Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh attempted to usher in Vietnamese independence while eliminating foreign influence. Learn more about Ho, the Viet Minh and the crusade for a free Vietnam.
The Early Years of Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh, the communist-nationalist leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) during the First Indochina War and Vietnam War, was born Nguyen Sinh Cung in 1890 in the northern province of Nghe An in Indochina. As a youth, Ho was heavily influenced by his father's involvement in the Vietnamese nationalist campaign to win independence from France. His indoctrination in anti-colonial ideas was expanded during his training at the Quoc Hoc School in the city of Hue, although he did not complete his education. Instead, in 1911, Ho embarked on a journey around the world, visiting places such as the United States, Britain and France. He eventually established a temporary residence in Paris at the end of the First World War.
Appalled by the destruction of the First World War, Ho sought to remove western influence from Indochina in order to prevent a similar war from transpiring. He decided to change his birth name to Nguyen Ai Quoc, which translated to Nguyen the Patriot. Ho hoped to appeal to President Woodrow Wilson's campaign for self-determination at the Versailles Conference in 1919. He pleaded with Wilson to accept his request for Vietnamese independence from France, but Wilson declined Ho's proposal.
Displeased with the result, Ho helped create the French Communist Party in 1920 in an effort to combat international colonial conquests. In 1924, Ho improved his understanding of communism after attending the 5th Communist International. Shortly afterward, Ho began visiting various communist nations. Simultaneously, he founded the Revolutionary Youth League of Vietnam, which eventually became the Indochinese Communist Party. After two decades of studying, campaigning for communism and speaking out against colonialism, Ho returned to Indochina in 1941.
Birth of the Viet Minh
Upon returning to Indochina in 1941, Ho sparked a nationalist campaign to win Vietnamese independence from France. To better his cause, Ho rallied anti-French support at the Eighth Plenum of the Indochinese Communist Party Central Committee meeting in May, 1941; the League for the Independence of Vietnam, or Viet Minh, was born. The Viet Minh recruited Vietnamese citizens with a broad range of beliefs.
The group consisted of socialists, communists, nationalists and democrats. Their overarching goal was to assimilate the people in a purely nationalist cause to win independence from France. Support grew tremendously, especially with many Vietnamese backing the venerated leader they came to know as Bac Ho, or 'Uncle Ho.'
Ho led the Viet Minh in engagements against the French (and Japanese) during the Second World War. With France reeling from the war and the Japanese on the verge of defeat in August 1945, Ho and the Viet Minh organized the August Revolution, which witnessed the claim of Vietnamese independence in Indochina. Ho officially established the DRV and proclaimed independence from foreign control on September 2, 1945. This date also marked Ho's adoption of his final name, Ho Chi Minh, which translated to 'he who enlightens.'
Ho's War Against France
While Ho did everything in his power to campaign for Vietnamese independence, his efforts fell short when France returned to Indochina in 1946. The French rejected Ho's DRV, and attempted to consolidate power in Indochina. After a series of failed negotiations and minor conflicts between the French and Viet Minh, Ho orchestrated a large-scale war effort against France, which is known as the First Indochina War, and lasted from 1946 to 1954.
After realizing that its forces could not easily combat the guerrilla tactics of the Viet Minh, France opted to try and win political support to suppress the nationalist uprising. France adopted an anti-communist state known as the State of Vietnam under the leadership of former Emperor of Annam Bao Dai. The State of Vietnam managed to gain the support of the United States in 1950.
Regardless, the Viet Minh forces were unrelenting. After years of vicious fighting, France finally succumbed to Ho and the Viet Minh after a devastating defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The Vietnamese gained the advantage at the Geneva Conference immediately following the French capitulation. The Geneva Agreements favored Ho's quest for independence, as it officially recognized the DRV after the nation was split at the 17th parallel, called for reunification elections in July 1956, eliminated the French from Indochina and ended the war.
Much to Ho's chagrin, the United States refused to sign the agreements. Instead, the United States supported the State of Vietnam and its premier Ngo Dinh Diem. Within a year, in October 1955, the State of Vietnam was renamed the Republic of Vietnam (RVM), or South Vietnam. Diem rejected the reunification elections and gained the support of the United States in his battle against the communist DRV. Disheartened by the failed reunification effort, Ho launched the protracted and costly Second Indochina War, or the Vietnam War, against the RVM and the United States.
Between the First Indochina War and the Geneva Conference, the Viet Minh had become the dominant Vietnamese political party within the region. Yet, by 1951, the Viet Minh yielded to the newly formed Vietnam Workers Party. And while aspects of the Viet Minh eventually re-emerged following Geneva, the dominant entity that it had become during the 1940s ceased to exist during the Vietnam War.
Ho and the Vietnam War
During the early years of the Vietnam War, from 1955 to 1960, Ho remained the supreme leader of the DRV. He oversaw the daily operations of the state, traveled to communist nations, presided over the construction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and dictated military strategy, including the creation of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong).
Yet, as Ho aged during the 1960s, his responsibilities were limited to making public appearances to continue to bolster the morale of the Vietnamese people as they attempted to stem the tide against the American war effort. The revered leader died on September 2, 1969. The Vietnamese mourned the loss of what they considered a symbol of hope for an independent Vietnam. As a tribute to Ho, the Vietnamese renamed Saigon, the capital of the RVM, Ho Chi Minh City following the communist victory in the Vietnam War in 1975.
Born in 1890, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) during the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War, was indoctrinated early with anti-colonial and pro-communist sentiment. Ho traveled the world between 1919 and 1940, studying, campaigning for communism and speaking out against colonialism. One of his notable efforts came when he pleaded with President Woodrow Wilson to observe the Vietnamese independence from France; his request fell short. Ho returned to Indochina in 1941 and founded the League for the Independence of Vietnam, or the Viet Minh.
Throughout the Second World War, Ho and the Viet Minh engaged in tactics to eliminate France (and Japan) from Indochina. In August 1945, Ho claimed control of Indochina during the August Revolution. On September 2, 1945, he declared the independence of the DRV. The French soon returned, which resulted in the First Indochina War, fought from 1946 to 1954.
After the Viet Minh successfully defeated French forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Vietnamese had the advantage in the peace discussions at the Geneva Conference in 1954. While France conceded its claims to Indochina, the United States refused to observe the Geneva Agreements. Ho's quest for independence was stymied again.
Incensed, he orchestrated the Second Indochina War, or Vietnam War, against the United States and the Republic of Vietnam (RVM). Ho did not see the end of the conflict because he passed on September 2, 1969, which was ironically the same date he declared Vietnamese independence in 1945.
Once you've completed the video lesson, you could take the opportunity to:
- Recount the rise of Ho Chi Minh as a leader in Vietnam after WWI
- Recall some details of Viet Minh's fight with France during WWII as they strove for nationally recognized freedom
- Point out the success of the First Indochina War and the resulting division of the country