BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William J. Duiker, who was Ho Chi Minh?
Professor WILLIAM DUIKER, AUTHOR, "HO CHI MINH: A LIFE": Ho Chi Minh, of
course, to most Americans was the leader of the Vietnamese revolutionary
movement, a movement, of course, that caused us enormous difficulty for 15, 20
years. I think most Americans see him that way. I think to the rest of the
world, he's also--for many people living in Asia, Africa, Latin America, he's a
symbol of the national liberation movement. And, of course, within the--what
used to be known as the Communist world, he was one of the international
figures of that movement, along with Stalin and Mao Tse-tung.
LAMB: Was he a nationalist or Communist or both?
Prof. DUIKER: He was both. He started out, certainly, with strong patriotic
leanings, but in the course of his early maturity, he became convinced that
capitalism was a system that was very oppressive to--not only to peoples like
the Vietnamese, but to the working class around the world. And he
became--while in France, he became a convinced Marxist and stayed that till the
end of his days.
LAMB: What year did he die?
Prof. DUIKER: 1969.
LAMB: How old was he?
Prof. DUIKER: Seventy-nine years old.
LAMB: And what did he die of?
Prof. DUIKER: I think he died probably, like many people, of a combination of
things. But, bas--basically, a form of congestive heart failure.
LAMB: When we were there in '92, we had some video shot of the mausoleum, and I
want you to talk through why this kind of a mausoleum. Have you been there?
Prof. DUIKER: Yes, I have.
LAMB: It'll be on the screen in just a second. And what--what's the origin of
Prof. DUIKER: In fact, the--the origin of it has to go back to Ho Chi Minh's
testament, which he drafted over a period of years in the last few years of his
life. And he indicated in his testament that he wanted to be cremated, and he
wanted to have his ashes distributed both north, center and south, so that the
people of all Vietnam would have a chance to venerate him.
But after his death, the Vietnamese leadership decided that they needed some
physical symbol, and they undertook a fairly comprehensive study of the kind of
symbol they wanted. They looked at Lenin's mausoleum, they looked at the
Lincoln Memorial and a number of other memorial buildings around the world, and
they settled on this one, which I would have to say many people, including
myself, feel is singularly inappropriate for his memory because it's very heavy
and Leninesque. It's very moving, I would say, when you go through it. Did you
go through the...
Prof. DUIKER: And you--and you see his--his remains there. But it--it doesn't
seem to fit his personality, and I think a lot of people have been a little
disappointed in that.
LAMB: Are those his remains there?
Prof. DUIKER: Yes, mm-hmm.
LAMB: The--the area--What's it called?--Ba Dinh Square.
Prof. DUIKER: Ba--Ba Dinh Square, correct.
LAMB: Supposedly--and when we taped this, you never know how it's going to come
out by the time it airs, but that area has supposedly been blocked off for
clean-up during the time that President Clinton is there for this visit coming
up this week. What's that all about, do you think?
Prof. DUIKER: I wonder if the clean-up is meant as a--more or less, a kind of
political statement, or do you think it's just generally cleaning up...
LAMB: Well, I wondered what--you know, the--the reports, when it first came
out: They didn't want the president going there to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh.
What would it have meant if he did?
Prof. DUIKER: You mean to the Vietnamese?
LAMB: Or to us, to the Americans.
Prof. DUIKER: Oh, to us?
Prof. DUIKER: It would obviously be a controversial statement. There are many
Americans and certainly many Vietnamese emigres living in the United States who
see Ho Chi Minh as a symbol of oppression and brutality. And I think if he
does go there, and it's--it's televised and--and shown back in the United
States, it will arouse a good deal of debate. From his standpoint--I certainly
couldn't try to anticipate how he feels about it--he may feel this is sort of
symbolic statement embracing the idea of a reconciliation of the two peoples.
LAMB: What do the Vietnamese people think of him?
Prof. DUIKER: It could be a divisive issue, but my experience in traveling
there on many occasions is that the--certainly the vast majority of people
living in the north still venerate him. His reputation is a lot more
controversial in the south, where some people feel that he's a representative
of a--of a repressive system. Interestingly enough, for many young Vietnamese,
he has no more particular meaning than, say, Abraham Lincoln to the average
American. He's some old guy, you know, that they look back on and say, `This
is one of the founders of our country.' But many Vietnamese I talk to who--who
are, of course, much too young to remember the war will say, `We--we don't
really remember the war. We're ready to get on with our lives.'
LAMB: You've got some photos in your book, and there's--the first one I want to
show is--looks like it's odd. I don't know--you'll see in just a moment. It's
the one where he's very young and--it's on the screen here now. You can see it
over there on that monitor, if you look.
Prof. DUIKER: Oh, the one with the top hat.
Prof. DUIKER: Yes. I--some of these pictures are hard to--to locate precisely
because there are pictures that were in the French archives, and they're not
really identified. But in the course of--of analyzing some of his activities
in Paris, this was a picture that, I believe, was taken by the French security
services simply to be able to identify him. And as you can see there, he's
very dapper in a top hat and so forth. And it's an interesting picture in some
ways because it's so out of character for the image that he projected in the
last years of his life, the simple Uncle Ho who--who wore a kind of bush jacket
and that sort of thing. So...
LAMB: Why did he go to Paris?
Prof. DUIKER: He went to Paris originally in the years before World War II,
probably to contact some friends of his father's who were engaged in the--what
we might call the Vietnamese independence movement. And he was already at that
time very much dedicated to doing whatever he could to liberate his country,
and I think he hoped to link up with these people and perhaps get in--get
involved in the national liberation struggle.
Later on, he--he left France before the war and then came back at the end of
World War I and immediately came to the attention of the entire nation of
France because he submitted the famous petition to the victorious allies
meeting in Versailles, at the Versailles Peace Conference, in which he in
effect demanded that Woodrow Wilson live up to the promise of the 14 points
involving self-determination of peoples. And that brought him to the attention
of the entire country, and, of course, word eventually seeped back to Vietnam.
LAMB: There's a picture in here wh--when he was--had arrived in the Soviet
Union in 1923. What are the circumstances for this picture? It's--you--you
can't see it. It's over there on the...
Prof. DUIKER: I see it. Yes, that was probably taken in the Soviet Union, but,
there again, it's not quite clear exactly when. Of course, very clean-shaven
at that time. Two of the things that show up there that are
interesting--actually three: One, I think you can tell in this picture how
singular are his eyes. It's the thing that so many of his acquaintances would
say back in those days; that he was a very unprepossessing young man, very
unassuming, modest in demoner--in demeanor. Of course, he didn't dress in
a--in--certainly in any imposing way. But the eyes were the type of eyes that
would penetrate into your soul.
Second thing I notice here is that he's wearing a tie, and he claimed in his
later years that he'd never worn a necktie in his life. So this is one of the
many instances where he--he, in effect, used his image as that kindly old Uncle
Ho to sort of make a point, which, of course, his life will often show is not
Th--the third point, interestingly, ar--there is a shape of his ear. The
French security services for many, many years were trying to identify Ho Chi
Minh, and--because he was living and working under an assumed name when he
joined the French Communist Party, and they were very concerned to find out
where he came from and what his background was. And they--they suspected that
he was a young man who had been evicted from high school back in 1908--this was
before his foreign travels--who had gotten involved in an anti-French
demonstration, and they'd evicted him from school, and he disappeared from view
and then eventually went to France. And what they determined was that the
information they'd had on him, that he had a certain type of deformity in his
ear, and they--from pictures like this, they were able to say, indeed, that's
the same young man.
LAMB: He would have been about 34 in 1924.
Prof. DUIKER: That's correct. There's some debate over when he was born, but
based on what I've been able to determine and his movements, he was probably
born in 1890. So he--he would have been about 34 at that time.
LAMB: How big was Vietnam in the 1890 to 1920 era?
Prof. DUIKER: Physically, you mean?
LAMB: Physically and population.
Prof. DUIKER: The total population perhaps at that time may have been about 15
million--14 million, 15 million. In terms of the size of the country, at that
time it wasn't even a country. It was divided up into three separate sections
by the French. Two sections were technically under the authority of the
Vietnamese imperial court, although under French protection. And the southern
part of the country was actually a French colony. So there literally was no
Vietnam at that time.
LAMB: How did the French get control?
Prof. DUIKER: How did they manage to take it over? It was part of the--it was
part of that thrust outward of European capitalist countries in the 19th
century, when they were looking for cheap raw materials and markets. And the
French had been involved in Indo-China for 200 years, primarily Christian
missionary work, so when the British began to penetrate into Burma to the
west--and, of course, there was a great interest in the China market at that
time--the French felt, in a competitive manner, that they needed to build their
own colony in the area. And they looked upon Vietnam and neighboring Laos and
then Cambodia as their best opportunity.
LAMB: We have another picture from 1924 after leaving Moscow for the South
China. What were--what were the circumstances that--he looks a lot different
here than he did in that other picture.
Prof. DUIKER: He does, doesn't he? He looks very serious and somber and
almo--loo--looks like a different hairdo. He--he had gone to--to Moscow in
1923 at--at the invitation of the Soviet leadership, and they--they wanted him
to--to perform in Moscow, basically, as a kind of token Asian. They're not
treating him entirely seriously, but just having him there as a kind of symbol
of the fact that the international Communist movement had its objective to help
liberate the colonial peoples.
And he stayed there in training and working at the Communist international
headquarters for a while. And then he became very impatient, and he said, `I
need to go back and help organize my people and build a Communist Party in--in
Indo-China,' as the French called their territory there. And he had to--he
literally had to plead for permission to go back, not to Vietnam, where he
would have, of course, been--at that time he would have been under arrest. So
he went back to South China and created the first revolutionary movement out of
the emigre community living there. So that's one of the pictures that--that
was probably taken around that time.
LAMB: How often was he married?
Prof. DUIKER: Interesting question. I--it's not certain that he was ever
married in the Western sense; in other words, th--th--what we think of, of
course, as the wedding ceremony. There's adequate evidence that he had serious
liaisons on a number of occasions and that he had at least a Chinese marriage
to a young Chinese woman while he was in Guangzhou, Canton, as we used to know
it. And he establish a relationship with a young woman there and lived with
her for about two years. And then when he was forced to leave the area, after
Chiang Kai-Shek began to crack down on the Communists, he and his then-Chinese
wife lost track of each other.
LAMB: Who is this lady in this picture?
Prof. DUIKER: That is a young man--a young woman we know as Winte Min Kai,
who's probably the most famous female revolutionary in Vietnam. She was a--a
young woman who joined the party in the very late--let's say around 1930 and
was sent to Hong Kong because he had his headquarters there very briefly, just
at the time the Communist Party was first created. And based on internal
documentary evidence, letters that were written to Moscow and that sort of
thing, it appears that the two developed a--a--I say sexual relationship,
certainly an intimate relationship. And there are scattered letters that
indicate that, at that time, he actually requested permission from Moscow to
get married. He didn't formally identify who the wife was, but it's quite
clear that this is the young woman.
And either they were formally married, or at least th--they were, you know, at
the point where they were about to be married, and then both of them were
arrested and were separated for several years. The irony of all of this is
that when they next meet each other again, it was in Moscow at a major meeting
of international Communist parties, and at that time, she is listed as coming
to Moscow as his wife. And yet after she arrives there, she becomes engaged to
and marries one of Ho Chi Minh's chief lieutenants.
LAMB: What happened to her eventually?
Prof. DUIKER: She went back to Vietnam with her new husband, who was also, of
course, a leading figure in the movement. They were both arrested in the late
1930s, and both were executed. So she died in 1940. And it's--it's, frankly,
one of the great mysteries of the life of Ho Chi Minh--is a puzzle, in other
words, what--what--was there a relationship, and how did--how did the
relationship come to an end?
LAMB: Why did you think that a book on Ho Chi Minh would sell? I--I'm not sure
you think of it that way, but what were your--and--and why did the Hyperion
people think it would sell?
Prof. DUIKER: Mm-hmm. I can go, I guess, in two or three different directions
on this. I first became interested in the book before the end of the war, and
I think at that time, insofar as I thought of it in marketable terms, I thought
Ho Chi Minh would be a fascinating subject because he was the public image of
our adversary. I found out after the war was over that, for many years,
Americans lost interest in Vietnam. Obviously, it was a humiliation for us,
and there really wasn't much of a market for the subject, and I dropped it for
that reason and some others.
And then I came back to it in the last decade or so because more and more
information was coming out about him, particularly from Russia and from China
and from Vietnam itself. And I have to say, honestly, I wrote it out of a
strong impulse in myself that I wanted to understand this man, and the fact
that it came out as a book is almost secondary. And I was delighted that
Hyperion was interested in it. I--I think, based on my conversations with the
people there, that--that I think they hope that it will sell, but I think they
felt also that it was a topic that needed discussing. And I think most of my
friends in the Vietnam field would agree, we neally--we really need to
understand Ho Chi Minh to understand the Vietnam War.
LAMB: You write that the air of mystery around this man still remains intact
after all the research and the stuff that you've written.
Prof. DUIKER: Well, if--any author, I guess, would like to feel that he's
answered every question, and I do feel that I have--I've certainly penetrated
some of the mysteries around his life. I think I picked out his movements and
pinned them down. I personally feel that I have a fairly good idea of what
made him tick. If you work with someone long enough, you know, you feel like
you've penetrated into that person's skin, and--and I feel I understand him.
But I do see him as a very complex individual. He's a man of enormous
simplicity, but enormous complexity. He's a man who is very affable, very
friendly, very unassuming. He was very easy to like. Almost everyone who met
him enjoyed him and--and found themselves drawn to his personality. And yet
there was this fierce, steely determination inside him that was driving this
man. And in those cases where--where he found--you know, where he found it
necessary either to utilize his image or to eliminate his rivals, he was
perfectly capable of doing that. So I--I think that's the--that's the hard
thing to penetrate, is--is just how these various factors in his personality
tied in together and how he--perhaps how he saw himself.
LAMB: You said he was in prison in Hong Kong, and here's a picture of him right
after he was released from the Hong Kong prison.
Prof. DUIKER: Mm-hmm. He was in prison there in the--the summer of 1931. He
was captured by the British police as part of a general round-up of Communist
operatives all over East and Southeast Asia. And they did not have anything
concrete against him, except a scattering of materials in his office that--that
suggested that he was engaged in revolutionary activities. The problem
was--for the authorities was that his activities had nothing to do with colony
of Hong Kong; they had to do with Indo-China.
So what they--the British had to do was decide whether to extradite him and
send him back to Indo-China for the French to try and convict for treasonous
activities, and it became a--a very serious debate within the government in
Hong Kong and in London over whether that was the proper thing to do. And as
it finally turned out, various groups in Great Britain were able to
persade--persuade the government that he should be released because there was
nothing concrete to charge him with, and he should be allowed to go to the
destination of his own choosing.
So he was finally spirited out of Hong Kong on a Sanpan out to a waiting
Chinese steamship, and the steamship took him up the coast and eventually
dropped him off in--around Shanghai. And the French, from that point on until
World War II, weren't sure where he was. In fact, sometimes they thought he
died in prison.
LAMB: How long did you work on this book?
Prof. DUIKER: Off and on probably for 25 years, but I'd mentioned before that I
had taken it up briefly at the end of the war, and at that time I realized that
it was not sufficient material to write the kind of biography I wanted. So I
dropped it and finally got to the point about 10 years ago when I could see
more and more information coming out, and I still had that fascination with
him. To me, it's--it's almost like a detective story. It's almost like
writing an Agatha Christie novel, but you don't know the end of it when you
LAMB: What is new in here that no one's ever gotten before?
Prof. DUIKER: I think perhaps it's more sort of the overall picture. I--I
find, as I go through this, that I'm confirming a lot of things that I think
certainly those of us who are acquainted with him know. I think there's some
things I've--I've discovered that add nuances to our--to our knowledge about
him. For example, his very delicate relationship with the Soviet Union and
with China and with the leaders of those two countries, Stalin and Khrushchev
and Mao Tse-Tung and Chou En-lai and that sort of thing, and I can flesh out
And--and it's--I--I think it's very clear that he was a very central figure in
the international Communist movement. He tried to resolve the Sino-Soviet
dispute. I think--I think I've clarified the issue of his attitude toward
nationalism and revolution. To--certainly to my own feeling, I have clarified
the fact that he was a genuine revolutionist. He--I wouldn't say he was that
interested in Marxism, but he was very much a believer in revolution. And
those people who say he was just a patriot, who was driven to the Soviet Union
by the fact that America brushed him off is not entirely active--I--accurate. I
think he would have certainly tried to make a relationship with the United
States, but his commitment to--to socialism and perhaps even, in a very general
sense, the--the concept of a Communist utopia was genuine.
LAMB: How long did he spend in the United States?
Prof. DUIKER: There's--that's the gap that's the hardest to fill because we
know, primarily by his own statements, that he arrived in the United States
about 1912 or so while he was sailing on a steam--French shen--steamship liner.
And he left the ship either in Baltimore or in New York, and he spent, by his
own account, several months in New York City living in Manhattan and perhaps
Harlem and Queens, Brooklyn maybe and then went up to Boston and worked there
very briefly, and then left at an unknown time and went back to Europe.
And with the help of some other people who are interested in him, we've tried
to locate something in the immigration records, and there's absolutely nothing.
He must have just gotten off the ship, you know, sort of disappeared into the
throng of--of immigrants living in the big cities and the East Coast; spent
some time here, learned some English and then went back to England. And it's
not--England and France--and it's not entirely clear, even by his own account,
exactly why he did this.
LAMB: Have you ever heard his voice?
Prof. DUIKER: I have--I have heard his voice on tape. His voice, when he gave
the famous Declaration of Independence at Ba Dinh Square in September of 1945.
LAMB: What's it sound like?
Prof. DUIKER: Fairly high-pitched; I'm tempted to say squeaky, but it may be
the quality of the tape. It's a--it's a very high, sharp voice. It reminded
me a little bit of the voice of Chiang Kai-Shek or even Mao Tse-tung when they
speak. And as I said, that may have something to do with the--the quality
of--of--you know, of radio transcription and that sort of thing. He had a very
strong central Vietnamese accent.
LAMB: What would have happened, in your opinion, in the Vietnam country and,
also, American war in Vietnam had Ho Chi Minh not been there?
Prof. DUIKER: At a minimum, it wouldn't have been at all the same kind of--of
revolution, and--and I would say it for this--for--this way. It was Ho Chi
Minh who--who devised the idea that the best way to approach the Vietnamese
people and appeal to their instincts was not to talk about Communism and the
classless utopia and collective farms and that sort of thing, but to talk about
the two dramatic forces which were shaping Vietnamese society in the 20th
century. And one would be the issue of national independence, of course, based
on the French conquests; Vietnam in the 19th century. And the other is a
somewhat broader populist appeal that I tend to call social justice, which
means land of the tiller; it means decent working conditions and opportunity
He knew at that time that you couldn't appeal to the Vietnamese people, 95
percent of whom were farmers, with Communist slogans. You had to talk to them
in the language that they understood. And there was no one else in Vietnam at
that time or, I think, even among his colleagues later on who could quite
understand that gift that he had.
Secondly, I think his strategical instincts were very important. I think, to a
degree, he followed the--what I think many people know as the Maoist idea of
people's war: guerrilla struggle and that sort of thing. But he was good at
applying them in a Vietnamese context. And he--he discovered very early on,
because he'd already become a sophisticated observer of the international
scene, that for Vietnam to be liberated, however he might define that, it could
not be done, for example, the way the Bolshevik Revolution had taken place or
even the Chinese Civil War. It couldn't be done entirely on a domestic basis
because Vietnam was a small country controlled by a large, powerful European
country. He had to have support on the international scene. So he very early
learned to sort of tie the liberation struggle in Indo-China with international
events and with trying to manipulate what we might call the great power
LAMB: When was the first time you went to Vietnam?
Prof. DUIKER: I was first in Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. At that time, I was a
Foreign Service officer. And I was stationed with the US Embassy in Saigon,
and that's where I first got interested in Ho Chi Minh.
LAMB: When did do you at the embassy?
Prof. DUIKER: I was the--an economic reporting officer. I had--prior to my
assignment there, I had been assigned to Chinese language training in Taiwan.
And when I was assigned to Saigon, after my Chinese language training was over,
I was a bit puzzled. And then I discovered that in the economic reporting
office, they always wanted one Chinese speaker to deal with the large overseas
Chinese business community in Saigon. So in a s--light moment, I will
sometimes say that I was sent to Vietnam to win the support of the Chinese
community to the South Vietnamese cause in the war.
LAMB: And in a footnote in the back, you say that one weekend you went to
Bangkok for the weekend, and by the time you came back, the government that was
in control when you left was out, the government that took over was out and
there was a third government in charge. What was...
Prof. DUIKER: That's right.
LAMB: What's that story?
Prof. DUIKER: I don't know much about it from that because I've never followed
it up at that time, but during that period from 1964 to 1965, there were
innumerable coups, and some of them were ac--actually involved: tanks going up
into the presidential palace lawn; in other case--cases, they were just--you
know, reshufflings of the Cabinet and that sort of thing. And this was at a
time when there was a--a kind of token civilian government in power in Saigon,
but the military was sitting in the background sort of moving their musical
And I'd gone off to Bangkok just for a couple of days to see some friends, and
over the weekend, there was some reshuffling of the Cabinet in--in such a way
that it was almost like a coup d'etat. In other words, it wasn't just an
appointment. And then I guess I came back on a Monday, and by that time, that
particular group had been replaced by another group. And that process, which I
always describe as a kind of musical chairs game, lasted for about a year and a
half, until the--the rise of Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu about two
months later. They came in power in June of '65.
LAMB: Who was the American ambassador when you were in the embassy?
Prof. DUIKER: I arrived just after Maxwell Taylor arrived. General Taylor was
there for about a year, little bit over a year, and then he left in the early
summer or mid-summer of '65 and Henry Cabot Lodge came back for a second tour
of duty. So I was there briefly when--when Henry Cabot Lodge had some back for
a second term.
LAMB: Buried in your book is a reference to Le Duan. Who is he?
Prof. DUIKER: Now he...
LAMB: Now they--there are a lot of them, but there's one particular reference I
want to ask you about.
Prof. DUIKER: Le Duan was a young Communist Party functionary from central
Vietnam who had emerged during his early- to mid-30s, around the time of the
Second World War, into a position of leadership. This was a time when there
was enormous shake-up in the party because a number were captured and put to
death. And Le Duan began to emerge during the Second World War as a very
effective party member. And after the war was over, because of his background
in central and south Vietnamese affairs, he was assigned to the south to--to
command the party's political and military activities in South Vietnam. And
he--he essentially stayed in the south right up through the mid-1950s. In
other words, at a time when the United States had come in to support the new
government in South Vietnam. And in 19--1956 or early 1957, he was ordered
north to Hanoi where the government had established its power base after the
Geneva Conference and became acting--acting general secretary, which meant he
was primarily the most powerful person in the--in the--in the Communist Party.
And the general feeling is--and I certainly share it--that he was given that
position primarily because of his enormous commitment to unification and
liberation of the south. And it was more or less a symbolic statement that
unification is going to be one of our top priorities for the next few years.
LAMB: The reason I bring up--him up is that, you know, there are a number of
issues that we still can get a good argument started about in the United
States. One of them is: Did the Vietnamese attack our destroyers there in the
Tonkin Gulf or vice versa? And who did what to whom? You say that Le Duan
told Mao, I believe, that it was a local decision to attack, the--which I don't
know--was it C. Turner Joy or one of those...
Prof. DUIKER: Yes. The Maddox and I guess C. Turner Joy, right.
LAMB: The Maddox, yeah.
Prof. DUIKER: Right.
LAMB: Is that new?
Prof. DUIKER: I don't believe so. I think some other scholars
have--there--there are one or two major studies on the whole Tonkin Gulf
incident and, of course, the consequences of it. And I think that's--I think
that's something that is becoming clearer. Some of the conversations that I
report between the Vietnamese and the Chinese may be fairly new, although these
are--this is information available to other people as well.
LAMB: Do you agree with that, that it was a local decision?
Prof. DUIKER: Yes. I think by my reading, it was a local decision based
on--perhaps on the assumption that the US actions there, the--the--the two
American warships were related to some South Vietnamese guerrilla operations
taking place in the vicinity. And the local authorities then reported it to
the north, and if I recall--I'm not too precise on my knowledge on this--that
the Northerners approved it. The North Vietnamese insist--and I think
correctly--that they had not--that there had been no second attack, that that
may have been just electronic emissions or something.
LAMB: Where did you go for the new information on Ho Chi Minh?
Prof. DUIKER: I would say the bulk of my information came from Vietnam. I was
able to go back to Hanoi on several occasions to engage in research. I had a
little access to the archives. I talked to a number of scholars. I was able
to interview some people who had known Ho Chi Minh. And I think a lot of the
information came from there. I was able to find a good deal of information in
the last few years from memoirs and collections of documents that have been
published in China. The Chinese are--they don't open their archives to
foreigners as a general rule, certainly not in a matter as sensitive as
Sino-Vietnamese relations. But they have taken to publishing the reminiscences
of some of their ambassadors and some of their military commanders. And a lot
of that is very useful. The Russian archives have been opened just a peek.
And now it's possible to see some of that information. And then finally,
certainly an enormous amount of information came from the French archives.
They--during the Colonial period, they kept a very close watch on Ho Chi Minh.
LAMB: When did the French get kicked out of Indochina?
Prof. DUIKER: 19...
LAMB: Our out of--out of--out of Vietnam?
Prof. DUIKER: Yeah, 1954. At the close of the Geneva Conference, which divided
Vietnam temporarily in two separate zones with the Vietminh, as they were
called, and the Communist Party in control in the north and pro-French or at
least anti-Communist Vietnamese settling in the south. And the United States
immediately decided to back the South Vietnamese government to stop the further
spread of communism.
LAMB: If you don't mind--from 1890 until 1969, block off--out Ho Chi Minh's
life. I know 30 years he spent outside of Vietnam. Where were the major
Prof. DUIKER: 1908, I think, when he engaged in that anti-French demonstration
in the imperial capital of Hue. That's what--that was his first open political
act. And it--it--it, basically, you might say, it started him on a
LAMB: Eighteen years old.
Prof. DUIKER: That was--he was about 17 or 18 at the time. Three years later,
he sailed from Saigon to Europe. I say Europe, because he stopped in France,
but he went elsewhere as well. Spent three or four years working on an ocean
liner, or as I said, settling briefly in--in the United States. Most of World
War I, he was apparently in Great Britain, although it's hard to pin down his
activities. 1917, 1918, he arrived in Paris. And that's where he joined the
Socialist movement and a founding member of the Communist Party. 1923, ordered
to Moscow for training. Late 1924, on to China.
I--I have a joke with my wife that we really ought to have--we should have put
a pedometer on him so that we should of kept track of his activities, because
he must have been the most peripatetic man you could see. Late '24 to China.
1927, he was evicted or forced to leave China because of Chiang Kai-shek's
crackdown on Communists. He went back to Moscow and traveled in Europe. The
late '20s, he went back to Southeast Asia, lived in Thailand for a few months,
went to Hong Kong to found the Communist Party, arrested, two years in prison
in Hong Kong. After release, he went back to the Soviet Union, where he spent
five years. Do I go on?
Prof. DUIKER: Came back in ni...
LAMB: I want to get to the point...
Prof. DUIKER: Came back--uh-huh.
LAMB: ...where he was in charge.
Prof. DUIKER: Right. In 19-in 19--1938, he was permitted to go back to China
to re-establish contact with his party. And finally, he was able to do so in
19--some time in the spring of 1940. And that--from that point on, literally
until his final days, he was in direct contact with his close followers
and--and if not the leader of the Communist Party, certainly its most
influential public figure. And from '41 to '45, he was primarily in--either in
South China or Northern Vietnam organizing his revolutionary movement. The
fall of--or late summer of 1945, when the war was over, he and a ragtag group
of 5,000 troops marched into Hanoi, raised the flag of the new Democratic
Republic of Vietnam. That's where he made his famous speech in Ba Dinh--Dinh
For the next 18 months, he was engaged in negotiations with the French in order
to gain some form of autonomy or independence, trying to appeal to the United
States for some measure of recognition or legitimacy. Those negotiations broke
down in late '46. And from December '46 until 1954, he was back in the bush,
leading his movement against the French. After Geneva, his party came back to
Hanoi, and he spent his last--well, the last 15 years of his life as president
of the country.
LAMB: Where is this photograph from? He's there with the--some type of beard.
Prof. DUIKER: That--that was a photograph taken in late 1945, perhaps early
1946, when he had been named president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
And that's a--a--a more formal photo--photograph of him, obviously a fairly
LAMB: I have here in--in--in your book the document that you reprinted. It
says, `Via the War Department, Ho Chi Minh, president, Provincial Government of
Vietnam, transmitted to Harry S. Truman.'
Prof. DUIKER: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And it reads, `Mr. President, on behalf of Vietnam people and government,
I wish to express to you our sincere gratitude for the declarations in 12
points you've made on the US foreign policy. That declaration is
enthusiastically welcomed by our people as the opening of--of a new era for the
opposed nations all over the world.' What's this and why is it important?
Prof. DUIKER: It is one of--it is one of several communications that he sent
either to President Roosevelt or President Truman or one of our secretaries of
State. It was part of a long process that began in late 1944, early 1945 when
he--he--he realized at the end of the war that this was a--a marvelous
opportunity to liberate his country because Japanese surrender would create
a--a vacuum in Indochina. And the French had been--French authorities had been
imprisoned by the Japanese. So there would be this short window when the
Ja--when the Vietminh might be able to seize control.
But he recognized that for that--for that process to succeed, he needed to gain
international recognition of his new government. And he was well aware of the
fact that the Soviet Union had relatively little interest. Stalin never did
care much about Indochina. And what he deduced from the situation was that
given the circumstances at the end of the war with the United States allied
with the Soviet Union and Great Britain in the grand alliance and with, of
course, Roosevelt's reputation as being anti-French and an anti-colonialist, he
hoped somehow that he would be able to induce the United States to support the
le--legitimacy of his government, rather than support a return of the French.
And this is one of the later messages that he sent off to Washington in the
hope that somehow the Americans would see some benefit in--in supporting his
LAMB: When was he no longer involved--really involved in the decisions?
Prof. DUIKER: Generally, in the--in the political scene? It's probably hard to
be overly specific because in his last few years, he--he suffered from a number
of physical ailments, and also, I think, I couldn't give any kind of a medical
diagnosis on it, but it--from people I've known who--who saw him in operation
at that time, occasionally, mentally, he would sort of drift out of the
picture. They would see him, for example, in--in important international
conferences and he'd be sort of staring off into space. And that process was
sort of an ongoing process.
I've had interviews with Vietnamese in particular who insist that up to about
1964, 1965, he was very active in helping to direct the Vietnamese political
activities. But from 1965 on, apparently he went downhill quite rapidly. And
I--I think one of the--one of the--one--one of the things I'm able to bring out
in this book fairly clearly is the degree to which he began to lose control or
influence over his movement, not only after 1965, but to a certain degree
beginning in the early- to mid-1950s.
LAMB: There's a story in here that he wanted to go south during the American
war, I believe, from the north to the south surreptitiously, but didn't get to.
Why? And what's that story?
Prof. DUIKER: It--it's a very moving story. This would have been about 1967,
1968, when--this was around the time of the Tet offensive. And he had--he had
been in Beijing for medical treatment. He was quite weak at the time. And as
I said, I think perhaps some of his mental acuity had begun to drain away at
this point. And he'd always wanted to visit the south. I mean, he felt very
strongly about his symbolic importance to the people in the south and the fact
that they had struggled so long for their own liberation. And I think he was
very sensitive to the fact that many Southerners complained that he had sold
them out at the Geneva Conference because he'd allowed the division of the
And he wanted to go south, but--obviously to travel through NLF-held areas and
raise the spirits of the people. But his--his physical condition, my sense is,
simply didn't permit it. So that he was, you know, being very unrealistic at
this time. So that what his colleagues had to do, many of--many of your
viewers, of course, will remember Le Duc Tho, who was Henry Kissinger's
opposite number during the Paris Treaty--he went to Beijing, I think, after the
Tet offensive to report to Ho Chi Minh on what had happened at Tet and to tell
Ho Chi Minh that negotiations were beginning. Ho--Ho hadn't been involved in
these decisions. And it may have been about that time when Ho said, `I want to
go south now because things are looking better.' And Le Duc Tho more or less
palmed him off and said, `Well, we can't take you there. You'd be recognized
and you might be--you know, and you might be arrested,' and--and Ho Chi Minh
said, `Well, maybe you could take me secretly by sea down around to southern
Cambodia and sneak me in that way.'
LAMB: But he also said he wanted to--he could--he'd be willing to shave his
Prof. DUIKER: He'd be willing to shave his beard so he wouldn't be recognized.
It--it's a really--it's quite a moving story. And if you--if you--if you
become, you know, in a sense, sort of attached to Ho Chi Minh as an individual,
whatever--you know, whatever one thinks of his--his political ideology,
it--it's--it's almost pathetic to see this man desperately wanting, you know,
to get a sort of hands-on relationship with the people in the south.
LAMB: But you also said that--then--I--maybe Le Duc Tho said this, `That if you
shave off your beard, the people in the south aren't going to know who you
Prof. DUIKER: That's right.
LAMB: Where did that story came from, do you know?
Prof. DUIKER: It came from--it came from two or three different reminiscences
that have been published in the last few years, reminiscences by Vietnamese and
I think, to a certain degree, maybe comments made by Le Duc Tho himself. But
not, I might say, for--for broad public dissemination in Vietnam. Because
it--you know, it obviously, undercuts the image of Uncle Ho as firmly in charge
of the country right to his--the end of his days.
LAMB: How many times have you been to Hanoi?
Prof. DUIKER: Probably somewhere between five and 10 times. First trip, 1985
for research visit.
LAMB: Last trip?
Prof. DUIKER: Nice trip?
LAMB: Last trip?
Prof. DUIKER: Last trip, the--must have been about 1996 or '97.
LAMB: If I count right, this is your 14th book?
Prof. DUIKER: Somewhere in that range. I--I'm always a little imprecise about
it, not--not by any means trying to say I've written so many, I don't think
even about it. But some of the things that--that I might think of as a book
are relatively short and they might be considered, you know, research papers or
something of that type. So it's somewhere around that range.
LAMB: Seven hundred pages, $35. It's a lot of pages. Big book.
Prof. DUIKER: A lot of dollars.
LAMB: Yeah. Are you worried that it's too big?
Prof. DUIKER: If the--if my editor isn't worried about it, I guess I'm not
worried about it.
LAMB: Where's the picture from?
Prof. DUIKER: That's a picture that was taken a--about 19--early 19--or
mid-1954, just at the end of what we call the Franco-Vietnam War when the
French were fighting against the revolutionary forces. And from what I've
gathered from the context, this was a moment of general repose when the war was
just about won. And he's in his--again, his bush jacket waiting to go back to
LAMB: How many names did he have in his life?
Prof. DUIKER: Somewhere between 50 and 100. And indeed, there are undoubtedly
more that we don't know about.
LAMB: What was he born, the name?
Prof. DUIKER: His name? His first name was what the Vietnamese call a milk
name, which is just the name that infant is given to begin with. And his name
was Nguyen Sinh Cung. At age 11 or 12, it's at that point where adolescence
begins and then the parents will give a--a young man or a young woman a name
representing their aspirations for their child. And at that point, he was
called Nguyen That Thanh, which means--Nguyen, which is one of the familiar
family names in--in Vietnam. That Thanh meaning `He who will succeed or he who
will become.' He kept that name until he left Vietnam. And it was when he left
Vietnam that he began using various aliases.
LAMB: Where do you come down on the Vietnam War? Do you have a position after
all this time?
Prof. DUIKER: I have a position, but it's a--it's a--somewhat of a conflicted
one. And I've always been very honest about it. It may have to do in part
with my age and my background. I grew up at a time when Americans still
believed very strongly in the correctness of our foreign policy objectives. I
believed in US containment policy. I believed that it was necessary, although
I--I might say I thought I'd been much to militarized. I went into the State
Department almost literally at the time John Kennedy entered the White House
and felt many of the same feelings of enthusiasm that that generation felt.
So when I was sent to Vietnam, when I--when I was in the foreign service, I
sort of carried as a badge of honor the idea that I was doing a noble service.
And then by the time I--by the time I got to Vietnam, I--for whatever reason, I
was already--already quite skeptical that we could win. I had no particular
pleasure in seeing America lose. I certainly didn't glorify the revolutionary
movement in any particular way. I--I had no particular liking for Communism.
But I just thought it was a mistake. I thought we were, in effect, throwing
money into a--a lost situation. And it's almost like a military campaign. If
you're very exposed in a military campaign, you don't throw all of your--your
troops into that point. You back up and you establish a--you establish a more
defensible security perimeter. And I just felt, based on my experience there
and perhaps my study of Chinese history, because there were so--some
similarities there, I just felt that we were unlikely to be successful in
Vietnam. And from that point on, I--I--I--in--in whatever way I could, I was
hoping that we would find some way of extricating ourselves from Vietnam with
honor and as much as possible a minimum of bloodshed for the Vietnamese people.
LAMB: When did you leave the foreign service?
Prof. DUIKER: After the Vietnam assignment in the fall of 1965.
LAMB: How old were you then?
Prof. DUIKER: Thirty-three.
LAMB: And where did you go next?
Prof. DUIKER: I finished my doctoral studies at Georgetown University. I had
started them before I went overseas. And after I finished my doctorate, hung
my name out for a job and was accepted for a position in the History Department
at Penn State.
LAMB: How long did you spend at Penn State?
Prof. DUIKER: Thirty years, full--full career.
LAMB: What are you doing now?
Prof. DUIKER: I retired a couple of years ago and just decided last year to
move down to the Outer Banks of Hurricane Alley, as we call it in North
Carolina and love it down there.
LAMB: Where were you from originally?
Prof. DUIKER: I bounced around a--a lot. I was born in Chicago, spent many
years in Washington, DC. Every time I come to Washington, I see a house I
lived in or a friend's house. Spent some time during my adolescence in
Philadelphia, lived in Miami, Indiana. Went to school at Dickinson College in
LAMB: There's a series of pictures in the book of wh--where he lived. And I
wanted to ask you: Which one do you think represents the Ho Chi Minh that
you've come to know in this book? Is it the one here on top, which is the
palace right near Ba Dinh Square...
Prof. DUIKER: Correct.
LAMB: ...or is it this near Ba Dinh Square, the stilt house? And how much time
did he spend...
Prof. DUIKER: Which is right next door to the Presidential Palace.
LAMB: And how much time did he spend in both places?
Prof. DUIKER: The Presidential Palace on top was a--a very impressive, late
19th century building built by the French to represent the grandeur of the
French Colonial empire. He moved there very, very briefly after the war. I
think that is 1945, 1946, for symbolic reasons. It was very important for the
Vietnamese that they control the Presidential Palace, rather than the French,
during that period after 1945 when they were negotiating with each other. But
from the start, he was very uncomfortable with living there, because it was
much too ostentatious. So he did not live there personally during that
particular period. He lived in an administrative office over toward the center
Then when the--the--the Vietminh movement, that is the party leaders came back
to Hanoi in October of 1954, he refused to occupy that residence and he moved
into the gardener's quarters on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. And
this would have been the mid- to late-50s. That's correct. That's the fish
pond that he often was seen sitting there feeding the fish right beside it. And
it was while he was living in the gardener's quarters that the party arranged
to have this house built in the style of the mountain minorities. And he lived
there for most of the remainder of his life. During the--during the bombing
campaign of '65 to '68, he often lived in a bomb shelter also adjacent to these
LAMB: Almost everything that's been written about your book is positive, except
one thing. And I don't know if you've seen this review. Have you seen this in
the Amazon.com from a fellow named...
Prof. DUIKER: The one from the Vietnamese?
Prof. DUIKER: Yes.
LAMB: Van Pham. And I just wanted to ask you about this because he goes
in--he's--he--it's--it's a little stilted English because he--obviously, he
knows English pretty well. But it's--it--but he--he says, `I was eagerly
awaiting this book, believing that it contains information from the Russian,
French and Vietnamese archives. I was thoroughly disappointed. What bothered
this--me about this book was not so much the information the author conveyed
but the information that he either through coincident or on purpose
deliberately hide from his reader.' Do you want to just take that, you know,
as--was this guy on track at--at all?
Prof. DUIKER: I think in fairness to him, I probably would like to talk with
him and see whether he has information that wasn't available to me because
there's an enormous amount of information and misinformation about Ho Chi Minh
out around the world and certainly in the Internet. And what I have tried to
do is to corroborate everything that I have seen; certainly anything that's
controversial, so that I didn't find myself simply repeating stories
that--for--for which there wasn't any proper evidence or maybe it was something
put out as a false scent.
I--I think what pub--puzzled me a little bit about that--about that letter was
that one of the things he quoted is the case of a young woman who apparently
became Ho Chi Minh's concubine toward the end of his life. And there was a
very messy story about the fact that she was raped by Ho Chi Minh's Minister of
the Interior, and later, her body was found in the suburbs of Hanoi with the
assumption that she had been assassinated, perhaps because she'd given birth to
Ho Chi Minh's child and wanted--and--and wanted to marry him. And, of course,
this would have been unacceptable, given the image of Ho as a celibate.
The fact is, I do report that story. I don't dwell on it unnecessarily because
it's a little hard to corroborate and I--I don't want to accentuate things
where there may be more that I don't know about. But I do report it. And
I--certainly, I--I gather from the kind of things that he's saying that I
downplay the degree of cruelty and the degree of bloodshed that occurred in
Vietnam. Maybe the difference there is that I don't--I don't deny the
brutality and the bloodshed that took place, as I see it somewhat on both
sides. But I certainly can see the Leninist character of his government and I
can see, as I think I mentioned to you before, that there were times when he
was quite willing to commit actions or order actions that could involve very
high degree of casualties among his supporters as well as among his enemies.
And there were times when some of his colleagues committed what, to me, are
quite brutal acts in the suppression of their enemies. And I--I find myself
very aware that in some cases, Ho Chi Minh appeared to lack the pol--political
courage to stop it.
LAMB: You point out in your book that Ho Chi Minh wrote two autobiographies
under an assumed name...
Prof. DUIKER: Yes.
LAMB: ...about himself. And this upset this reviewer, who--he quotes in here,
he says, `Many'--this is Tran Dan Tien, who is an alias...
Prof. DUIKER: Yes.
LAMB: ...of Ho Chi Minh, saying--this is what he wrote. `Many Viet and foreign
writers and journalists have tried to write biographies of the president of the
Democratic Republican Vietnam.' He's talking about himself. `But so far, they
have not--had little success--they had have little success. The reason is
simple.' Again, he's writing about himself. `The modest President Ho doesn't
like to be talked about too much.' Later on in the book when the question of
biography is mentioned, Ho replies, `Biography that is--that is a good thing.
But at present, our people still live in poverty. After 80 years of slavery,
our country is in ruin and we have a big task of reconstruction. Let's do what
is most urgent first. As for my biography, it can wait.' A quote within a
quote within an--an article that's--yeah.
Prof. DUIKER: Yeah, I'm having trouble following it.
LAMB: It is. But in other words, Ho Chi Minh wrote these phony biographies or
autobiographies under an assumed name writing about himself in the book that he
wasn't interested in biography. What do you take on--what's your take on that?
Prof. DUIKER: Well, I think that's part of Ho Chi Minh's image making. He
certainly began to see himself at some point as a symbol of his cause. And I
think he realized his talent. And--in--in effect, making himself the public
image of the movement. And he saw, in effect, that it was the appeal to his
personality and his character, that it was a large part of the success of his
LAMB: Do you read Vietnamese?
Prof. DUIKER: I--I read it reasonably well. I do keep a dictionary handy.
LAMB: And this book, "Ho Chi Minh: A Life," has there ever been a book written
Prof. DUIKER: Not one of this length and not one that I think delves as much
as--as I have into his movements. There may be some people who say, `You're
talking a lot--awful lot about where he went and when.' And I do that in part
because that's been part of the mystery of Ho Chi Minh is that he's seen
everywhere, and wha--it's important, I think, to tie down his--you know,
hi--where he went and why he did he what he did. And I've tried to let the
story speak for itself.
LAMB: Here's the book. It's called "Ho Chi Minh" by William J. Duiker. We
thank you very much for joining us.
Prof. DUIKER: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.