Ho Chi Minh was a tiny man, frail in appearance and extremely deferential. He wore simple shorts and sandals. To his followers, he was known simply as “Uncle Ho.”
Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890 in a village in central Vietnam. In 1912, he left his homeland and signed aboard a French freighter. For a time, he lived in the United States-- visiting Boston, New York, and San Francisco. Ho was struck by Americans’ impatience. Later, during the Vietnam War, he told his military advisers, “Don’t worry, Americans are an impatient people. When things begin to go wrong, they’ll leave.”
After three years of travel, Ho Chi Minh settled in London where he worked at the elegant Carlton Hotel. He lived in squalid quarters and learned that poverty existed even in the wealthiest, most powerful countries. In Paris, he came into contact with the French left. He was still in Paris when World War I ended and the peace conference was held. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s call for universal self-determination, Ho wrote,”all subject peoples are filled with hope by the prospect that an era of right and justice is opening to them.”
Ho wanted to meet Wilson and plead the cause of Vietnamese independence. Wilson ignored his request.
Ho then traveled to Moscow, where Lenin had declared war against imperialism. While in the Soviet Union, Ho embraced socialism. By the early 1920s, he was actively organizing Vietnamese exiles into a revolutionary force.
In 1941, Ho returned to Vietnam. The time was right, he believed, to free Vietnam from colonial domination. Ho aligned himself with the United States. In 1945, borrowing passages from the Declaration of Independence, Ho declared Vietnamese independence.
However, the French, who returned to Vietnam after World War II, had different plans for Vietnam.
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