Ho Chi Minh was a determined, powerful individual who strived to achieve his goals of unification and independence for Vietnam. The events leading to the eventual achievement of such goals were shaped through his innovation, construction of a credible image for the Vietnamese people, and his determination as a political leader.
Dien Bien Phu
Vietnamese success at the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu can be credited to the political mastermind of Ho combined with the military wisdom of General Giap. As a superpower nation, France should have been able to beat the third world agrarian country- yet Ho’s asymmetric attack changed the expected outcome of the battle. He later utilised such skills to oust the Japanese and eventually defeat the Americans – all achievements carried out in pursuit of unification and independence for Vietnam.
Ho recognised the importance of his goal for national unification and understood the importance of gaining the support of the Vietnamese people. His 1945 August Revolution reading of the American Declaration of Independence addressed to Vietnamese people epitomised his role as a martyr for change within Vietnam. His distribution of peasant land reforms to over 80% of the population encouraged further support from the nation as Vietnam’s political figurehead. His image as the benevolent ‘Uncle Ho’ had a huge role in Vietnamese history, where as a leader he was loved, respected and admired.
Relationship with America
The 1945 Japanese occupation of Vietnam prompted Ho to build allegiances with the Americans, where their new found friendship in defeating their common enemy of Japan was demonstrated by the OSS training Vietnamese soldiers and a gift of 6 US firearms to the Vietnamese. Yet America’s perception of Ho as an expansionary communist meant that their ‘friendly’ relationship was severed, demonstrated by the US ignoring over 11 telegrams sent to them by Ho pleading for help.
However, Ho’s role in the international forum was not so well defined. Ho was largely ignored by international leaders at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, yet by 1954 at the Geneva Accords his role internationally had strengthened quite significantly. Whilst Ho felt robbed by the accords with the split of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, America’s refusal to sign the accords is representative of Ho’s increasing impact internationally. His image as a Vietnamese leader who was supported and admired within his country threatened the Western superpower.
The proposal that Vietnam participate in elections in 1954 was therefore not tolerated by the US founded on their perception of Ho as a communist leader because of the Vietnamese people’s support for him. Therefore, the outcome of the Geneva Accords in this sense was largely shaped by Ho’s received image within the Western world – albeit it was contrary to what his objectives truly were.
Ho’s 1945 August Revolution motivated the Vietnamese people, instilling in them a drive and lust for ‘freedom’. Ho read out the American Declaration of Independence to the Vietnamese, conjuring up support for Ho’s objectives of independence and unification. Without his political brilliance and strategical uniqueness the eventual victory for Vietnam in achieving independence may not have taken place. The second Indochinese War, and Vietnam’s success, is unwitting testimony to Ho’s impact. The Americans simply could not compete with his asymmetric strategy and determination as a leader.
Ho’s famous (perhaps infamous) proclamation that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, or how many lives are lost, he will achieve independence and unification for Vietnam at no matter what cost – is one that could not be matched by any democratic nation. Ho’s creation of the National Liberation Front, and the NLF’s response to battles such as the Easter offensive, and eventually the Tet offensive, demonstrates Vietnam’s resolve to be victorious and Ho’s instrumental impact in generating and ensuring such resolve.
- Windrow, M., (2004) The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, Cambridge: De Capo Press.
- Brocheux, P., (2007) Ho Chi Minh: A Biography, New York: Cambridge University Press.