The book presents a long list of “might have beens”. None is so full of irony as Ho’s efforts in 1944–when his liberation army was waging a successful struggle against the Japanese occupiers of Vietnam–to rescue and assist downed U.S. pilots. No Hanoi Hilton for them. Even today, they remember him as a “sweet guy”. Ho saw the opportunity to help them as fortuitous. He would open a dialogue with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had stated publicly he wanted to restore independence to the colonies of Southeast Asia.
Roosevelt’s death and the Cold War put an end to that possibility. Ho had formed a provisional government after fighting French locals who had collaborated with Japan. The United States, in spite of opposition from its own Asia specialists, assisted the return of French colonialists to Indochina, which was now regarded as too important in the global struggle against the Soviet Union and its Asian allies. And so the United States slid down the same path that had led to the French defeat in 1956…
Duiker makes clear that Ho was a communist out of necessity, having from his early student days been supported by the Soviets–though minimally–in his plan to oust the French from Indochina. There was no other support for the bright young son of a poor teacher, and without it, Ho would not have been able to fulfill any of his aspirations. But Duiker insists that Ho was always first and foremost a patriot, willing to come to some king of reasonable accommodation with the West.
Didn’t know. Who cared to remind, in the 1960s and 1970s?