I just watched a documentary on Ho Chi Minh (HCM) called "The Truth about Ho Chi Minh" (in Vietnamese: "Sự Thật về Hồ Chí Minh") and combined with all my knowledge about him that I've picked up throughout all the years, I've come to the conclusion that he is one of the most evil figures of the 20th century.
The man was born Nguyễn Sinh Cung on May 19th 1890 in a small village called Hoàng Trù. At an early age he lived with his father and 3 siblings (2 brothers, 1 sister). When he turned 10, his father renamed him Nguyễn Tất Thành (Nguyen the Achiever). His father Nguyễn Sinh Sắc who served the imperial court is suspected to have been murdered by the French regime who believed his sons had been supporting a resistance movement against the French (at the time Vietnam was merely a colony of France). HCM later moved to the imperial city of Huế to attend a lycée school. It was there he met with whom would later be part of his Communist party - Phạm Văn Đồng and Võ Nguyên Giáp.
After spending some time teaching in Phan Thiết, on June 5th 1911, he boarded the Amiral Latouche-Tréville en route to Marseille, France. After arriving in France for the first time, HCM applied for attendance in the Colonial Administrative School but was rejected. Hence, he spent some time in France working as a cleaner and waiter. It was also during his time there that he began to take interest in western politics after frequenting libraries. He began to become interested in the ideology of communism. From around 1912 till around 1919, HCM spent time in various cities in the USA and England. It is reported that whilst in the USA, he may have met with Korean nationalists which may have triggered the start of his political life.
In 1919 he returned to France where he spent the next few years being educated in political institutions. It was during this time that he adopted a new name - Nguyễn Ái Quộc (Nguyen the patriot). He petitioned both France and the USA in his desire to install a nationalistic government in Vietnam. On both attempts he was ignored. In 1921, he co-founded the French Communist Party and spent much of his time in Russia during the years to follow. He became a member of Comintern (Communism International) in 1924 travelled to Guangzhou, China. In the following year, he allegedly betrayed a rival nationalist named Phan Bội Châu. HCM later argued that he needed the 100,000 piastre reward of Phan Bội Châu‘s capture and the already growing resentment of the French to establish his own Communist party.
In 1926 he married a Chinese woman by the name of Tăng Tuyết Minh (Zeng Xueming) who taught him Mandarin (by the time he had already known English, French, Russian and Vietnamese). However, there is evidence that he had relations with at least 3 other women. He left for Moscow in 1927 after a coup led by Chiang Kai Shek. The next few years were frenetic as he spent time in Thailand and Hong Kong where he was arrested. In 1933 he was released.
By the start of WWII, he has changed his name to what he is now most known as - Hồ Chí Minh (Ho the Lightbringer). He later returned to Vietnam to bring his fight against the French. In 1945, he became the leader of the supposed Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Northern Vietnam). It was in 1946 that showed his true colours when he banned all opposition parties and ordered the killings of anyone who opposed his party. This basically made the north of Vietnam a dictatorial regime. On September 2nd 1945 after forcing Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate, HCM read out his Independence speech and declared the birth of the DRVN (Democratic Republic of Vietnam).
In September 1945, 200,000 Chinese soldiers made their way to Hanoi. HCM was forced to sign an agreement in which he was to dissolve his Communist party and Vietnam would become autonomous. However, after the Chinese left, fighting with the French continued. After HCM went to Moscow in 1950, it was decided that China was responsible for training the Việt Minh (anti-French resistance). On May 7th 1954 after the French were defeated at Điện Biên Phủ, France conceded the entire empire of Indochina and Vietnam was temporarily independent. After the 1954 Geneva Accords, it was agreed that Vietnam should be reunified under one single government within 2 years. However, with the Cold War escalating and the US backing of the anti-communist South Vietnam, these elections unfortunately never took place. Thus began the 2 decade long conflict commonly known as the Vietnam War. At the start of the war, about 1 million North Vietnamese civilians headed south due to fear of the Northern regime. Only 100,000 (mostly communists) headed the other way round.
Despite never heaving a treaty between each other, the US began to back South Vietnam financially at first, then militarily by 1965. Propaganda was being spread on both sides and one of the main reasons the elections of 1956 never took place may have been the fact that communism could not be trusted (or that HCM's party may have easily been elected due to widespread propaganda). In 1968 at the height of the war, the communists launched a major offensive known as the Tết Offensive where during the Lunar New Year celebrations, North Vietnamese and guerilla Viet Cong soldiers attacked almost every major city and town in Southern Vietnam. Though tactically and in terms of casualties, it was a big loss to the communists, morale wise the South began to deteriorate. On September 2, 1969 HCM died after becoming very ill. However, because his party's anniversary was on the day of his death, his death was only broadcast one day later on September 3rd.
By 1972-73, most of the US and its allies' forces had already withdrawn. Public opinion on the war back in the US and all around the world was at a low. Though the US promised that should the North Vietnamese ever attempt to invade the South, they would return and aid militarily. Unfortunately, this never occurred causing many South Vietnamese to feel betrayed. On April 30th 1975 after nearly 21 years of hell, the communists overran the South. The gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon was rammed by a tank and thus signalling the end of the war. But for millions, it was only the beginning. Millions of Southerners and some Northerners fled by boat triggering the exodus of the boat people.
One year later in 1976, Vietnam was officially reunified under the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the former capital of South Vietnam was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
HCM may have been a nationalist but he caused so much suffering.
- He ordered the execution of tens of thousands of political rivals during the formation of the dictatorial "un"-Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
- During his land reforms, he ordered the mass execution of nearly 1 million land owners or suspected land owners.
- His communist forces throughout the Vietnam war murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. One example is the Hue city massacre in which nearly 5,000 civilians were massacred with no reasoning behind it.
- His communist forces caused the mass exodus of the boat people in which 1 in every 2 died. 2 million fled, 1 million died as boat people!
- After the war, his forces rounded up hundreds of thousands former ARVN (South Vietnamese) soldiers and sent them to supposed "re-education camps" where over 100,000 died and many others tortured and forced to work on the fields.
- From 1975 till 1986, millions of people died of starvation - this caused many more boat people to flee.
- Vietnam though in recent years has achieved high economic growth is still a poor country where there is widespread poverty, crime, corruption and abuse by government officials and police officers etc. I personally witnessed many of these occurrences...infact, my family were forced to bribe one of the customs officials $10 in order to get through.
To many Ho Chi Minh may have been a hero, to me - he was nothing more than a murderer.