[sixties-l] Vietnam! by Ted Glick

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sat May 12 2001 - 15:52:31 EDT

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    From: indpol@igc.org
    Date: Fri, 11 May 2001

    Future Hope column, May 11, 2001


    by Ted Glick

    For those of us who fought in or against the brutal Vietnamese war, the
    emotions run deep. A whole generation of activists grew to political
    maturity during that time as the U.S. government proved itself unable to
    impose its imperialist will upon this long-suffering people.

    By total coincidence I was in the middle of reading William J. Duiker's
    significant new book, "Ho Chi Minh," at the time that the Bob Kerry
    Vietnam massacre story broke. I found myself struck by Duiker's in-depth
    biography. The book rings true, even after my suspicions were aroused by
    the positive review of it in the New York Times Book Review and Duiker's
    past employment at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon during the height of the
    war in the 1960's. Bob Kerry and others who were permanently affected by
    this war would benefit from reading it. It would help them understand
    clearly that they were tools of a United States government that was on
    the wrong side.

    As presented by Duiker, Ho Chi Minh also has a lot to teach those of us
    of whatever age who are active in the peace and justice movement today.

    One cannot but be impressed by Ho and his compatriots' dedication to the
    cause of national independence and social justice despite tremendous
    difficulties. The realities of French colonialism under which he
    labored, from 1910 on, were very different than those most of us face in
    the United States today. But as Ho put it in a poem written while in
    prison in 1942, "Luckily, I've persevered and endured. Not taken a
    single step backward. Although it's been physically difficult, My spirit
    remains unshaken."

    Ho Chi Minh was an ethical and moral model. His "list of behavioral
    norms was strongly reminiscent of traditional Confucian morality: be
    thrifty, be friendly but impartial, resolutely correct errors, be
    prudent, respect learning, study and observe, avoid arrogance and
    conceit, and be generous." He taught courses on morality during his
    lifetime. An American, Dan Phelan, who interacted with him during the
    latter stages of World War II, used the word "gentle" to describe Ho's
    most impressive quality. He went without food once every ten days during
    a period of famine in the fall of 1945, soon after the Vietnamese
    declaration of independence, as an example of the need for conservation.
    When he learned of torture being used by some party cadres during a land
    reform campaign in 1954, he openly addressed it at a cadre conference:
    "It is a savage method used by imperialists, capitalists and feudal
    elements to master the masses and the revolution. Why must we, who are
    in possession of a just program and just rationale, make use of such
    brutal methods?" He is reported to have wept several months later "as he
    alluded to the sufferings that occurred during the campaign."

    Ho Chi Minh was keenly aware of the necessity of building broad
    alliances to achieve social change, while always putting the needs of
    those most in need first. This was so much a strength that it was
    probably also a fault, an "opportunist error," at times. For example,
    soon after the 1945 siezure of power by the Vietnamese following the end
    of World War II, in discussions with the first secretary of the United
    States embassy, "he hinted at the possibility of future military
    cooperation between the two countries-including U.S. use of Cam Ranh
    Bay, on the central coast of Vietnam, as a base." At the time he hoped
    to enlist U.S. support of the Vietnamese efforts to get the French to
    accept Vietnam's right to independence and leave.

    Despite the violence and brutality of French colonialism, Ho wanted
    Vietnamese independence to come as peacefully and non-violently as
    possible. In the summer of 1946 he was part of a delegation that went to
    France to try to negotiate France's voluntary withdrawal from Vietnam,
    before the outbreak of full-scale, anti-colonial war. Following the
    breakdown of the talks in mid-September, he stayed on after the other
    Vietnamese members left. Despite "sentiment in Indochina...running
    strongly against a compromise with the French," several days later he
    signed what French military leader Jean Sainteny "described as a
    'pathetic' piece of paper," a "temporary arrangement between parties
    pending a final agreement." Ho told Sainteny as they left the meeting,
    "I have just signed my death warrant." Fortunately, this risk that Ho
    took turned out not to lead to that end.

    Ho Chi Minh understood clearly the need for a multi-tactical,
    democratic, alliance-building approach if positive social change were to
    take place. Within Vietnam Ho worked hard to build a broadly-based
    coalition that "could appeal to all progressive and patriotic forces,"
    which also "put it into position to lobby for recognition by the
    victorious Allies as the legitimate voices of Vietnamese nationalism."
    During a campaign to collectivize the economy of northern Vietnam in the
    late 1950s, he "urged his colleagues to avoid coercion and to use
    'democratic methods'... that persuasion rather than force be used..." In
    October, 1961, during an internal debate within the Vietnamese Workers
    Party, "Ho recommended a strategy based on guerrilla warfare, the
    mobilization of the support of the masses, and winning the battle of
    public opinion in the world arena."

    Duiker's conclusion about Ho Chi Minh is that he was "half Lenin and
    half Gandhi." What I felt after reading this book, and after having been
    deeply involved for years myself with the cause of Vietnamese
    independence, is that he was a human being who tried to utilize his
    skills and insights in the cause of human liberation at a particular
    time in history and a particular place in the world. He tried to do so
    in as humane and non-violent a way as possible, but he was willing to
    use whatever tactics, including the use of arms and violence, he and his
    compatriots collectively determined were necessary to achieve
    liberation. In the context of brutal and racist French colonialism, and
    with his commitment not just to national independence but to an end to
    class oppression and capitalist exploitation, to justice and human
    dignity for all, he felt this was a necessary approach.

    Although our conditions are very different than those faced by this
    great man and his compatriots, there is much in the life of Ho Chi Minh
    for those of us in the United States to study and ponder.
    Ted Glick is National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive
    Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and author of "Future Hope: A Winning
    Strategy for a Just Society." He can be reached at futurehopeTG@aol.com
    or c/o P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.

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