In the computer-type jargon that the present generation of U.S. political scientists seem compelled to employ, there is no place for history, national identity or traditions, human sentiments and values in the various "models," "scenarios" and "games" they project in dealing with "target" countries and peoples. If such values are considered at all, it is to design policies to denationalise such a people as the Vietnamese, force them to turn their backs on their own history and traditions and model themselves on a foreign image. Like so many other elaborate designs, this will fail. But the effort to overcome a "resistance culture" is made with great intensity.
It is no accident that captured resistance fighters are almost invariably portrayed semi-nude, up to their middles in mud or roped together neck4o-neck, being marched off by grinning G.I. supermen. Vietnamese must be made to feel that they are racial inferiors with no right to national identity. For public consumption they are "gooks," "slopes" and "dinks;" a My Lai becomes a "Pinkville" its massacred inhabitants "oriental human beings" in official reports.
Reality is that the humblest Vietnamese peasant, even illiterate, is usually culturally and morally superior to his American adversary. He knows more about his country's traditions and history-not only because there are a few thousand more years to know about-but because he quite literally absorbs it with his mother's milk. He is saturated with his historical heritage by environment from his earliest years. Whether it is lullabies learned at his mother's breast, legends from a wandering bard or story4eller, or from an itinerant theatre group portraying heroic episodes of two thousand years' resistance to foreign aggression; whether it is curiosity as to the origins of the village "genie" (a rough approximation to a patron saint), very often a legendary hero, or family tales handed down for generations of the brave deeds of ancestors in defence of the Motherland, or of iniquitous sufferings at the hands of foreign oppressions crying out for revenge, the knowledge of two thousand years' struggle against invaders is in the bloodstream of the humblest, mud-stained peasant. This alone is an inexhaustible source of courage and stoicism; of confidence in the future and contempt for those who try to wreck the present-qualities incomprehensible to the "think tank" specialists.
Ho Chi Minh epitomizes all this. And just as there was something of every Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh so there is something of Ho Chi Minh in almost every present-day Vietnamese, so strong is his imprint on the Vietnamese nation. He was born on May 19, 1890 in the coastal province of Nghe An, birth-place of historical heroes, great poets and latter-day patriots and nationalists. Even if Ho disagreed with the methods of the latter-the correct line to victory was awaiting him, to be discovered-he revered and was inspired by their burning patriotism, their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice for the nation. Nghe An, and the neighboring province of Ha Tinh, were the cradle of the country's most outstanding warriors and revolutionaries. A temple close to Kim Lien village where Ho was born, was dedicated to one of the generals of Le Loi, the warrior-king who waged a successful guerrilla struggle against 15th century Chinese invaders.
The district in which Kim Lien is located was the birthplace of Vietnam's greatest poet, Nguyen Du, whose late 18th century epic poem "Kim Van Kieu" sings the praise of a beautiful girl, turned courtesan because the wars snatched away her first love, and of the warrior hero who won her heart. Rich in patriotic fervor, this poem remains the great masterpiece of Vietnamese classical literature and is the source of endless folk tales and episodes adapted for the theatre. Thus, as did most of his compatriots, Ho drew inspiration for his earliest stirrings of patriotism from his environment. And the first seeds of revolution were sown by the misery of his own early life and those of his neighbors under the double yoke of colonialism and feudal exploitation.
"The spontaneous struggle of the peasants against seizure of their lands; the crushing taxes and all sorts of forced unpaid labor awakened hatred of the invaders and traitors in the heart of Ho Chi Minh," wrote Truong Chinh2 in a brief biography prepared for the President's 70th birthday. "The account of the exploits of heroes of his native district such as Mai Hac De, Nguyen Quang Trung and others, gave birth at an early stage to feelings of patriotism, the will to independence and his indomitable spirit... .The guerrilla warfare waged by Hoang Hoa Tham in North Vietnam deeply impressed him during his adolescence and led him to meditate on the success and failure of each one of these movements. . . ."
First among the elders he admired was his own father, Nguyen Sinh Sac (Nguyen Sinh Huy in some accounts due to the Vietnamese habit of changing the last element in their names). He was born of a concubine and started life as a buffalo boy, but managed to study and win a government post-highly coveted in those days-through the mandarin system of competitive examinations. Nguyen Sinh Sac quickly renounced his post at the imperial capital at Hue after first-hand experience of the privileges and corruption that went with public office. He preferred the life of a wandering story4eller and public letter-writer, a kindly, gentle man according to those who met him during his peregrinations.
Young Ho-Nguyen Tat Thanh in those days-shared his father's disgust at the atmosphere of the imperial capital. He started studying at the French-run Quoc Hoc college in Hue but, according to Truong Chinh, "seeing that the only aim was to train docile employees and zealous servants for the colonialists and feudalists, he abandoned his studies to teach in a private school at Phan Thiet. Shortly afterwards he left the education service to learn a trade in Saigon . . . ."
Ho, in fact, had already decided to go abroad to acquire knowledge that would serve in furthering the struggle for independence. He acquired a scholarship to a Technical School in Saigon which mainly trained seamen. (Among his sea4aring fellow students was a certain Ton Duc Thang, who later entered history by shinning up the mast of the flagship of the French Fleet in the Black Sea during the Bulshevik Revolution to unfurl the red flag of mutiny. The mutiny, in 1919, which forced the French to call off their naval intervention against the revolution, was led by the French communist, Andre Marty. Later Ton Duc-Thang became vice-president of the DRV and, after the death of Ho Chi Minh, in September 1969, it was Ton Duc Thang who succeeded him as President.)
Ho broke off the three-year course after three months and managed to use what aptitudes he had picked up at the French-run Technical School to sign on the French steamer "Admiral Latouche Treville" as a cook's helper. It is by no means intended here to present a comprehensive biography of Ho Chi Minh but to portray essential elements of his life and work to illustrate his impact on every aspect of the Vietnam independence struggle. Many details of his extraordinary experiences in the years that immediately followed his departure from Vietnam will be omitted. Suffice to say that once he got to France, he took a job for a while as a servant to a French family in Le Havre, then took to sea again, visiting a great number of French colonies. He also visited the United States for a short time.
Two main impressions resulted from his first contacts with the outside world. First that colonialist exploitation was the same everywhere: hateful, humiliating and unbelievably cruel whether in Vietnam, Senegal, Tunis, Madagascar or any of the dozens of colonies he visited. "To the colonialists, the life of an Asian is not worth a cent," he remarked once after seeing four Africans drowned one after another during a terrible storm off Dakar, trying to get a line ashore from a boat on which Ho was serving. "They (French officers) burst out laughing while our compatriots died for their sake." The second impression was that the French he met as ship-mates or in the cafes and homes in Marseilles, Le Havre and other ports, were very different from the colonialist overlords he had known in Vietnam. "The French in France are good" he remarked to one of his ship-ma~es who later recorded his reminiscences of Ho at that period, "it is the French colonialists who are cruel and inhuman."
This early distinction between colonialists and ordinary people, the complete absence of any racial hatred towards the French and the observations of an exceptionally sensitive, alert mind during his travels lay the basis for the rare breadth and depth of Ho Chi Minh's international outlook which he preserved to the day of his death. Notes made during these early travels, incidentally, served him well a few years later when he plunged into journalism and writing in general. His first book, typically enough, was "Accusations Against French Colonialism." After his sea travels were over, Ho went to London for a while in 1917, sweeping snow, working as a boiler-tender in a lodging house basement, ending up first as a dish-washer, then as an assistant to the incomparable Escoffier, at London's Carlton Hotel, specialising in cake-making. In his spare time-his study a bench in Hyde Park-he learned English which he later spoke fluently with a charming French accent. But the question of how to set about winning the country's independence was burning away in his mind. The conscripting of Vietnamese as coolies and cheap cannon-fodder on the European battlefields of World War I added fuel to the fires of his determination to act.
His first chance came when the victor powers gathered at Versailles for the great conference that followed Germany's defeat in World War I. Ho had hurried back to France as soon as the war ended and contacted other Vietnamese patriots who shared his views. Their response is described by another old sea-faring compatriot, Bui Lam.3
"There were so many events in that unforgettable year of 1919. In June of that year, the imperialists held the Versailles Conference to redivide the colonial market among themselves. Suddenly they were faced with claims for self-determination for Vietnam made by Nguyen Ai Quoc [Nguyen The Patriot, the name Ho had assumed at that time, W.B.] - The French called it a bomb. We called it a thunderbolt. It is the thunder in spring that melts the fog surrounding us, helping the seeds lying deep in our hearts to spring forth. We were overjoyed as all of us who had to leave the country to earn our living, loved our fatherland and yearned for its independence. How could any of us refrain from admiring the man who stood up courageously to make claims in the national interest in the capital of France and right at the 'Great Powers' Conference, thus stirring public opinion throughout the world. At this time, whenever Vietnamese met, they spoke of independence, self-determination and Nguyen Ai Quoc. The name Nguyen Ai Quoc had an extraordinary attraction. When we uttered the name, we felt as if we had performed a good deed and were inspired by something."
The 8 points that Nguyen
Ai Quoc presented to the Versailles Conference were simple and straight
to the point as was every document edited by "Uncle" Ho:
1) General amnesty for
all Vietnamese political prisoners.
2) Equal rights for Vietnamese
and French in Indochina, suppression of the Criminal Commissions which
are instruments of terrorism aimed at Vietnamese patriots.
3) Freedom of press and
4) Freedom of association
5) Freedom to travel at
home and abroad.
6) Freedom to study and
the opening of technical and professional schools for natives of the colonies.
(Probably Ho had in mind neighboring Laos and Cambodia as well as the three
administrative zones of Vietnam.)
7) Substitute rule of
law for government by decree. (French colonies were governed by Presidential
decrees instead of laws approved by the National Assembly.)
8) Appointment of a Vietnamese
delegation alongside that of the French government to settle questions
relating to Vietnamese interests.
As in all his subsequent dealings with France, Ho Chi Minh's demands were a model of modesty. He was not even asking France to abandon the colonial regime in Indochina, only to introduce some minimum reforms to ease the immediate conditions of his compatriots and restore something of national dignity. France turned a deaf ear to the demands, but Ho had succeeded in attracting great publicity in progressive French circles to the situation in Indochina. From that time on he had a public to speak to and journalistic outlets through which to make his voice heard. The 8 points were his first shot in the struggle for independence and as in the future, it was unerringly well-aimed.
The haughty rejection by the French government of the day, only reinforced his views that revolutionary struggle was the only way forward and he started about organising that with the singleness of purpose that marked his entire life. Ho joined the French socialist party, the first Vietnamese to be a member of a French political party. Through its organs, he pounded away to expose conditions in Vietnam and other colonies. He founded a newspaper "La Paria," editing it with North African expatriates and had it smuggled into the colonies through his old seafaring connections.
At the famous Tours Congress (December 25 to 30, 1920) at which the French Socialist party split in two over whether to adhere to the Second or Third (Communist) International, Ho, a full delegate, voted for the Third International because it had taken a firm anti-colonial position.
Ho, or Nguyen Ai Quoc, thus became the first Vietnamese communist and a founding member of the French Communist party, born out of the split. The latter quickly became a powerful political organisation. At the first election at which it presented candidates after the Tours Congress-among them Nguyen Ai Quoc, the first Vietnamese ever to stand for election in France-the Communist party received 22 percent of the vote.
Running Nguyen Ai Quoc for office was a gesture of support for colonial peoples by the French C Y., as he was banned by law, as a colonial, from entering the French parliament. In becoming a member of the French CY. however, the future president had opened the door to activities on the international front.
He moved far and fast. The timid young delegate to the Tours Congress who had difficulty in understanding many of the terms used, was in Moscow by June, 1923 and represented the French CY. at an international congress of peasants in October of that year, which gave birth to the International Peasants' Council. Less than a year later, he was a member of the French CY. delegation at the 5th Comintern Congress. The personal sympathy and support he had received from the French party did not prevent him from making principled cristicisms of the French (and British) Communist parties for their vacillating attitudes on colonialism (a point of dissension between Communist parties in the colonies or former colonies and those in the metropolitan countries until this day).
"It is not an exaggeration to say that so long as the French and British Communist parties have not brought out a really progressive policy with regard to the colonies, have not come into contact with the colonial peoples, their programme as a whole is, and will be, ineffective because it goes counter to Leninism...." Among other matters he reproached "L'Humanite," organ of the French CY., for not having published the Comintern appeal on behalf of the newly formed International Peasants' Council. He used the 5th Comintern Congress -and international congresses of youth and women's movements which followed-not only to hammer away with facts and figures at the iniquities of colonialism but also the necessity for international support for independence movements in general and in Indochina in particular. He knew the vital importance of international support for the enterprise that he had in mind.
All his activities in Moscow from June 1923 until late 1924 are not publicly known, but it is hardly likely that he neglected the occasion to pick up some notions of partisan warfare and underground revolutionary organisation. Lenin, by that time dead, had become his greatest hero. Whatever were his activities in Moscow and whatever the knowledge acquired, they were sufficient for his decision to get closer to the scene. By the end of 1924 he was in Canton, on Comintern business for the Chinese Communist party-but also to get things moving in Vietnam itself. (A Comintern mission, under the Soviet revolutionary Borodin, had been set up to help the Sun Yat Sen revolution.)
How does one individual set about cutting a revolutionary political and military organisation out of whole cloth? Where do you start? What are the priorities? What are the clues?
There is good reason to think that Ho's decision to arrange a transfer to Canton was spurred on by the explosion of a bomb hurled by a Vietnamese patriot at the French governor~eneral of Indochina, Merlin, as he passed through Canton. Merlin escaped; the Vietnamese-Pham Hong Thai-threw himself into the Pearl River and was drowned. He belonged to an organisation of Vietnamese exiles in China, the Tam Tam Xa (Union of Hearts), which believed in individual terrorism. A very special quality in the character of Ho Chi Minh which became ever more apparent as the revolutionary struggle developed was his genius in seizing on new phenomena, reacting swiftly to new situations, his ability to rise above sectarian considerations to grasp the essential. We have mentioned this earlier in relation to his adoration of feudal and bourgeois patriots whose patriotism he respected, but whose methods he condemned. He reacted similarly to the abortive assassination attempt.
Here were patriots, misguided in their line, but ready to sacrifice themselves for the fatherland. Already a precious asset. For a leader in search of a movement, here was a potential starting point. Was it this even that decided the date of Ho's departure from Moscow and the choice of Canton as a base? His own stri6t discipline of secrecy plus his modesty as to his own role make a definitive reply impossible. But official biographic references link the two events. In any case, in December, 1924, Nguyen The Patriot, arrived in Canton.
Truong Chinh, in the brief
biography referred to earlier, relates that:
"Drawing a lesson from
the failure of the assassination attempt against Merlin, he (Ho Chi Minh)
concluded that it was not by the assassination of Governor-Generals and
Residents that the colonial regime could be overthrown and the revolution
led to victory. To win the revolution, one needed a powerful political
party to organise the masses and lead them in the struggle towards the
seizure of power by insurrection."
Within six months, Ho had transformed the Tam Tam Xa into the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth Association, elements of which later were components in the formation of the Communist party of Indochina (in Macao in 1930).
We are indebted to still another Vietnamese mariner-the sea-man's trade was the only means of leaving the country and proved to be a crucible wherein was compounded an important element of internationalism among Vietnamese revolutionaries-for some glimpses of Ho's activity in Canton. This time it is Nguyen Luong Bang, now vice-president of the DRV, who lifts a corner of the veil of secrecy to show how organisations grow out of ideas. He met a Vietnamese-speaking member of the Chinese Seaman's Union who took him to visit the tombstone of would-be assassin Pham Hong Thai. Nugyen Luong Bang developed an urge to do something himself. So his Chinese friend arranged a meeting with one of the leaders of the newly founded Revolutionary Youth Association. And that person arranged a meeting with a certain Mr. Vuong:
"Only later," writes Nguyen Luong Bang, "did I know that Mr. Vuong was Nugyen Al Quoc... Me was thin but strong, and had very bright eyes. He wore a Sun Yat Sen-style suit... Mis gentle manner and cordial voice attracted me at once. . . ." Vuong invited him for discussions and then to join a political and cultural education group which included among general educational subjects the English language. Nguyen Luong Bang agreed. "One day at a meeting, he (Vuong) inquired whether there were among us someone who would volunteer to return to the homeland to carry out activities there. I raised my hand to signify my acceptance. . .
Vuong explained that the main thing was to persuade people that with unity, the oppressors could be overthrown. Of those who could be so persuaded, "We shall organise them into guilds and benefit societies. The most zealous will be admitted first, then other good elements."
Before he left Bang relates that Vuong "gave me careful advice, especially insofar as secrecy was concerned. Before leaving me, he drew my attention to a point: 'As you come from abroad, the security agents in the country will follow close on your heels,' he said, 'so don't go just where you like, don't call at just any house. Furthermore, if necessary, play the debauchee to fool the secret police.'
By April 1927, when Chiang Kai Shek started massacring his Communist allies in Canton and members of the Comintern mission under Borodin were forced to flee for their lives, Vuong had trained and sent over two hundred cadres back into Vietnam where, in the words of Truong Chinh, "they served in turn as instructors to swell the ranks of the revolution." In April, 1927, the Revolutionary Youth Association transferred its headquarters to Hong Kong; Vuong managed to get in and out of Shanghai without the Kuomintang setting hands on him and returned briefly to Moscow.
Another phase had come
to an end. But it ended with a nucleus of devoted cadres, formed in Ho
Chi Minh's image, implanted in their native soil and armed with a theoretical
work which "Vuong" had written during his stay in Canton, "The Revolutionary
Road." It expressed three key concepts which remained basic in Ho's thinking:
1) Revolution is the work
of the broad masses of workers and peasants and not of a few individuals.
Therefore the necessity of organising the masses.
2) The revolution must
be led by a Marxist-Leninist party.
3) The revolutionary movement
in each country must be closely linked with the international proletariat.
It must act in such a way that the working class and laboring masses must
be able to distinguish between the Third International and the Second International.
These ideas were spelled out in great detail and we will encounter them again in a different form 40 years later in the guidelines for political education of new recruits for the NLF in the jungles of South Vietnam. As for the dynamics of the Vietnamese revolution it was summed up in the book by the phrase: "One becomes revolutionary because one is oppressed. The more oppressed one is the more tenaciously resolved to carry out the revolution." In a little over two years, Nguyen Al Quoc had created a very substantial something out of nothing.
Among the "first two hundred" was Pham Van Dong, now the premier of the DRV, who had got himself in trouble with the French police during a student strike in Hanoi over the arrest of the reformist patriot Phan Chu Trinh. Rumours at this time that the legendary Nugyen Al Quoc was in Canton were sufficient for the 19 year old mandarin's son to set out to meet him, the first steps along the road which was to make him one of the veteran leaders of the Vietnam revolution. Pham Van Dong, like many others among that "first two hundred," studied in the famous Whampoa Military Academy where Chiang Kai Shek was the chief military instructor and Chou En Lai was in charge of political education, with Borodin representing the Comintern, and Nguyen Al Quoc a specialist adviser to Borodin.
The revolutionary yeast brought back by the two hundred~dd cadres, even though the training of many of them had been cut short by Chiang Kai Shek's treachery, was soon at work from one end of the country to the other. The ferment of discontent was gradually channeled into organisational forms, as the cadres set up cells and the nucleous of a nation-wide organisation. One of Phain Van Dong's special tasks was to organise underground trade unions and prepare for a wave of strikes a few years later. (After one such massive strike in 1929, Pham Van Dong was arrested and condemned to 10 years' imprisonment at Pouldo Condor. This was equivalent to a death sentence given the atrocious conditions on "Hell Island" at that time, condifions which have been continued by successive Saigon regimes since. Pham Van Dong and most of the other political prisioners were release in 1936 when a Popular Front government came to power in France.)
Had the French government of the day been wise, it would never have spurned those 8 points presented by Nguyen Al Quoc in 1919. But colonialist powers are notoriously short-sighted on such matters. By the time Chiang Kai Shek had crushed the Canton Commune and as a by-product, dispersed the leadership-in~xile of the Vietnamese revolution, an irreversible process had been set in motion. It was going to take many years of immensely difficult 9rganisational work; of political struggle and education of Vietnam's peasants and workers-nearly twenty years before the first shots were fired-but Ho had set the machinery of revolution in motion.
It assumed many forms, legal and illegal, suffered many setbacks, many roadblocks on the way; many of its leading cadres were executed or died in French jails. Brick by brick, the partyand its subsidiary organisations were built up into a vast network which covered the whole country and was firn~iy rooted among the people, especially the peasantry and plantation workers. With infinite patience, Ho resisted extreme pressures from his closest associates, to start the armed insurrection. As usual, he waited until conditions were ripe and success assured.
What manner of man was Ho that he could exercise such influence on all who came in contact with him?
My own memorable first meeting with him took place early in March, 1954. A conference to be held at Geneva had been announced to discuss transforming the Korean ceasefire agreement into a permanent peace settlement and, almost as an afterthought as it seemed at the time, the question of a ceasefife in Indochina would also be raised. I knew a good deal about the Korean problem, nothing at all about that of the Indochina war. Before going to Geneva I decided to try to go to Vietnam for an on4he-spot view of the situation. (For the previous two and a half years I had been in Kaesong-Panmunjom reporting on the Korean ceasefire talks and related matters and was not very well informed on what had been happening in the outside world.) Through the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Peking, I obtained a visa and together with an Italian journalist, Franco Calamandrei of L'Unita, set out on a fiveAay train journey to the China-Vietnam border and from there, by truck at night and by horse in daytime, to a jungle headquarters of the Vietminh.
I later 5wrote
about the circumstances of my first contact with "Uncle" Ho, as follows:
"A sun-helmet lay on the bamboo table of a thatch-roofed hut deep in the jungle of Northern Vietnam. It was late afternoon in mid-March 1954, and somewhere overhead an aeroplane was buzzing about. It had no chance of sighting the dozen or so bamboo and thatch huts that made up the little village. Much of the jungle had been cleared away, but the smooth pillars of the giant ironwoods and other jungle denizens supported a thick canopy of interwoven broad4eaved creepers, nature's most perfect camouflage over the whole village. A helicopter could hover a few meters over that green canopy for an hour and see nothing that it covered. It was not the jungle however but the image of the sun-helmet that was to remain in my mind for many weeks that followed....
"During my voyage to the Viet Bac, the radio had been full of news about a place called Dien Bien Phu. According to western radio reports, the French had built up a big base there and had started offensive operations 'to clean up the Viet-minh' from the whole of Northwest Vietnam and encircle them in a great pincers movement which would extend from Dien Bien Phu to the Red River Delta. And this is where the sun-helmet comes into the story. For it belonged to President Ho Chi Minh and alongside the helmet was the President himself.
"With the minute attention to detail that I found later was so characteristic of this great leader of the Vietnamese people, he had called shortly after my arrival with another journalist, to assure himself that we had survived the rigors of the journey and were in good health. It was difficult to believe that within a few hours of arrival we should be sitting opposite this legendary revolutionary leader. But there he was, the unmistakeable kindly face, the twinkling depthiess brown eyes, the thin straggling beard, the face we had known from photographs and portraits for years past. He had appeared out of the jungle shadows unannounced, a wind-breaker jacket thrown cape4ike across his shoulders, walking briskly with a long bamboo stick, sun-helmet worn high over his broad brow. After he had put us completely at our ease in his fluent French and English-and had addressed a few words in Italian to my Italian colleague-we asked President Ho why the radio was making such a noise about Dien Bien Phu. What in fact was going on there?"
"'This is Dien Bien Phu,'
he said and tipped his sun-helmet upside down on the table. 'Here are mountains,'
and his slim, strong fingers traced the outside rim of the helmet, 'and
that's where we are too. Down here,' and his fist plunged to the bottom
of the helmet, 'is the valley of Dien Bien Phu. There are the French. They
can't get out. It may take a long time, but they can't get out,' he repeated.
And that was the battle of Dien Bien Phu in a sun-helmet."
The day previous-March 13, 1954-as we learned later, Giap had launched his first blow at Dien Bien Phu and in four days captured three key positions guarding the northern approaches to Dien Bien Phu.6
My first impression as I wrote in the same book, "was the complete informality, the warmth and simplicity of it all. President Ho. . .had the ability to make one feel at ease from the first moment and to present the most complex questions in a few clear words and gestures. In subsequent meetings with this great personality it is just those qualities of warmth, simplicity and the clarity of expression which comes only with exceptional intelligence and complete grasp of the subject which made the deepest impression. Everyone who is received by President Ho comments on these characteristics, and above all on their feeling of being immediately 'at home' with him...."
His capacity to reduce complex situations to graphic, easily grasped images, as that illustrated by the sun-helmet, was typical of his simplicity of style. Eleven years later I asked what he thought of the possibilities of the Americans invading the North-it was at a period when the U.S. build-up in the South was continuing and press reports spoke of plans to extend the invasion to the North. "Of course we take the possibility very much into consideration," he replied, "but it reminds me of a fox that has one foot caught in a trap. He starts leaping about trying to get out and, pouf, he lands a second foot in another trap. That's what will happen if the Americans are mad enough to invade the North." Whether he was already thinking of a third and fourth foot in the traps of Laos and Cambodia, it is impossible now to say. But in late November, 1970, Pham Van Dong cited this image of the late President in explaining to Le Monde correspondent Jaqcues Decornoy the plight of the Americans following the invasion of Cambodia and intensified intervention in Laos.
"With 'Old Thu' as a teacher all is clear as if there is a light in your heart and brain," a woman cadre is quoted after her first meeting in Kunming in January, 1941 with Thu, Ho Chi Minh's pseudonym at the time. A few months later Vo Nguyen Giap also met "Old Thu" in Kunming and immediately identified him from photos as the legendary Nguyen Al Quoc.
"I had no particular feeling as I had expected I would have," wrote Giap later, "except that I found in him that simplicity of manner, that lucidity of character which later, when I worked by his side, had the same impact on me. Right at that first meeting, I found him very close to me as if we were old acquaintances. I thought that a great man like him was always simple, so simple that nothing particular could be found in him...." Giap, from that first meeting, became one of Ho's most devoted and capable lieutenants. Years later a messenger brought the false news that Ho had died in a Kuomintang prison and warrior Giap fainted at the messenger's feet!
In contrast to the high priests of American political science who more and more model expression of ideas. on dehumanised computer language and mathematical-type formulae instead of human images, with a premium on language unintelligible to the broad public, Ho Chi Minh's potent political science was expressed in simple language and vivid, homely images that the humblest peasant or worker could understand. In preparing articles or texts of declarations, even important policy documents, Ho tried them out on peasants, correcting words and phrases, until he was certain that the whole was intelligible to the broad masses. President Nixon's adviser Henry Kissinger would find his language would improve if he did the same thing!) One can even suspect that political scientists who have sold their talents to the Establishment invent language formulae inteffigible to a restricted circle of those that employ them while deliberately inaccessible to the ordinary man-in-the-street. Like the language of the medieval church, it has to be kept from the public.
Ho Chi Minh had unbounded faith in the masses. Throughout his career he insisted that it was the masses, not the leaders that made history. Hence his language, his style of work and life, was designed to ensure the closest possible contact with the masses; to know their deepest aspirations and devise policies accordingly. American political and social scientists and those they serve in the Establishment basically despise the masses; they devote their skills to bamboozle them and when necessary, to manipulate them to support policies against their real interests-the war in Indochina, for instance. They have developed the art of linguistic hocus-pocus-not to mention official lying-to the highest degree. An example of the sort of high level witchcraft employed to defeat people like Ho was "Project Camelot." We are informed it was "an evaluation of the feasibility of developing and implementing a dynamic social systems model to (a) identify indicators of conditions and trends which, if continued, would probably lead to the outbreak of internal war, (b) determine the probable effects of courses of action by the indigenous government upon the social processes in the indigenous culture. . . ." 7 Precisely because such abstract approaches ignored the existence of particular nations and peoples, 'Project Camelot" was later abandoned.
A similar project was designed to "develop a prototype simulation of a society undergoing rapid political, social or economic change. . . .to create a test environment for assessing the impact of alternative political, economic or military actions taken within or with respect to such societies. . . ."8 (In other words, whether "special" or "limited" war would be suitable!)
In a sense, of course, it was easier for Ho. His aims were simpler. "The life of President Ho Chi Minh has the purity of light" was how Pham Van Dong once expressed it. Ho himself spelled it out in a message to the Vietnamese people shortly after he returned to his native land after more than 30 years in exile: "I have had only one aim in life; to struggle for the good of the country and the well-being of my people - It is for this reason that I have had to hide in the mountains, crouch in prisons. Whatever the moment, whatever the place, I have had a single aim, the interest of the nation, the good of the people." When he knew that the last chapter of his remarkable life was at hand, he wrote in his last Testament: "About personal matters-all my life, I have served the fatherland, the revolution and the people with all my heart and strength. If I should now depart from this world, I would have nothing to regret, except not being able to serve longer and more...."
President Ho was an inveterate enemy of jargon and longwindedness. Perhaps his journalistic apprenticeship in France played a role in this. His first outlet was the trade union paper "La Vie Ouvriere" (Workers' Life). As his French was weak and journalistic experience nil, the editor suggested that he start by writing articles of five or six lines only, which the editor himself would correct. When the first six-line article appeared, he noted the editorial changes and thus gradually improved his style. Later he was told to increase to seven or eight lines. It was little space for all the burning ideas that Ho wanted to express but being forced to describe the sufferings of his people in a few lines each day-advised by the editor to keep reducing the words but pack in the same quantity of facts-helped train him as a first-class journalist.
Vo Nguyen Giap describes the first newspaper set up in the liberated areas after Ho returned from exile: "A mere flat piece of stone, a bottle of ink and some paper constituted all the printing materials. . . I was entrusted with writing news for the paper, or treatises on self-defense work, women's work, or the crimes committed by the French and Japanese. Ho Chi Minh gave me the limit for each of these articles, 50 words, 100 words and no more...." Giap went elsewhere and started a lithographed paper. "The print was small but the paper was large. When I returned to Cao Bang [where Ho had his headquarters, W.B.] for work, he smiled and said: "We have received your paper but I didn't read it, nor did the other comrades. Your articles were long and unintelligible... '" Giap soon adapted himself also to a terse style and vivid images. He described Ho's "office" of those days, outside the cave where he was lodged: "If he did not go out, he worked all day long at his desk, a flat rock near the stream, and would stop only for meals. At night everybody slept on a bed made of branches put together in a most simple way, a bed of course which was neither soft nor warm. . . ."
Ho Chi Minh's habits chinged little, even after victory, when he was installed in the former French governor-general's palace in Hanoi as President of the Republic. He kept the palace for official receptions and lived in one small room in the former servants' quarters at the back of the palace. It was here that he received me on numerous occasions. On one such, I asked if I might take a photo or two of him at work in his office. The Head of State smiled: "But I don't have an office. If it is fine, I work out in the garden; if it rains I work on the verandah and if it is cold, I work in my room."
Prime Minister Pham Van Dong also lived in a single room in the same quarters with a room in between serving as their dining room. Ho Chi Minh's exemplary modesty and simplicity, his frugal way of life under all conditions, became a model for all cadres from highest to lowest rank and for the people as a whole. In his Testament, he requested that: "When I am gone, a grand funeral should be avoided in order not to waste the people's time and money." His two last dying wishes were that his grave should not take up too much space of riceland and that the comrades around his deathbed should take good care of the nation's children as he had always done.
One matter which President Nixon and his predecessors may have overlooked but which the Vietnamese people certainly have not, is that Ho Chi Minh belongs to the whole Vietnamese nation. No line arbitrarily drawn along the 17th parallel could divorce the people of the South from Ho Chi Minh because his capital happened to be on the northern side of the line. Ho Chi Minh was the accepted leader and source of inspiration for all Vietnamese-except the handful who served Japanese, French and American masters in turn. His style of working and fighting was the style for Vietnamese in the South as in the North.
The fighting methods of
the National Front of Liberation in the South bear the imprint of Ho Chi
Minh precepts, above all the fundamental one that the only criteria for
judging a military action is its political effect. (It was no accident
that the first armed unit of the future Vietnam armed forces was named
an Armed Propaganda Unit.) The political-military strategies and tactics
developed by Ho Chi Minh and applied by Pham Van Dong and Vo Nguyen Giap
were those of the whole Vietnamese people. No line could be cut across
1According to a study by Alfred Blumstein and Jesse Orlansky
with the fearsome title: "Behavioral, Political and Operational Research
Programs on Countetinsurgency Supported by the Department of Defense" published
in 1965 by the Institute of Defense Analyses, even by then "the entire
U.S. social science research community has been moblilsed to assist in
tile task of investigating, manipulating, co-opting and controlling the
societies which occupy the underdeveloped lands of the Third World." The
single, major target for this formidable mobilisation of academic talent
is Vietnam, especially from 1965 onwards. Other experts on the subject
maintain that the mobllisation of the U.S. social science establishment
to counter "resistance cultures" has reached the point where it could legitimately
be considered a fourth branch of the U.S. military machine.
4June 17 to July 8, 1924.
51n "North of the 17th Parallel," published by the author in Hanoi,1955.
6Positions Anne Marie, Gabtielle and Beatrice, known to the Vietnamese as Ban Keo, Doc Lap and Him Lam respectively.
7"The Rise And Fall Of Project Camelot," by Irving Louis
Horowitz, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1967. Pages 47-9.
9From "Days With Ho Chi Minh."
Wilfred Burchett's exclusive dispatches from Korea, Indochina, japan; People's China and the Paris peace talks have been appearing in the pages of the Guardian for 20 years. Jhis independent radical newsweekly has functioned as a two-way radio between the revolutionary movements of the world and the people of the U.S. -through the writing of Wilfred Burchett and dozens of other correspondents. It was in the pages of the Guardian that Ho Chi Minh first learned the details of the antiwar and resistance movement in the U.S., just as Americans received the most in-depth reports of the liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people.
If there is room in your head for a hard-hitting, independent and irreverent radical newspaper, you should be reading the Guardian.