Woodrow Wilson, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam War
When Ho Chi Minh and the USA are mentioned in the same sentence, they are usually clashing. The Communist leader of Vietnam viewed America as the capitalist example of the west, a force which must be defeated. However, for a period at least, Ho Chi Minh had plans to work with the USA before he led his nation in a war against them.
Vietnam in the early 20th century was still at the mercy of French colonial rule. Ho Chi Minh left the French colonial rule of his home country behind to broaden his horizons as a cook on a steamship. Along his travels in the UK, France and the USA, Minh met up with other Vietnamese nationals and undoubtedly spoke of the plight of their homeland. It seems unlikely, but the mindset of America and how the nation gained independence from British colonial rule in 1776.
Ho Chi Minh was not a supporter of the political system adopted by the USA, yet he and other Vietnamese political figures took note of how the nation had removed their colonial rulers. They could see a way of regaining Vietnam from the French and that it was possible. The USA was a blueprint of how to overthrow colonial rulers, one which Vietnam was going to follow in the years to come.
Minh found himself in Paris with further Vietnamese nationalists in 1919 around the time that Europe was sorting peace terms at the end of the First World War. It was one the 14 points pieced together by US President Woodrow Wilson which inspired Ho Chi Minh to lead his nation to freedom from the French colonial rule. Wilson wrote of how for Europe to rebuild it needed to focus on self-determination. Minh used Wilson's visit to Paris to try and get the attention of the President to ask for support against the French colonial rule. He was ignored.
He would have another opportunity to ask the USA for help to fight a foreign invader in the 1940s as Vietnam’s revolutionary leader. In his war with Japan Minh received weapons and support from the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), from which the CIA was created, after they identified Minh as more nationalistic than communist. He used these weapons to train his guerrilla troops to fight the Japanese.
It seems unlikely but Ho Chi Minh’s admiration for the USA was present throughout much of his life. In the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, written after the demise of Japan, Minh wrote in a line from the American version.
“All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These points throughout the early 20th century has led to an argument that America had the chance to soften Ho Chi Minh. If Woodrow Wilson had helped Ho Chi Minh to remove the French from Vietnam, could the Vietnam War have been avoided? There is a slim possibility but, by the 1920s, Minh was too hardened a Communist to side with the west. The USA was always destined to side with south Vietnam rather than the North.
The path towards Americas involvement in the Vietnam War and the opinions of Ho Chi Minh of the USA was set years before Marines first set foot in Da Nang in 1965. However, had the USA taken note of the communist movements of Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnam earlier then events of the 1960s could have been different. As it turned out, the USA underestimated the extent of a war in South East Asia at the cost of thousands of lives.