Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the Vietnamese communist revolution, who fought against the French, the Japanese, and the US in his quest for independence and liberty for his people. But he was also a man who admired the US and its ideals, and who sought its friendship and recognition. How did the US miss the chance to ally with him, and instead end up in a devastating war that cost millions of lives and divided a nation?
Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890 in Vietnam, which was then a French colony. He traveled to many countries, including the US, where he worked as a cook and a baker in New York and Boston. He was inspired by the American Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution, and he hoped that the US would support Vietnam’s struggle for freedom and democracy against the French colonialists.
He wrote several letters to US presidents, including Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, asking for their recognition and assistance. However, none of his letters received a reply. He once said in an interview with an American journalist in 1946, “I have read the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. I think they are wonderful documents. I wish that the people of Vietnam could have the same rights and freedoms as the people of the United States.”
He led the Viet Minh, the nationalist and communist movement that fought against the Japanese occupation during World War II, and declared Vietnam’s independence in 1945, quoting the American Declaration of Independence. He said, “Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.”
He fought against the French, who tried to reclaim Vietnam after World War II, and the US, who supported the French and later the South Vietnamese regime, in a long and bloody war that lasted until 1975, when the communist forces captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. He said, “The Vietnamese people deeply love independence, freedom and peace. But in the face of United States aggression they have risen up, united as one man.” He also warned the French in 1946, “You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it.”
He died in 1969, before the end of the war, leaving behind his last testament, in which he expressed his love for his country and his people, and his hope for peace and reconciliation. He also revealed his disappointment and resentment towards the US, saying, “The more I think of the attitude of the United States, the more I feel indignant. They have helped the French to oppress us. They have prevented us from having contacts with the outside world. They have launched a war of aggression against us.”
The US, meanwhile, failed to recognize Ho Chi Minh as a potential ally and partner, and instead viewed him as a puppet of China and the Soviet Union, and a threat to its interests and influence in Southeast Asia. The US ignored his appeals and his popularity, and supported the corrupt and unpopular South Vietnamese regime, which oppressed and exploited the Vietnamese people. The US also intervened militarily, sending hundreds of thousands of troops and dropping millions of tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, causing massive destruction and suffering.
The US also betrayed its own principles and values, and violated the Geneva Accords of 1954, which called for a peaceful reunification of Vietnam through free and fair elections. The US feared that Ho Chi Minh would win the elections, and prevented them from taking place. Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State, admitted in a conversation with President Richard Nixon in 1972, “We were about to lose Vietnam … I think I saved Ho Chi Minh.”
The US eventually withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, after signing the Paris Peace Accords, which ended the US involvement in the war, but not the war itself. The war continued until 1975, when the communist forces overran Saigon, and unified Vietnam under their rule. The US lost more than 58,000 soldiers, and spent billions of dollars, in a war that was widely unpopular and controversial at home and abroad. The US also lost its credibility and reputation, and faced a moral and political crisis.
The war also had a lasting impact on Vietnam and its people, who suffered from the effects of violence, poverty, displacement, and environmental damage. More than 3 million Vietnamese died, and millions more were wounded, disabled, or traumatized. The war also divided the Vietnamese people, and created a rift between the North and the South, and between the Vietnamese and the Americans.
Today, Vietnam is a socialist republic, ruled by the Communist Party, which still venerates Ho Chi Minh as the father of the nation. Vietnam is also one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and has established diplomatic and trade relations with the US and other countries. Vietnam and the US have also reconciled and cooperated on various issues, such as human rights, security, and health. However, the legacy and the lessons of the war still linger, and the question remains: What if the US had listened to Ho Chi Minh, and treated him as a friend, not a foe?
– The little-known story of Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh’s admiration for the US, The World, September 18, 2017
– Did the U.S. ‘Lose’ Ho Chi Minh to Communism?, The New York Times, August 28, 2012
– Kissinger’s betrayal: He sold out South Vietnam in the 1973 Paris Accords, The Mercury News, April 29, 2015
– How the US betrayed an ally and let Vietnam become a communist nation, The Conversation, November 9, 2023
– Ho Chi Minh: The man who loved and hated America, BBC News, November 7, 2023
– The legacy of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam today, Al Jazeera, November 6, 2023