and socialism.

        The more Ho Chi Minh came closer to China and Russia, the more French convinced America to help her defeat Ho Chi Minh as he was presented as a Communist threat. French wanted to support Bao Dai to rule Vietnam. Bao Dai, as head of the state appointed Nguyen Van Tam, a former police chief, as Prime Minister and ordered him to fight guerrillas fiercely. In 1953 The Navarre Plan was conceived. According to that plan America decided to help France militarily with an understanding that France will fight a short aggressive war and win.

        As time passed the French and American realized that they had underestimated Ho Chi Minh and his guerrilla warriors who were willing to fight till the end and for them the only end was victory. As the tension escalated Ho Chi Minh took an aggressive posture. Finally Vietminh attacked French fort of Dien Bien Phu. The attack was so intense that French could not fight and had to surrender. It was a great victory for Ho Chi Minh. French approached Vice President Nixon in desperation. Shortly after a Geneva Conference was arranged, which was attended by Britain, Soviet Union, China and US. In that conference Ho Chi Minh demanded withdrawal of French troops and free elections the year after. The treaty was signed in July 1954 in which Vietnam was divided in two, the North Vietnam under the control of Ho Chi Minh and the South Vietnam under French dominance.

        Ho Chi Minh, the eternal negotiator agreed the division of Vietnam for the sake of peace. He hoped that he would win in the promised elections and will unite North and South Vietnam within a year. Ho Chi Minh was trying to balance his roles as a political leader and guerrilla warrior. He stated that they were ‘ struggling in international conferences as well as on the battlefields in order to attain our goal.” (Ref 1 p 460)

        In October, 1954, after the Geneva conference French army left and Ho chi Minh’s army arrived in Hanoi and made a new government. Some of his comrades entered the city after eight years. While Ho Chi Minh was establishing his government in the North, Bao Dai was reorganizing his government in the South by naming Ngo Dinh Diem as the new Prime Minister. Diem used to live in United States and was actively involved in Christian preaching. He wanted to get American support. He enticed US to get more involved stating that American Christians should fight a holy war against atheistic Communism in Vietnam. There were many Americans who were not impressed by the sentimental and fanatic personality of Diem. They considered him a ‘messiah without a message’ (Ref 1 p 468)

        Diem continued his efforts to get American support and finally “On 24 October 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower informed Ngo Dinh Diem that the United States would supply military aid directly rather than via the French.” (Ref 2 p 451) Alongside military support American CIA also planned the ‘Saigon Military Mission(SMM)’ (Ref 2 p 452) for secret activities and created ‘unconventional warfare unit’. (Ref 2 p 452)

        Diem showed his autocratic nature when he refused to have elections as promised in Geneva conference. Americans had mixed feelings about Vietnamese politics. On one hand they wanted to support elections but were afraid that Ho Chi Minh would win and they would lose Vietnam to Socialism. America and France supported Diem who refused to have elections.

        Ho Chi Minh was disappointed. He focused on North Vietnam for a while to establish the Socialist system that he had promised his people. He asked China and Russia to support him and was pleased when China promised 200 million dollars and Russia promised 100 million dollars support to build a socialist Vietnam. Land Reforms in North Vietnam was a major social, political and economic change in North Vietnam. “More than two million acres (800,000 hectares) of land were distributed to over two million farm families, a total of well over half of the total number of agricultural workers…” (Ref 1 p 488)

        The more North Vietnam came closer to the Socialist System, the more South Vietnam got help from America and France. By 1955 America was actively involved to overthrow Ho Chi Minh’s democratically elected government in which Ho Chi Minh had won more than 96 percent votes using ‘sabortage by guerrilla groups sponsored by the CIA” (p 478) America’s involvement in Vietnam kept on increasing with time.

        Ho Chi Minh was disappointed when China and Russia started have battles with each other and was shocked when in 1957 ‘the USSR suddenly proposed that the two Vietnams be admitted as separate states in the United Nations” (p 500) He strongly protested Russia’s proposal as it was breaking his sacred dream into two.

        As time passed Ho Chi Minh was taken over by the militant communists in North Vietnam who were influenced by Chinese Communist Party. They were very radical and brutal. They killed thousands of landlords in a very brutal way. When Ho Chi Minh objected he was ignored. It became apparent to the world that ‘Ho Chi Minh’s dominant role within the Party was on the decline.” His comrades wanted him to hand over the political power to them and become a ‘spiritual father of all Vietnamese people”.

        In South Vietnam Diem became more and more autocratic and anti-communist. “Between 1957 and 1959 more than two thousand suspected Communists were executed.” (Ref 1 p 510)

        In Vietnam the dream of a peaceful revolution turned into a violent nightmare in which landlords were being mercilessly killed in the North and Communists brutally murdered in the South. It was a big price for Vietnamese people to pay for their freedom and independence.

        Diem became more and more unpopular in South Vietnam and there was strong resistance from the peasants. Finally Ho Chi Minh lost his patience as he could not wait any longer to fulfill his dream of creating a unified and free Vietnam. When Ho Chi Minh realized that he would not be able to free South Vietnam by political means and negotiations, he decided to pick up arms one more time and challenge France and America. He declared his agenda in these words, “The fundamental path of development for the revolution in South Vietnam is that of violent struggle…’(Ref 1 p 512)

        In 1959 Ho Chi Minh put his plans into action and gradually escalated the war for independence. Over the years Diem lost support and faced a serious crisis in 1963. When Diem refused to leave under American pressure, American CIA planned a coup. The results were disastrous and shocking as ‘to Kennedy’s dismay, however both Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were executed after having surrendered to the leaders of the coup.” (Ref1 P 534)

        America had opened the Pandora’s box by planning to coup. The conditions in Vietnam and America became more volatile and unpredictable when JK Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson took over. When America supported South Vietnam it gave Mao more incentive to support North Vietnam.

        In February 1965 Viet Cong forces attacked a US Special Forces camp with high casualties. Within a few days ‘President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes over North Vietnam…”(P 543) The war escalated and so did America’s involvement in Vietnam. By the end of 1965 American forces in Vietnam had increased to ‘200, 000’ (Ref 1 P 543).

        The political climate all over the world was changing so was in America. Americans were becoming critical of their government getting involved in Cuba as well as Vietnam, so the anti-war feelings and protests started to increase.

        American Government and CIA made a number of attempts to eliminate Ho Chi Minh but did not succeed. He kept the morale of his guerrilla warriors very high. In May 1965 he went to China to celebrate his 75th birthday. With passage of time Americans realized that they were fighting a losing battle. In spite of being a superpower they could not fight dedicated and committed Vietnamese who were willing to sacrifice their lives to win freedom.

        In 1969 Ho Chi Minh’s health declined and finally he died on Sep 2, 1969. There were nearly 100, 000 people to attend his funeral services.

        As conditions got worse for Nixon, he resigned and Gerald Ford took over as the President of America and finally withdrew. In July 1976, the North and South Vietnam were unified under a single Socialist Republic of Vietnam, fulfilling Ho Chi Minh’s dream of unity, independence, freedom and socialism. America’s role was as secret as some of Ho Chi Minh’s activities. Peter Harclerode wrote in his book Fighting Dirty…The Inside Story of Covert Operations from Ho Chi Minh to Osama bin Laden “It was not until 1973 that the US government admitted that US troops, predominantly members of the US Special Forces, had neen killed on operations in Laos and Cambodia since 1965.” (Ref 2 p 5003)

        Dear Friends, While studying the life and struggle of Ho Chi Minh, I wondered whether he would he held responsible for the brutal killings of thousands of landlords in North Vietnam as a part of Land Reform. There was a time after the success of revolution when Ho Chi Minh lost control of his government and movement. Ho Chi Minh realized that violent tendencies of his radical and militant comrades had lost control and following the footsteps of their Chinese comrades they had resorted to torture. He pleaded to their conscience by stating that some comrades ‘are still committing the error of using torture. It is a savage method used by imperialists, capitalists and feudal elements to master the masses and the revolution. Why must we, who are in possession of a just program and a just rationale, make use of such brutal methods.’ (Ref1 P 478)

        Unfortunately Ho Chi Minh’s advice fell on deaf ears and thousands of landlords lost their lives. Ho Chi Minh was shocked to see Communists behaving like Capitalists, Socialists like Imperialists.

        Ho Chi Minh is long gone but his memory has stayed in the minds of his disciples and all those people who have a sense of pride in their homeland and are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of freedom and independence. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Ho Chi Minh was a man of integrity and a committed and dedicated leader. That is why he would be respected by his friends and foes alike. I have no doubt in my mind that he would be remembered for generations and the Ho Chi Minh city and trail will keep on reminding us of that revolutionary saint who was a guerrilla warrior and a statesman at the same time.

                                                        KHALID SOHAIL

November 2003



1.    Duiker William…Ho Chi Minh…A Life

Hyperion, New York 2000

2. Harclerode Peter…Fighting Dirty…The Inside Story of Covert Operations from Ho Chi Minh to Osama bin Laden