Ho Chi Minh was a man of almost limitless patience who dedicated his life to the creation of a unified and independent Vietnam. Despite his frail and slight appearance he possessed a ruthlessness that enabled to endure deprivation, prison and war for almost eighty years.
Named Nguyen That Thanh or Nguyen Van Thanh during his childhood, Ho studied at the Quoc Hoc School in Hue before getting a job as a mess boy on the SS Admiral Latouche Treveille in 1911. During World War I and after two years working at sea, he held a series of jobs in America and Europe including a stint as kitchen assistant in London’s Carlton Hotel.
An avid reader of Tolstoy and Marx he began to refer to himself as a revolutionary and in 1919 Ho unsuccessfully attempted to rally support for reform in Indo-China at the Versailles Peace Conference. The following year he participated in the creation of the French Communist Party and in 1924 travelled to the Soviet Union, where he further studied Bolshevik teachings.
After graduating from Moscow in 1925 Ho was sent to China as an interpreter for Russian Agent Mickhail Borodin and undertook recruiting and organizational work, including establishing the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association and the League of Oppressed Peoples of Asia. However, his work in China was interrupted in 1927 by Chiang Kai-shek’s crackdown on Communists and after retuning to Russia he travelled to Siam (Thailand) and Hong Kong.
In 1930 Ho founded the Indochinese Communist Party
, but went underground after being imprisoned for a year by the British. He reappeared in China in 1938, serving with Mao Tse-Tung’s forces, before finally returning to Vietnam in December 1940.World War II
Operating from the Cao Bang province near the Chinese border, Ho founded the Vietnamese Revolutionary Independence League, or Viet Minh
, in May 1941. Under his leadership, which was interrupted by a 13-month stretch in a Chinese jail, the Viet Minh began a small-scale guerrilla campaign against the Japanese occupiers.
In March 1945 Japan’s overthrow of the French regime cut off the Allies military intelligence in Indochina. Seizing upon this opportunity Ho began providing American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) agents with details about Japanese forces in the vain hope that the U.S. would support his cause. French Indochina War
After Japan’s surrender he moved quickly to proclaim the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and gained limited recognition from the returning French. However, in December 1946, only 8 months after French forces reoccupied the north of the country, a 7 year war broke out that culminated in victory for the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu
in May 1954.Vietnam War
Despite seeing off the French, Ho was forced to accept the Geneva cease-fire agreement
, which gave him control of only the poorer half of Viet-Nam. He was quickly required to introduce agricultural reform to boost food production, which under the French had been concentrated in the South. However, his government’s initial attempt to force farmers into a collective produced a peasant revolt.
Ho also revamped his Viet Minh forces with weaponry and economic aid from China and the Soviet Union, enabling them to renew their guerrilla campaign and begin construction of an infiltration route into South Vietnam.1
As the war with the South escalated and America’s involvement significantly increased Ho’s determination to fight for a unified independent Vietnam never wavered. He withstood U.S. attempts to bomb North Vietnam to the negotiating table and rejected U.S. peace proposals in 1965 and 1966. Though in latter years he turned over more responsibility to his deputies he remained an inspirational figure until his death in 1969, and an iconic one thereafter.
1. The vast network ran from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia and became known as the Ho Chi Minh TrailRelated BooksHo Chi Minh: A Life
by William J Duiker
Authoritative, detailed and extremely readable. An excellent biography.