Opinion: Ho Chi Minh not a Jeffersonian

August 2, 2013


When it comes to Vietnam, I’m all for moving on, putting the past behind us, looking forward, letting bygones be bygones, but doing so requires honesty about the past, lest history be forgotten and the memory and honor tarnished of the 60,000 Americans who died in that war.

On his visit to Washington last week, President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam told President Obama the late revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, was inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. In an ad in the Washington Post, President Sang even claimed Jefferson’s vision of liberty was the same as Ho’s. Not exactly.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Vietnam 2012 Human Rights Report: “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam. ... The most recent National Assembly elections, held in May 2011, were neither free nor fair. Security forces reported to civilian authorities. The most significant human rights problems in the country continued to be severe government restrictions on citizens’ political rights, particularly their right to change their government; increased measures to limit citizens’ civil liberties; and corruption in the judicial system and police.”

Does that sound Jeffersonian?

Alignment with the principles and men of America’s founding is an old tactic used by many dictators to dupe some Americans into the false belief that they are just like us — or can be made so.

Ronald Radosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, that Ho Chi Minh was “a committed Marxist-Leninist, trained in the 1920s at Moscow’s famed Lenin School.”

During World War II, wrote Radosh, Ho courted President Franklin Roosevelt, appealing both to Roosevelt’s anti-French sentiments and to America’s Declaration of Independence and American-style liberty as he sought support for driving the French out of Indochina.

All dictators have found apologists in America, whether it is actor Sean Penn cozying up to the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or the elites who supported Fidel Castro and the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

All dictators have attempted to show they have a rational side. The late Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov was said to enjoy Scotch and American jazz. Hitler’s propagandists showed him with little girls, who were of the same age as Jewish girls he had ordered killed. The Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini supposedly made the trains run on time. Stalin’s gulags were so good, claimed American journalist Anna Louise Strong, people applied for admission. Strong, who never met a communist she didn’t like, also praised China’s Mao Zedong.

It’s one thing for Vietnamese leaders to promote the fiction that Jefferson was a role model for Ho Chi Minh, but quite another for President Obama to spread this propaganda. I heard the same preposterous assertion from a Vietnamese government official when I visited Hanoi last December.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who spent seven years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, isn’t buying it. Johnson said in a statement issued by his office: “Sadly, when it comes to individual liberty, the president doesn’t have a clue. What an insult to the POWs brutally tortured at the merciless hands — and rifle butts — of our captors. This is a slap in the face to those who served — and especially those who paid the ultimate price for freedom during that dark time in history. Let me tell you, there was nothing ‘free’ about my seven years in captivity in Hanoi — more than half of that time in solitary confinement. As a fellow POW etched on a prison cell wall, ‘Freedom has a taste to those who fight and almost die that the protected will never know.’”

Who sounds more Jeffersonian?

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Paul R Getto 4 years, 6 months ago

All countries have their own fictions and hagiographies about their founders. Not that big a deal, Mr. Thomas. Take a deep breath.

Tim Quest 4 years, 6 months ago

I'm Cal curiously leaves out Reagan's support of Saddam Hussein (along others) and GWB's love of Vladimir "Pooty Poot" Putin. Cal might want to look up the word "realpolitik" in the dictionary. I'm sure it was just an oversight.

rtwngr 4 years, 6 months ago

When the president of our country stands center stage in front of the world and affirms the fictional accounts of communist leaders, it is an insult to every person who ever donned a uniform in defense of this country. To point to other leaders and say well he did this or he said that, in defense of our current Apologizer in Chief, is intellectually dishonest. This president has no idea, nor does he care about how freedom is won or lost in this world. He is drunk with power and ignores the laws which he has sworn to uphold. He thinks he can lead a country by constantly campaigning and proclaiming that he is trying but the previous administration was so bad and those pesky opponents just don't like me. He rails about phony scandals but refuses to instruct those involved to cooperate in any way. He is all mouth and no action and, once again, is on vacation.

Linda Endicott 4 years, 6 months ago

Exactly how did Mr. Obama affirm anything that the man said? Just by not challenging it? Really?

So this is how leaders of countries are supposed to behave, by saying to other leaders, "why, that's not how it was at all, and you know it, you big, fat liar...you're a communist through and through, and everyone knows it."

Really? And what do you think that would have accomplished, besides causing a huge international scene? Insulting another world leader is what we're supposed to do?

Much as you might like to be the American dictator for everyone else, all other countries are sovreign nations and can do whatever they damn well please in their own country...we can't and won't force others to be just like us...otherwise, would we be any better than the governments that you constantly belittle in these forums?

Discretion is the better part of valor...and it seems that Mr. Obama knows that far better than you or Rep. Sam Johnson...

jonas_opines 4 years, 6 months ago

Anything to keep the Outrage Machine functioning fluidly.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps, but all leaders distort the "truth" for their own purposes. GWB was going to bring Jeffersonian Democracy to Iraq.

voevoda 4 years, 6 months ago

The fact remains that Ho Chi Minh himself pointed to Thomas Jefferson and to the US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as sources of his inspiration. That particular fact has been well-known for decades, since the time of the Vietnam War. It is reasonable to wonder what, exactly, Ho Chi Minh took from those sources of inspiration, and to point to other, more significant sources of inspiration for his ideas. It is also reasonable to look at the political system that grew up under Ho Chi Minh's rule, and note how little it resembles either the contemporary American political system or the political system that Thomas Jefferson endorsed.

However, there is nothing whatsoever wrong for the president of Vietnam, on a state visit to the US, to emphasize what commonalities he can find. After all, isn't it better for leaders of non-democratic countries to express admiration for American foundational documents and for our Founding Fathers? Or should we prefer that they deride them, and use the occasion to spout anti-American propaganda?

And I'm not sure why Cal Thomas thinks this is all President Obama's fault. (Except that to him, everything is President Obama's fault!) How is President Obama responsible for what the president of Vietnam says to him? How is President Obama "spreading this propaganda"?

jafs 4 years, 6 months ago

Also, we were allied with him in WWII against the Japanese.

He was fighting a war of independence from French rule when he mentioned Jefferson as an influence.

Jefferson owned slaves.

I'm not at all sure that the State Department of the US is an unbiased source.

The US, in times of war, exhibits a level of brutality that some Americans find problematic.

Did we really have any business inserting ourselves into the Vietnamese conflict?


Not to say that he's a great guy - I'm sure his rule was brutal.

MarcoPogo 4 years, 6 months ago

Kind of like how it's Mike Myers's fault that Kanye West said "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Airtight case.

tomatogrower 4 years, 6 months ago

Actually things might have been different if the Allies had listened to him right after the second World War. Ho Chi Minh wanted independence from France, just like we wanted our independence from Britain at one time. If we had backed him instead of pushing the old ideas of colonialism, he would have been our ally, and the Viet Nam war wouldn't have happened. Of course, hind sight is better than foresight, but I sure wish we could learn from this, and not reject those who want to be allies.

Nikonman 4 years, 6 months ago

How could it have been any different if we supported Ho right after WWII? The only thing different is that Viet Nam would have become a communist dictatorship much quicker. In WWII we formed alliances with almost anyone who would help us defeat the Nazis and militant Japanese. It sure wasn't because we admired their goals for post-war government. I am sure the US knew Ho was a dedicated communist even when we enlisted his help in WWII. In my history classes, I was told that most of the French Resistance was composed of Communists who expected a large role in the government after the war, and I'm not sorry they got screwed. If Ho's "Liberated" Viet Nam is so wonderful, then why did so many people get out after the fall and are still trying to get out of the country?

tomatogrower 4 years, 6 months ago

He didn't turn to the communist until we rejected him.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 6 months ago

A study at Hamilton College indicated Thomas as the least accurate prognosticator among 26 notable pundits.


Why does the Journal World continue to keep Cal Thomas as a columnist? The man is an embarrassment.

I refuse to believe there are not more intelligent writers out there. People like Cal Thomas sold their souls the devil years ago. The man upsets me.

I need to see a better America than the one that Cal Thomas represents.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.