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Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam's revolutionary war hero. He's their George Washington. Their Patrick Henry. Their Thomas Jefferson. Their Iron Man and Superman. (Okay, maybe not those last two.)
He may not have been able to fly or shoot laser beams from his eyes, but Ho Chi Minh did have a secret superhero identity and name. Ho Chi Minh is what's called a nom de guerre, or a war name. It's just a little something he picked up along the road to revolution.
He was actually born as Nguyen Sinh Cung in 1890 in what we now know as Vietnam. It was called French Indochina then. "French" as in France. As in the country that's practically on the other side of the world from Southeast Asia.
France ruled the region as part of their colonial empire, governing everything from politics to the educational system. Ho Chi Minh saw this as a huge problem, so he joined a group of growing revolutionaries that pushed for freedom from the French. These nationalist rebels viewed their imperial overlords as oppressive and exploitative. If real life was like Star Wars, they'd view the French as being on the dark side of the force.
There was an ironic twist to this story of empire and rebellion. The French decided to educate their subjects in the French way of life. We mean more than baguettes and wine here. They were taught about things like freedom, equality, revolution, and national pride. Little did the French know that this would soon bite them in the derriere.
To make matters worse, Minh traveled all over the West, including in the United States and France, where he heard about things like socialism. He learned how to rebel and fight for both socialism and freedom from the two countries with which he would eventually go to war. Talk about a wacky ironic twist, right?
He even went to all of the victors of World War I to beg for Vietnamese independence from the French. These countries (like France, the United States, and England) were trying to figure out a way to create peace, so Minh thought his timing was perfect.
Their response? No way.
So, the region stayed under French control…that is, until World War II. France surrendered to the Nazis in 1940 and totally bailed on their empire, including French Indochina. So, in response, Ho Chi Minh decided to act like a total rock star by starting a military movement to defend his homeland from all the Axis powers. Which he totally did, like a beast. He called this movement the Viet Minh.
So, when the war ended and France was released from Nazi control, how did the Allied powers repay the Viet Minh's vigilance and hard work?
They put the French back in control of the region.
That was the last straw for Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Minh made a declaration of Vietnamese independence in 1945 and prepped for war.
Ho Chi Minh asked the United States to support their efforts for independence—they even copied and pasted chunks of the Declaration of Independence to try and show how legit their cause was.
The United States stuck with their French allies and openly supported the war against the Viet Minh. The United States was just totally adamant about not supporting Ho Chi Minh and his independence movement.
Plus, the fact that Ho Chi Minh turned to the Soviet Union and China for help really ticked off the Americans. If the commies were getting involved, then so were the Yanks. Which was the perfect recipe to make a terrible situation even worse.
The Vietnam War went downhill rapidly. When the French decided they wanted nothing to do with the region anymore, the war shifted from one centered on independence to another built upon the ideological struggles of the Cold War. Ultimately, the United States took over the war against Ho Chi Minh, and the two who had once been friends were now the worst frenemies.
Soon the war in Vietnam spiraled out of control, with Ho Chi Minh as the president and military leader of North Vietnam and the United States fighting off insurgencies trying to overthrow the government in South Vietnam. Minh would never see the conclusion of the war since he died in 1969, but he would have been happy with the eventual result: a unified Vietnam.