Australia and the Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War

Background

President of the Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, as he looked in the mid-1960s and as most in the west would remember him. [Getty images 3207829]

President of the Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, as he looked in the mid-1960s and as most in the west would remember him. [Getty images 3207829]

Nguyen That Tanh, known famously as Ho Chi Minh, was born in May 1890 in central Vietnam. The youngest of three children, he and his siblings grew up in a strongly nationalistic household. He left Vietnam in 1911 for Europe where he worked in London and Paris. In 1920 he became a member of the group that founded the Communist Party of France. He then travelled to Moscow where he studied Marxist doctrine before returning to Asia in 1924. Having moved to Canton, China, he began to organise a communist movement made up largely of Vietnamese exiles but three years later was forced to leave China after the Chinese Government launched an anti-communist crackdown.

During the 1930s he returned to China, spent there years in a Hong Kong prison and, upon his release, travelled again to the Soviet Union. In 1940 he returned to Vietnam for the first time in three decades and announced the formation of the League for the Independence of Vietnam, the Viet Minh. In the dying months of the Second World War Ho worked closely with United States military representatives when both parties shared the common aim of defeating the Japanese.

Having hoped that the United States would support his post-war plans for a free Vietnam Ho echoed the American Declaration of Independence when, in September 1945, he proclaimed the independence of his own country. As president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Ho saw his country plunged into war against France, divided into separate political entities; North Vietnam and South Vietnam, and finally once again at war, this time against the United States, a country that he had once admired. While Ho was lauded as a great patriot who led Vietnam’s fight against foreign domination, the Vietnamese Communists were also responsible for the deaths of many thousand people during the land reform campaign of the 1950s and later during the war against the United States when ruthless tactics were a hallmark of those fighting on both sides of the conflict. He died in 1969 and was feted, even by his enemies, as true nationalist. The city of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in his honour.