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    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    The Image of Ho 4

    From 1945 to 1949, the New York Times contained almost 30 articles about Ho Chi Minh per year. A large spike in the number of articles, 256 written about Ho Chi Minh, happens in 1950 (figure 2). Most articles juxtaposed Ho Chi Minh and the French colonialists, often referencing him in a quote by French authorities. The prevalence of Ho in the newspaper parallels United States interest in Southeast Asia.

    The United States viewed Vietnam after 1945 in a couple of ways. First, the American government wanted General MacArthur to reconstruct Japan into a pro-American state quickly and effectively. Joseph M. Dodge, the Detroit banker put in charge of stabilizing the Japanese economy, realized that

    the nations in [Southeast Asia] were potential exporters of food and raw materials, and they required finished goods to stimulate economic development and, as a consequence, reduce political instability. Japan … ‘complemented’ Southeast Asia economically; it was ‘the natural workshop of the East’ (Andrew J. Rotter, The Path to Vietnam: Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987) 128).

    Second, American interests in Europe came intertwined with a stable France. Ho Chi Minh’s uncertain relationship with the USSR pushed the Vietminh away from the USA. The United States wanted to make sure that France could exert leverage against the Soviet Union in Europe—meaning supporting the non-Communist French political parties—even though these same political parties campaigned for French colonialism in Southeast Asia, which Roosevelt had argued against (Alan J. Levine, The United States and the Struggle for Southeast Asia, 1945-1975 (Westport, CN: Praeger, 1995) 28-32). The United States also worried about “a French military withdrawal [from Vietnam] that would leave ‘chaos and terroristic activities’ in its wake and open the way to a Communist takeover in Vietnam” (Moss, 47).

    The depiction of Ho Chi Minh in the New York Times during the late 1940s mimicked the American stance on Indochina. On 24 December 1946 the American government characterized Ho as “a moderate,” while the French characterized him as “a fire-eater.” Throughout the rest of 1945-6, articles depict Ho Chi Minh as “Premier,” “President of the Vietnam Republic,” and “almost legendary.” These august titles shed Ho in a positive light as a fellow leader of a democracy. “Legendary” connotes a mythical nature to the man.

    On the other hand, some writers depicted Ho as “communistic,” “rebel,” “fire-eater,” or a “nominal head” of the government. They used the adjectives “duplicity,” and “Pearl Harbor tactics” to describe his actions. These words suggest a man who fights against everything America stands for, cannot be satiated by level-headed peaceful Americans, and has no real power. His actions show a lying, deceitful man, the opposite of what Americans expect of their heroes. President Eisenhower, trusted greatly by the population in international politics, provided an excellent foil.

    Both positive and negative images show an American government unsure of how to deal with Indochina and wary of Ho Chi Minh. Words such as “almost legendary” and “mystery man” reveal the lack of knowledge the United States government had about Ho Chi Minh. The balance of positive and negative adjectives painted a double picture of Ho. The U.S. government wanted a free and independent Vietnam, and painted him in a positive light, however, it feared for the spread of communism by this “Moscow-trained communist,” and so portrayed him negatively.

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