Ho Chi Minh’s life from his birth through the Second World War. Ho Chi Minh was the leader of Vietnam and a major force in the socialization of the country. Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890 in Vietnam, and was President of North Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969.
Ho Chi Minh was the son of a scholar and grew up in a poor village. According to one biographer, his real name was “Nguyen Van Thanh, which means Nguyen, who will be victorious” (Green 1996). His parents were both involved in the Vietnamese revolution against the French, and his mother was jailed for stealing guns from the French forces in the country, so revolution was in his blood. He attended a French school near his home, but spoke out against the French to the other students, so they threw him out in 1910. After that, he went to China as a teacher, and witnessed the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in China, be became even more convinced that Vietnam should gain its freedom from the French. He traveled to Saigon to learn to cook, because he thought that as a cook he could find a job anywhere. At the age of 22, he got a job on board a French ship in the galley, and he spent several years sailing around the world, finally ending up in France. He did a lot of reading while on board the ship, and became even more interested in revolutionary activities.
After leaving the ship, he got a job in London at the Carlton Hotel, and immediately noticed the Asian workers at the hotel were being mistreated. He formed a union for the Asian employees to gain better treatment throughout the country. He then became an activist for Vietnamese freedom, and he came under the scrutiny of French spies, he literally became the voice for Indo-China and their rights. During this time, he lived in France and attended intellectual meetings. Author Karnow writes, “Like other nationalists of his generation who had lived in France or attended French schools in Vietnam, Nguyen Ai Quoc adsorbed the influence of the West but rejected its domination” (Karnow 1997, 109). He also became a socialist while he lived in France, which led him to develop communism in Indo-China when he returned home. He later said, “It was patriotism and not Communism that originally inspired me'” (Karnow 1997, 134). Later, he moved to Moscow and met several prominent Soviet leaders, including Stalin and Trotsky, who further influenced him.
In 1925, he became an interpreter and advisor to the Chinese Army, and he then began to plot forming a communist party in China that would fight for freedom for Vietnam. He also began to train some of his followers in guerilla warfare tactics, and they began to attack French forces in Vietnam in an attempt to stir up trouble. He left China after a betrayal by Chiang Kai-shek, and again went to Moscow to escape the betrayal and murder that followed. He used a variety of names to cover his identity, and eventually moved to Siam (Thailand), where he created a school and began publishing a newspaper.
Vietnam was ripe for revolution by the time Ho Chi Minh returned to Indo-China. In 1929, he thought the time was ripe to form a cohesive Communist group, so he traveled to Hong Kong and urged three split parties there to form one group, the Indochinese Communist Party, who stood for independence and a proletarian government for Vietnam. Eventually he was arrested by British police, and jailed, but he persuaded an employee to say he was dead. He escaped to China and then to Moscow. He did not return to Vietnam until 1941, and he sided with the United States during World War II, because he felt they would defeat Japan, who had taken over the country, and return it to the Vietnamese when the war ended. However, France regained the country, and that made Ho Chi Minh even more determined to take back his country. In 1945, he drafted a statement about Vietnamese freedom, and hoped to inspire the United States to give back the country, but eventually, the U.S. recognized France’s presence and the country took over again after the war.
Ho Chi Minh was incredibly popular with the Vietnamese people because he appealed to their sense of nationalism and outrage over the foreign intervention. The French were often cruel and unfair, and Minh played on this, along with appealing to the people. They called him “Uncle” and respected that he had always spoken out for independence. Author Karnow says, “Children scurried everywhere, and even Buddhist monks in saffron robes and black-gowned Catholic priests appeared, all for a single purpose — to see the mysterious Ho Chi Minh” (Karnow 1997, 146). He was a legend because of his writing and speeches long before he returned to Vietnam, and he gained public support because he understood the Vietnamese people and their culture.
Minh formed the Vietminh army, which began to attack French forces with great success, and that only added to his popularity in the country. More people joined his organization, and tensions in the country mounted when the Japanese stopped people from growing rice. Millions starved to death and as Japan retreated, the Vietminh began to take over. Minh grew even more popular as his troops took more control, because the people were tired of foreign domination and Minh promised a Vietnamese government that would favor the people. What ultimately drove him was his love for his country and his people, and his determination to gain independence from foreign intervention. He was a strong leader, but he always appealed to the people for support and popularity, and they loved him for his stance and his stability. He ended up losing control over South Vietnam, and eventually the area would erupt in the Vietnam War in an attempt to control Communism, but the people loved Ho Chi Minh because he fought for them throughout his life, and because he desperately loved his country enough to fight for it.
Karnow, Stanley. 1997. Vietnam: A history. New York: Penguin Books.
Green, Richard. 1996. Biography of Ho Chi Minh. Tactile Interactive: http://www.tactileint.com/seasia/saigon/hochiminh.html (accessed April 6, 2010).
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