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    Saturday, April 30, 2005

    The Image of Ho 3

    The New York Times first mentions Ho Chi Minh on 2 Oct 1945, when it reports the formation of a new political party in Indochina by Ho, “a premier of the regime.” The dearth of references to Ho during the 1940s reveals the lack of status Ho had in the perception of the American people and government. What a little insurgent did in a forgotten corner of the world mattered nothing to the (soon-to-be) largest superpower the world has ever known. However, Ho was not entirely unknown—President Roosevelt had something up his sleeve.

    FDR wanted a free and independent Indochina in conjunction with the end of colonialism across the world. He also had a penchant for back-room dealings that neither the Vice President or anyone else knew about. England and France bucked against Roosevelt’s anti-colonial tendencies. FDR aired his feelings to Secretary of State Cordell Hull saying,

    France has had the country—30 million inhabitants—for nearly one hundred years, and the people are worse off than they were at the beginning. …France has milked it for one hundred years. The people of Indochina are entitled to something better than that. (George Donelson, Moss, Vietnam: An American Ordeal, 4ed (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2002) 19-20).

    Roosevelt proposed the idea of a trusteeship for Indochina and garnered approval from Stalin at the Tehran Conference while infuriating the Europeans. This trusteeship suggested that China and the United States share joint control over Indochina instead of France. This control, similar to the Iraqi occupation today, extended to peace keeping and stability until a Vietnamese government formed. However, in 1944 the Sino-American relations began to deteriorate, highlighted by the Japanese victory at the Burma Road and the Jiang-Stilwell argument over culpability. By February 1945, at Yalta, President Roosevelt gave up his hopes for a trusteeship over Indochina. However, he still entertained the idea of an independent Vietnam outside of colonial control. When Roosevelt died, all progress towards that dream died with him.

    Also importantly, Ho established personal relationships with many OSS officers who visited his base in Pac Bo. The officers viewed him as a nationalist foremost, willing to subjugate his Leninist tendencies to the higher call of unification and freedom. Ho interpreted these personal relationships as United States support of the Vietminh struggle for independence. The United States symbolized the ideals of freedom and independence—not only because of the revolutionary ideals of 1776—but also because of its recent success liberating Vietnam from Japanese rule. Ho Chi Minh believed that help from OSS officers against the Japanese also included tacit approval of Vietnam’s independence from France.

    Ho Chi Minh modeled the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence after an American copy handed to him by OSS agents. Ho Chi Minh knew it was vital to win either Russian or American support. American proximity made it seem more promising. During the August Revolution of 1945, the Vietminh issued a statement reading

    The Central Committee wishes to make known to the United States Government—that the Indo-Chinese people first of all desire the independence of Indo-China, and are hoping that the United States, as a champion of democracy, will assist her in securing this independence … (Gary R. Hess, The United States’ Emergence as a Southeast Asian Power, 1940-1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987) 174-5)

    On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese independence and “repeatedly appealed to the U.S. government for diplomatic recognition” (Moss, 28). Although Ho actively cultivated friendships among the small contingent of Americans left in Hanoi and recalled the past help by Americans during World War II, neither the United States of America nor any other country, including the Soviet Union, recognized Ho’s fledgling government. Ho continued to hope for American recognition, but mused privately that “if we want to get a sufficient share [of freedom and democracy] we have still to fight” (Hess, 175).

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