Last week, President Obama met at the White House with Truong Tan Sang, the president of Vietnam. At the end of their meeting, according to the official White House release, Obama said:
We discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.
This weekend, I wrote an op-ed about it for the Wall Street Journal (unfortunately, subscription is required); I argued that Ho Chi Minh is more than likely laughing at our president from his grave. Rather than being any kind of a Jeffersonian democrat, he was a committed and disciplined Marxist-Leninist, trained at the infamous Lenin School in Moscow in the 1920s.
It is true that more than once, Ho Chi Minh made a shrewd tactical maneuver, a key instrument in the Leninist playbook. Seeking U.S. and Western support for his anti-colonial Communist movement, he decided that his effort might be rewarded with aid and military supplies against the French, and that goal could be attained more easily if he invoked the American Founding Fathers as his inspiration.
When the French withdrew from Vietnam in 1945, Ho proclaimed himself president of a provisional government, which he called the Vietnam Democratic Republic. I wrote in the op-ed:
In October 1945, just how democratic the republic would be became clear: Ho ordered the slaughter of his political opponents, including 50,000 of the then-powerful Trotskyist communists. During a trip to Paris in late 1945, Ho told the French Socialist leader Daniel Guerin, “All those who do not follow the line which I have laid down will be broken.”
For those who want details on how the newly installed “democratic” leader exterminated all of his opponents, consult any of the books by the late Austrian-born social-democrat Joseph Buttinger.
Spyridon Mitsotakis writes at Breitbart.com:
The myth of Ho’s devotion to the ideals of America’s Founders comes largely from a speech he made in Hanoi upon the defeat of the Japanese at the end of World War II. On September 2, 1945, he declared: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live and to be happy and free …
It is well known that during the war against the Japanese, the American OSS, the precursor of the CIA, flew in a team to help train and equip Ho’s troops to fight and aid in the guerrilla war led by Ho against the Japanese occupiers of Vietnam. As Mitsotakis explains, compromise and alliances with the bourgeois enemy was always considered by Leninists a tactical step in the march to attaining power. He quotes Vietnam First Party Secretary Le Duan, who explained to his cadre:
We would at one time reach a temporary compromise … with the French in order to … wipe out the reactionaries [the non-communist Nationalists, whom the Communists helped the French to hunt down] … thus gaining time to consolidate our forces and prepare for a nationwide resistance to French colonialist aggression, which the party knew was inevitable.
Perhaps the man most responsible for depicting Ho Chi Minh as a Jeffersonian democrat inspired by the American revolution was another retired OSS officer, Archimedes L.A. Patti, who had met with Ho in late 1945. This was precisely the same time Ho’s cadre were physically exterminating all political opponents, including those on the Left such as the once powerful Vietnamese Trotskyists.
Sympathetic to Ho’s desire for Vietnamese independence, Patti — as he reveals in a 1981 TV interview — believed that just as the U.S. was ready to grant the Philippines independence, he hoped that it would do the same for Vietnam. Thus Patti emphasized to Ho FDR’s hostility to the French. When he talked with Ho Chi Minh in late 1945, as he puts it:
Ho Chi Minh was on a silver platter in 1945. We had him. He was willing to, to be a democratic republic, if nothing else. Socialist yes, but a democratic republican. He was leaning not towards the Soviet Union, which at the time he told me that USSR could not assist him, could not help him because they just won a war only by dint of real heroism.
It was Patti who in his book and in many speeches related how Ho Chi Minh cited the American Declaration of Independence. Patti was a skilled intelligence officer, influenced by how Ho’s troops aided U.S. forces with valuable intelligence in the fight against Japan. But Patti too was more than gullible, and believed Ho’s claims, not realizing how the Communist leader was applying classic Leninist strategy. It was Patti who argued that Ho Chi Minh was really a nationalist rather than a Communist, and that if the U.S. had worked with him and supported his aims, the result would have been a democratic Vietnam.
Evidently, later intelligence officers were equally gullible. In the comments section of the WSJ, Alan Trustman, who identifies himself as a “lifelong Republican conservative” and “not a supporter of Obama,” posted the following:
Allen Dulles … in the presence of his son, told me that he believed Ho wanted an independent, unified Vietnam which was a democracy on the American model, but the people advising Truman were so unreasonably hostile, given Ho’s communist background, that we were not going to support Ho notwithstanding his role as the virtual head of American intelligence in Indo China during WWII.
I have no reason to doubt Mr. Trustman’s recollection. That, however, reveals that even the Republican appointed head of the CIA Allen Dulles (Director of Central Intelligence from 1953 to 1961) and brother of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed Ho Chi Minh’s manipulative claims.
That claim was reinforced by the PBS documentary series on Vietnam. That program was countered by a relatively little-known documentary Televisions’ Vietnam: The Real Story. It can be watched here on You Tube. The participants include Stephen Morris, a historian of Vietnam, who states:
If he was primarily a communist, as I’ve argued, this means that he did constitute a security threat to the United States and the free world, because of his commitment to the internationalist communist community, led by the Soviet Union. The second reason is, if we recognize the fact that he was primarily a communist, we understand why his victory constituted a great setback for the cause of human rights in his own part of the world, because, as a communist, he felt it necessary to use aggressive violence against non-communists who might potentially threaten his power.
That documentary, shown on a few PBS stations in 1985, made the salient points that were all but ignored by the editorial writers and pundits, who preferred to continue with the usual narrative about Vietnam — that of the left who saw Ho Chi Minh as a righteous leader of democratic forces fighting for his people’s freedom.
Today, as Vietnam’s still-Communist government moves along with a state-controlled capitalist economy guided by a rigid one-party state, its leaders have, as even The New York Times put it:
[The authorities]… cracked down at home, imprisoning bloggers, religious leaders and dissidents; curtailing labor laws; and again taking control of what one Vietnam expert called the “commanding heights” of the economy.
Ho Chi Minh is long gone; his legacy lives on in the Communist-controlled Vietnam he created. Improving relations, trade, and mutually beneficial arrangements between our country and Vietnam should not include continuing to spread the myth about Vietnam’s founder seeking a country modeled on our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
Can’t President Obama move beyond the myths of the anti-war movement that his mother and other mentors evidently taught to him?