Ho Chi Minh and a Surprising Source of Inspiration

Ho Chi Minh

The world-wide influence of the Declaration of Independence has often been examined by historians.  One person deeply influenced by this American statement of individual liberty might prompt surprise in the average U.S. citizen.

On September 2, 1945, a man who could justifiably be labeled the Father of His Country read from a type-written address as hundreds of thousands of people gathered to hear him speak in a large, grassy field that served as a city square. His motivations were many, but chief among them was a desire to tell the world his struggle against imperial power for liberty and independence was part of a long-standing history of democratic aspirations dating back almost 200 years. The words probably were unfamiliar to most of his fellow citizens, yet the speaker declared his nation’s independence with the same phrases used by a future enemy when that nation had separated from its colonial master:

“All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” This immortal statement 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 the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

In general, the speaker also adopted the same formula as the Declaration of Independence did in making its arguments: A statement of the natural rights of humankind; a résumé of grievances against the French and their colonial rule of his nation; and a solemn declaration that France is no longer the master of that land.
He also quoted from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (a document at least inspired by the Declaration of Independence), a potent reminder that in his opinion France had abused “the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.” It is no surprise that Ho Chi Minh held this mirror of political liberties up to the French people in defiance and anger as an indictment of how France in Vietnam conveniently ignored Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, the watchwords of a revolution inspired by our own. French administration of Indochina was based on watching the bottom line to the point of starving the peasantry in the name of commercial success and thwarting any effort at even token representative government. However, the irony, even the poignancy, of this scene from the American perspective is undeniable. The leader of a nation who would soon fight the United States in a bitter war turned to the seminal document of his enemy’s founding for inspiration when it came time to proclaim Vietnamese independence. He probably had other motives for incorporating Thomas Jefferson’s signature statements – but even Ho Chi Minh affirmed the global importance of America’s declaration of natural rights and equality.  Ho was no Jefferson. The man who stood in Ba Dinh Square would lead a regime that brought bloody Communist-led insurgency to South Vietnam, brutalize American POWs held in the north, and create a totalitarian state through conquest. But at least in the beginning he knew the value of America’s fundamental creed when the time came to shape a new one for Vietnam. It was a creed that not only reached across the gulf of time, but also across nations. There was something born from the American mind (and what a mind, that of Thomas Jefferson) that transcended the circumstances of an anti-colonial struggle in Southeast Asia with a powerful message of what liberty and freedom, life and happiness should mean to people everywhere.

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Filed under History of the Declaration of Independence

One response to “Ho Chi Minh and a Surprising Source of Inspiration

  1. Pingback: Hit Me Once Again: The Top Five Posts of 2012 | The Shout Heard 'Round The World: Exploring the Meaning and the Message of the Declaration of Independence

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