Message from Ho Chi Minh Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

On December 23, 1966, Ho Chi Minh, the president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, or North Vietnam), sent a short message to the American people to provide his interpretation of the ongoing conflict between his nation and its ally, the National Liberation Front (NLF), on the one hand, and the United States and its ally, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), on the other. By the end of 1966, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were stationed in South Vietnam. As well, Rolling Thunder, the American bombing campaign, had been attacking targets in the North and the South for almost two years.

Summary Overview

On December 23, 1966, Ho Chi Minh, the president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, or North Vietnam), sent a short message to the American people to provide his interpretation of the ongoing conflict between his nation and its ally, the National Liberation Front (NLF), on the one hand, and the United States and its ally, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), on the other. By the end of 1966, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were stationed in South Vietnam. As well, Rolling Thunder, the American bombing campaign, had been attacking targets in the North and the South for almost two years.

Ho's message emphasized the cruel nature of the American war effort. He condemned the American use of napalm, toxic gas, and fragmentation bombs, all of which resulted in the destruction of many towns and the deaths of thousands of people. He made it clear, however, that he did not blame the American people for the devastation. In fact, he even noted that American soldiers were also victims of American foreign policy. He held President Lyndon Johnson as solely responsible for the continuation of the war. By differentiating between the American people and their government, Ho sought to divide Americans and encourage them to resist their president's aggressive policies.

Defining the Moment

At first glance, Ho Chi Minh's message to the American people seems odd, given that his nation was at war with the United States. However, Ho had some familiarity with the United States and had previously appealed to America for support. He had actually lived in Harlem in 1912–1913. As the Allied powers negotiated an end to World War I at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Ho hoped to meet President Woodrow Wilson and secure his support for national self-determination for Vietnam. He not only failed to secure a meeting, but was dismayed to learn that Wilson would not support Vietnamese independence.

Similarly, when Japan surrendered in August 1945 and World War II ended, Ho announced Vietnam's independence from French colonial rule in front of thousands of cheering supporters on September 2, 1945. In a blatant appeal for American support, Ho repeatedly referred to the American Declaration of Independence in hopes that the United States would endorse Vietnamese independence and prevent the return of the French. The United States, however, chose to support French political control of Vietnam. Ho's appeal in 1967 to the American people was not a novel tactic.

The appeal in 1967 was different because North Vietnam and the United States were engaged in an ongoing war. Beginning in 1954, when the French lost control of their colonies in Southeast Asia, the United States supported several anticommunist regimes in South Vietnam with substantial aid. Between 1965 and 1966, the American role in the conflict escalated significantly. By the end of 1966, there were 385,000 American soldiers in the South. Additionally, as Ho noted, Rolling Thunder, the American bombing campaign, had bombed enemy targets in the North and the South for nearly two years, including 79,000 sorties in 1966 alone.

Ho was trying to communicate to the American people that the US government was responsible for the escalation of the conflict, not North Vietnam. He emphasized the devastating effect which the war, especially Rolling Thunder, was having on all Vietnamese. As well, because of the American government's escalation, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers had been sent to Vietnam and might be killed. In a final attack on the Johnson administration, Ho charged it had shown no interest in peace negotiations.

Author Biography

Born Nguyen Sinh Cung in 1890 in the province of Nghe An in what was then French Indochina, Ho left Vietnam in 1911 seeking adventure aboard a French merchant steamboat. He ended up in France and joined the French Socialist Party at the beginning of World War I. In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, he failed to secure Woodrow Wilson's support for Vietnamese self-determination. Embittered by the rejection, Ho helped form the French Communist Party in 1920. During the 1920s and 1930s, Ho traveled back and forth between the Soviet Union, China, Thailand, and Vietnam.

When Japan occupied Vietnam in 1941, Ho secretly reentered Vietnam and formed the Viet Minh to resist Japanese control. When Japan surrendered, Ho, as the leader of the Viet Minh, announced Vietnam's independence to a throng of cheering supporters on September 2, 1945. However, with American support, France regained control of French Indochina. In 1946, the First Indochina War broke out, pitting the Viet Minh against France. In 1954, after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, France lost its colonies. The Geneva Accords established two separate states, with the northern state, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, controlled by Ho Chi Minh. He would remain president of the DRV until his death in 1969.

Historical Document

On the occasion of the New Year, I would like to convey to the American people cordial wishes for peace and happiness.

The Vietnamese and American peoples should have lived in peace and friendship. But the U.S. Government has brazenly sent over 400,000 troops along with thousands of aircraft and hundreds of Warships to wage aggression on Vietnam. Night and day it has used napalm bombs, toxic gas, fragmentation bombs and other modern weapons to massacre our people, not sparing even old persons, women and children, it has burnt down or destroyed villages and towns and perpetrated extremely savage crimes. Of late, U.S. aircraft have repeatedly bombed Hanoi, our beloved capital.

It is because of the criminal war unleashed by the U.S. Government that hundreds of thousands of young Americans have been drafted and sent to a useless death for from then homeland, on the Vietnamese battlefield. In hundreds of thousands of American families, parents have lost their sons, and wives their husbands.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Government has continually clamoured about “peace negotiations” in an attempt to deceive the American and world peoples. In fact, it is daily expanding the war. The U.S. Government wrongly believes that with brutal force it could compel our people to surrender. But the Vietnamese people will never submit. We love peace, but it must be genuine peace in independence and freedom. For independence and freedom, the Vietnamese people are determined to fight the U.S. aggressors through to complete victory, whatever the hardships and sacrifices may be.

Who has caused these sufferings and mournings to the Vietnamese and American people? It is the U.S. rulers. The American people have realized this truth. More and more Americans are valiantly standing up in a vigorous struggle, demanding that the American Government respect the Constitution and the honour of the United States, stop the war of aggression in Vietnam and bring home all U.S. troops. I warmly welcome your just struggle and thank you for your support to the Vietnamese people's patriotic fight. I sincerely wish the American people many big successes in their struggle for peace, democracy and happiness.

Document Analysis

Ho Chi Minh's message was an obvious attempt to influence American public opinion. He made it clear to his American readers that he bore no ill will for Americans and did not hold them responsible for the war. Instead, he placed blame solely on President Lyndon Johnson's administration, whose actions were neither in the best interest of the American people, nor the Vietnamese. Were it not for the actions of the American government, Vietnam and the United States would almost certainly have enjoyed a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship.

Ho denounced American military strategy during the war. He strongly condemned the use of “napalm bombs, toxic gas, fragmentation bombs and other modern weapons” which “massacre our people, not sparing even old persons, women and children, it has burnt down or destroyed villages and towns and perpetrated extremely savage crimes.” This was intended to make Americans feel guilty about the harm their government had caused.

In a pointed appeal to the American people, he pointed out the potentially deadly effect that the war might have on young American men. Many of the young men sent to Vietnam would die a “useless death” causing considerable grief for their families.

He also addressed the claims of the Johnson administration that peace negotiations were forthcoming. The Johnson administration was not serious about negotiations and, in fact, was planning to escalate the war under the false premise that more troops and resources would force the DRV to surrender. Ho assured the American people that his government would never abandon its fight whatever the cost. If American officials claimed otherwise, they were lying

To show that his assessment was not bizarre, Ho noted that many Americans had already begun “demanding that the American government respect the Constitution and the honour of the United States, stop the war of aggression in Vietnam and bring home all U.S. troops.” He encouraged other Americans to join the movement to end the war in Vietnam.

Essential Themes

In his December 23, 1966 message to the American people, Ho Chi Minh hoped to speak directly to them without interference from the Johnson administration. At this point in the conflict, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were fighting communist forces, and the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign was nearly two years old. The Johnson administration had fully committed itself to the war. Ho's message suggested that the American people were not fully aware of the American military effort and were certainly not in full support of American military intervention. Ho sought to give the impression that he was providing an accurate account of American actions in Vietnam, which the Johnson administration had not done.

Ho told the American people that there was no reason why the DRV and the United States could not live in peace and harmony. He and his people allegedly had no animosity for the American people. The American government was the primary impediment to peace. The American military strategy, notably the Rolling Thunder campaign, was killing innocent Vietnamese for no purpose. The war had led to the transport of American soldiers halfway across the world to die for no justifiable reason.

An obvious motivation for Ho's message was to destroy the Johnson administration's claims that it sought peace negotiations and that military victory was at hand. Ho made it clear that the DRV would fight until it unified the two Vietnams and achieved total national independence. Ho's depiction of the DRV's policy was accurate. The United States continued to bomb targets in the north and south, the number of American soldiers in Vietnam increased, and the war expanded beyond the borders of Vietnam. Yet the DRV remained resolute in its demand for reunification and complete independence even after Ho's death in 1969. The South Vietnamese government would collapse on April 30, 1975, and a unified and independent Vietnam would emerge under the direction of DRV leaders.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Brocheux, Pierre. Ho Chi Minh: A Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
  • Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh: A Life. New York: Hachette Books, 2000. Print.
  • Halberstam, David. Ho. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007. Print.
  • Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. Print
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