Hồ Chí Minh
|“||Remember that the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and their stability.||„|
|~ Ho Chi Minh|
Hồ Chí Minh (19 May 1890 – 2 September 1969), born Nguyễn Sinh Cung, also known as Nguyễn Tất Thành, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Bác Hồ ("Uncle Ho") or simply Bác ("Uncle"), was a Vietnamese revolutionary and politician who is considered to be one of the most influential figures of Cold War-era Asia. He served as Prime Minister of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1955 and then its President from 1945 until his death in 1969. Ideologically a Marxist-Leninist, he served as Chairman and First Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Hồ Chí Minh led the Việt Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the Communist-ruled Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French Union in 1954 at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ. He officially stepped down from power in 1965 due to health problems. After the war, Saigon, the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 at the Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi as well as the People's Army of Vietnam and the Việt Cộng during the Vietnam War.
Any description of Hồ Chí Minh's life before he came to power in Vietnam is necessarily fraught with ambiguity. He is known to have used at least 50 and perhaps as many as 200 pseudonyms. Both his place and date of birth are subjects of academic debate since neither is known with certainty. At least four existing official biographies vary on names, dates, places, and other hard facts while unofficial biographies vary even more widely.
Ho Chi Minh was born Nguyen Sinh Cung on May 19, 1890, in a village in central Vietnam (then part of French Indochina). In 1911, he found work as a cook on a French steamer and spent the next several years at sea, traveling to Africa, the United States, and Britain, among other locations. By 1919, he was living in France, where he organized a group of Vietnamese immigrants and petitioned delegates at the Versailles Peace Conference to demand that the French colonial government in Indochina grant the same rights to its subjects as it did to its rulers.
Inspired by the success of Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution, he joined the new French Communist Party in 1920 and traveled to Moscow three years later. He soon began recruiting members of a Vietnamese nationalist movement that would form the basis of the Indochinese Communist Party (founded in Hong Kong in 1930) and traveled the world, including Brussels, Paris, and Siam (now Thailand), where he worked as a representative of the Communist International organization.
Founding of North Vietnam
When Germany defeated France in 1940, during World War II, Ho saw it as an opportunity for the Vietnamese nationalist cause. Around this time, he began to use the name Ho Chi Minh (roughly translated as “Bringer of Light”). With his lieutenants Vo Nguyen Giap and Pham Van Dong, Ho returned to Vietnam in January 1941 and organized the Viet Minh or League for the Independence of Vietnam. Forced to seek China's aid for the new organization, Ho was imprisoned for 18 months by Chiang Kai-shek's anti-Communist government.
With the Allied victory in 1945, Imperial Japanese forces withdrew from Vietnam, leaving the French-educated Emperor Bảo Đại in control of an independent Vietnam. Led by Vo Nguyen Giap, Viet Minh forces seized the northern city of Hanoi and declared a Democratic Republic of Vietnam (known commonly as North Vietnam) with Ho as president. Bảo Đại abdicated in favor of the revolution, but French military troops gained control of southern Vietnam, including Saigon, and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese forces moved into the north according to the terms of an Allied agreement. Ho began negotiations with the French in efforts to achieve a Chinese withdrawal as well as eventual French recognition of Vietnam’s independence and reunification of North and South Vietnam. He also gained Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China as allies for added assistance against Chiang Kai-shek's forces. But in October 1946, a French cruiser opened fire on the town of Haiphong after a clash between French and Vietnamese soldiers. Despite Ho’s best efforts to maintain peace, his more militant followers called for war, which broke out that December.
During the First Indochina War, the French returned Bảo Đại to power and set up the state of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in July 1949, with Saigon as its capital. Armed conflict between the two states continued until a decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu ended in French defeat by Viet Minh forces. The subsequent treaty negotiations at Geneva (at which Ho was represented by his associate Pham Van Dong) partitioned Indochina and called for elections for reunification in 1956.
Backed by the United States, the strongly anti-Communist South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm refused to support the Geneva accords and put off elections indefinitely. In 1959, armed conflict broke out again, as Communist guerrillas known as the Viet Cong began launching attacks on targets (including U.S. military installations) in South Vietnam. The Viet Cong appealed to North Vietnam for help, and that July the central committee of Ho’s Lao Dong (Worker’s Party) voted to link the establishment of socialism in the North to the cause of unification with the South.
At this same meeting, Ho ceded his position as party secretary-general to Lê Duẩn. He would remain nominally as North Vietnam’s head of state during the Vietnam War but would take a more behind-the-scenes role. To his people, “Uncle Ho” also remained an important symbol of Vietnam’s unification. The U.S. continued to increase its support of South Vietnam, sending economic aid and–beginning in December 1961–military troops. American airstrikes against North Vietnam began in 1965, and in July 1966, Ho sent a message to the country’s people that “nothing is as dear to the heart of the Vietnamese as independence and liberation.” This became the motto of the North Vietnamese cause.
On the heels of North Vietnam's Tet Offensive in early 1968, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson made the decision to halt the escalation of the war and called for peace talks to begin. The conflict was still ongoing by September 2, 1969, when Ho Chi Minh died in Hanoi at the age of 79. The last U.S. troops left Vietnam in March 1973, and in April 1975 Communist forces seized control of Saigon, renaming it Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh's government spearheaded a campaign of land reform beginning in 1953. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were accused of being landlords and were summarily executed or tortured and starved in concentration camps. More than 172,000 people died during the North Vietnam campaign after being classified as landowners and wealthy farmers, official records of the time show. Multiple sources classify the murders as a genocide, with estimates of the number of people killed ranging from 200,000 to 900,000 people.