The conservative blogoshere is abuzz with President Barack Obama‘s claim that Vietnam’s communist leader Ho Chi Minh was an admirer of US Founding father Thomas Jefferson.
During a July 25 meeting with Vietnam’s current communist Premier Truong Tan Sang, Obama said:
At the conclusion of the meeting, President Sang shared with me a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman. And 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. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it’s 67 years later, it’s good that we’re still making progress.
President Obama is partially correct, but the context of that “inspiration” reveals both a lot about Ho Chi Minh and about Barack Obama.
I quote from Susan Dunn’s Ho Chi Minh and Thomas Jefferson:
In September 1945, hundreds of thousands of people jammed the French-looking boulevards and streets of downtown Hanoi. They had traveled in oppressive heat from distant villages for the great day. Schools and offices were closed. Jubilant peasants wearing their black “pajamas” and straw hats, workers, mountain people, militia members carrying spears, Catholic priests in their black suits and Buddhist monks in their saffron robes all waited excitedly. Banners and flowers adorned the buildings; flags fluttered in the occasional warm breezes. All faces turned toward the platform erected in Ba Dinh Square, a large park near the French residential quarter.
A frail-looking wisp of a man advanced to the microphone. “All men are created equal,” he declared, as all of Hanoi listened. “They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” He paused and then elaborated. “This immortal statement,” he explained, “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 earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.”
That was not all. Just as Jefferson’s immortal vision of unalienable rights and freedoms was followed by a kind of legal brief that documented at length all the abuses committed by King George III and the English Parliament against their American subjects, Ho Chi Minh similarly outlined the grievances of the Vietnamese against France, their colonial master. As his listeners strained to hear him, he reminded them that France was still attempting to destroy Vietnamese unity by artificially dividing the nation into three separate political regions, Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China. France burdened the Vietnamese with unjust taxes; France expropriated the people’s land, rice fields, and forests; France ruled by decree and not by law; she built prisons instead of schools, and in Indochina’s darkest hour, France abandoned her to the Japanese.
Dunn interprets this speech by Ho Chi Minh as evidence of genuine admiration of the ideals of the American revolution. I think she gets it completely wrong.