Uncle Ho

Uncle Ho

Ho Chi Minh was born, as Nguyen Sinh Cung, in 2nd September 1890 in Hoàng Tru Village, his mother's hometown. From 1895, he grew up in his paternal hometown of Kim Liên Village, Nam Đan District, Nghe An Province, Vietnam. He had three siblings, his sister Bach Liên, a clerk in the French Army, his brother Nguyễn Sinh Khiêm, a geomancer and traditional herbalist, and another brother Nguyen Sinh Nhuan who died in his infancy. Following Confucian traditions, at the age of 10 his father named him Nguyen Tat Thanh.

Ho's father, Nguyen Sinh Sac, was a Confucian scholar, teacher and a civil servant in the imperial palace. He was later dismissed from his office for refusing to serve at the court. From his father, Ho received a strong Confucian upbringing. During his childhood he developed a sense that the Vietnamese were not treated well by the French colonizers and the monarchist government. Ho also received a modern secondary education at a French-style lycée in Hue, the alma mater of his later disciples, Pham Văn Ðong and Vo Nguyên Giap. He later left his studies and chose to teach at Duc Thanh school in Phan Thiet.

On 5 June 1911, Hồ Chi Minh left Vietnam on a French steamer, Amiral Latouche-Tréville, working as a kitchen help. Arriving in Marseille, France, he applied for the French Colonial Administrative School but his application was rejected. During his stay, he worked as a cleaner, waiter, and film retoucher. Ho spent most of his free time in public libraries reading history books and newspapers to familiarize himself with Western society and politics.

In 1912, as the cook's helper on a ship, Ho Chi Minh traveled to the United States. From 1912 to 1913, he lived in New York and Boston, where he worked as a baker at the Omni Parker House Hotel. He worked in menial jobs and later claimed to have worked for a wealthy family in Brooklyn between 1917 and 1918, and during this time he may have heard Marcus Garvey speak in Harlem. It is believed that while in the United States he made contact with Korean nationalists, an experience that developed his political outlook

Leaving the French Indochina where he had a French education, Nguyen Ai Quoc (later called Ho Chi Minh) followed his studies in London and Paris during the 1910s. He came to communism in France through his friend Marcel Cachin (SFIO) who was sent to Russia in 1917 during World War I. Cachin was a pro-bolshevism politician, a fierce supporter of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and became the director of the popular communist newspaper L'Humanité ("The Humanity").

From 1919-1923, while living in France, Ho Chi Minh embraced communism. Ho claimed to have arrived in Paris from London in 1917 but French police only have documents of his arrival in June 1919.Following World War I, under the name of Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot), he petitioned for equal rights in French Indochina on behalf of the Group of Vietnamese Patriots to the Western powers at the Versailles peace talks, but was ignored. Citing the language and the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Ho petitioned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for help to remove the French from Vietnam and replace it with a new, nationalist government. His request was ignored.

In 1921, during the Congress of Tours, France, Nguyen Ai Quoc became a founding member of the Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party) and spent much of his time in Moscow afterwards, becoming the Comintern's Asia hand and the principal theorist on colonial warfare. It was at this time that Nguyen Ai Quoc took the name of "Ho Chi Minh",a Vietnamese name combining a common surname (Ho) with a given name meaning 'enlightened will' (Chi meaning 'will', and Minh meaning 'light'). During the Indochina War, the PCF would be involved with antiwar propaganda, sabotage and support for the revolutionary effort.

In 1923, Ho moved to Guangzhou, China. During 1925-26 he organized the 'Youth Education Classes' and occasionally gave lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. He stayed there in Hong Kong as a representative of the Communist International. In June 1931, he was arrested and incarcerated by British police until his release in 1933. He then made his way back to the Soviet Union, where he spent several years recovering from tuberculosis. In 1938, he returned to China and served as an adviser with Chinese Communist armed forces.

In 1941, Ho returned to Vietnam to lead the Viet Minh independence movement. He oversaw many successful military actions against the Vichy French and Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II, supported closely but clandestinely by the United States Office of Strategic Services, and also later against the French bid to reoccupy the country (1946-1954). He was also jailed in China for many months by Chiang Kai-shek's local authorities. After his release in 1943, he again returned to Vietnam. He was treated for malaria and dysentery by American OSS doctors.

After the August Revolution (1945) organized by the Viet Minh, H0 became Chairman of the Provisional Government (Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam). Though he convinced Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate, his government was not recognized by any country. He petitioned American President Harry Truman for support for Vietnamese independence, but was rebuffed due to French pressure on the U.S. and his known communist activities.

In 1945, in a power struggle, the Viet Minh killed members of rival groups, such as the leader of the Constitutional Party, the head of the Party for Independence, and Ngo Dinh Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Khoi. Purges and killings of Trotskyists, the rival anti-Stalinist communists, have also been documented. In 1946, when Ho traveled outside of the country, his subordinates imprisoned 25,000 non-communist nationalists and forced 6,000 others to flee. Hundreds of political opponents were also killed in July that same year. All rival political parties were banned and local governments purged to minimise opposition later on.

On September 2, 1945, after Emperor Bao Dai's abdication, Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, under the name of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. With violence between rival Vietnamese factions and French forces spiraling, the British commander, General Sir Douglas Gracey declared martial law. On September 24, the Viet Minh leaders responded with a call for a general strike.

On September 1945, a force of 200,000 Chinese Nationalists arrived in Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh made arrangement with their general, Lu Han, to dissolve the Communist Party and to hold an election which would yield a coalition government. When Chiang Kai-Shek later traded Chinese influence in Vietnam for French concessions in Shanghai, Hồ Chí Minh had no choice but to sign an agreement with France on March 6, 1946, in which Vietnam would be recognized as an autonomous state in the Indochinese Federation and the French Union. The agreement soon broke down. The purpose of the agreement was to drive out the Chinese army from North Vietnam. Fighting broke out with the French soon after the Chinese left. Ho Chi Minh was almost captured by a group of French soldiers led by Jean-Etienne Valluy at Viet Bac, but was able to escape.

In February 1950, Ho met with Stalin and Mao in Moscow after the Soviet Union recognized his government. They all agreed that China would be responsible for backing the Viet Minh. Mao's emissary to Moscow stated in August that China planned to train 60-70,000 Viet Minh in the near future. China's support enabled Ho to escalate the fight against France.

According to a story told by Journalist Bernard Fall, after fighting the French for several years, Ho decided to negotiate a truce. The French negotiators arrived at the meeting site, a mud hut with a thatched roof. Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Ho was ready to negotiate. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces, in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Hồ replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war.

In 1954, after the important defeat of French paratroopers at the Battle of Đien Bien Phu, France was forced to give up its empire in Indochina.

In 1955, Ho Chi Minh became president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), a Communist-led single party state.

The 1954 Geneva Accords required that a national election would be held in 1956 to reunite Vietnam under one government. However, the government of South Vietnam, now under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem, refused the proposed election and instead prepared for war. Some contemporary observers consider that if an election had been held in the 1954-55 period, around 80% of the Vietnamese population would have voted for Ho Chi Minh. Even "President Eisenhower is widely quoted to the effect that in 1954 as many as 80% of the Vietnamese people would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, as the popular hero of their liberation, in an election against Bao Dai... " However, the United States remained fearful of the prospect of losing its influence in Indochina, which would be valuable as a military base in a future conflict with Communist China.

Following the Geneva Accords, there was to be a 300-day period in which people could freely move between the zones of the two Vietnams. Some 900,000 to 1 million Vietnamese, mostly Roman Catholic, left for South Vietnam, while a much smaller number, mostly communists, went from South to North. This was partly due to propaganda claims by a CIA mission led by Colonel Edward Lansdale that the Virgin Mary had moved South out of distaste for life under communism. Some Canadian observers claimed that some were forced by North Vietnamese authorities to remain against their will. During this era, Ho, following the communist doctrine initiated by Stalin and Mao, started a land reform in which hundreds of thousands of people accused of being landlords were summarily executed or tortured and starved in prison. This also caused millions of people to flee to South Vietnam.

In 1959, Ho's government began to provide active support for the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which escalated the fighting that had begun in 1957. In late 1964, North Vietnamese combat troops were sent southwest into neutral Laos.

During the mid to late 1960s, Ho permitted 320,000 Chinese volunteers into northern North Vietnam to help build infrastructure for the country, thereby freeing a similar number of North Vietnamese forces to go south.

Ho Chi Minh died on 2nd September 1969 in at house in Hanoi at age of 79. Many in North Vietnam tearfully mourned his death.
In Vietnam today, he is regarded by the Communist government with almost god-like status in a nationwide personality cult, even though the government has abandoned most of his economic policies since the mid-1980s. He is still referred to as "Uncle Ho" in Vietnam. Ho's image appears on the front of every Vietnamese currency note, and Ho is featured prominently in many of Vietnam's public buildings. In 1987, UNESCO officially recommended to Member States that they "join in the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of President Ho Chi Minh by organizing various events as a tribute to his memory", considering "the important and many-sided contribution of President Ho Chi Minh in the fields of culture, education and the arts" and that Ho Chi Minh "devoted his whole life to the national liberation of the Vietnamese people, contributing to the common struggle of peoples for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress".

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