From 1945-1946, Ho Chi Minh and his government reached out to the United States on numerous occasions to ask for help in resolving the problem of Indochina.
Ho forwarded to the Secretary of State the DRV Declaration of Independence, Bao Dai’s abdication rescript, general DRV foreign policy declarations, and its expressed position on the war in South Vietnam. He cited the Atlantic Charter as the “foundation of future Vietnam” and the San Francisco Charter as eradicating colonial oppression. Ho appealed for “immediate interference” and submitted several requests — the key one being that the United Nations should recognize the full independence of Vietnam.
Here is one of my favorite letters. You can read all these letters in the New York Times archive of the Complete Pentagon Papers, Vol. 1. They are at the very end of the document starting on page 237.
Date: 22 October 1945
TO: Secretary of State Department, Washington, D.C.
The situation in South Vietnam has reached its critical stage, and call for immediate interference on the part of the United Nations. I wish by the present letter to bring your excellency some more light on the case of Vietnam which has come for the last three weeks into the international limelight.
First of all, I beg to forward to your Government a few documentary data, among which our Declaration of Independence, the Imperial Rescript of Ex-Emperor Bao Dai on the occasion of his abdication, the declaration of our Government concerning its general foreign policy and a note defining our position towards the South Vietnam incident.
As those documents will show your Excellence, the Vietnamese people has known during the last few years an evolution which naturally brings the Vietnamese nation to its present situation. After 80 years of French oppression and unsuccessful though obstinate Vietnamese resistance, we at last saw France defeated in Europe, then her betrayal of the Allies successively on behalf of Germany and of Japan. Though the leaving aside all differences in political opinion, united in the Vietminh League and started on a ruthless fight against the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Charter was concluded, defining the war aims of the Allies and laying the foundation of peace-work. The noble principles of international justice and equality of status laid down in that charter strongly appealed to the Vietnamese and contributed in making the Vietminh resistance in the war zone a nation-wide anti-Japanese movement which found a powerful echo in the democratic aspirations of the people. The Atlantic Charter was looked upon as the foundation of future Vietnam. A nation building program was drafted which was later found in keeping with San Francisco Charter and which has been fully carried out these last years: continuous fight against the Japanese bringing about the recovery of national independence on August 19th, voluntary abdication of Ex-Emperor Baodai, establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, assistance given to the Allies Nations in the disarmament of the Japanese, appointment of the provisional Government whose mission was to carry out the Atlantic Charter and San Francisco Charters and have them carried out by other nations.
As a matter of fact, the carrying out of the Atlantic and San Francisco Charters implies the eradication of imperialism and all forms of colonial oppression. This was unfortunately contrary to the interests of some Frenchman, and France, to whom the colonists have long concealed the truth on Indochina,…
The people of Vietnam, which only asks for full independence and for your respect of truth and justice, puts before your Excellence our following desiderata:
1) The South Vietnam incident should be discussed at the first meeting of the Consultative Commission for the Far-East;
2) Vietnamese delegates should be admitted to state the views of the Vietnamese Government;
3) An Inquiry Commission should be sent to South Vietnam;
4) The full independence of Vietnam should be recognized by the United Nations
I avail myself of this opportunity to send your Excellence my best wishes.
President HO CHI MINH
Ho was very much impressed with the third clause of the Atlantic Charter:
The right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;
To make matters worse, President Truman’s famous Navy Address of October 1945 stirred Ho’s hopes even further:
Le me restate the fundamentals of that foreign policy of the United States:
1) We seek no territorial expansion or selfish advantage. We have no plans for aggression against any other state, large or small. We have no objective which need clash with the peaceful aims of any other nation.
2) We believe in the eventual return of sovereign rights and self-government to all peoples who have been deprived of them by force.
3) We shall approve no territorial changes in any friendly part of the world unless they accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned.
4) We believe that all peoples who are prepared for self-government should be permitted to choose their own form of government by their own freely expressed choice, without interference from any foreign source. That is true in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, as well as in the Western Hemisphere.
5) By the combined and cooperative action of our war allies, shall help the defeated enemy states establish peaceful democratic governments of their own free choice. And we shall try to attain a world in which Nazism, Fascism, and military aggression cannot exist.
6) We shall refuse to recognize any government imposed upon any nation by the force of any foreign power. In some cases it may be impossible to prevent forceful imposition of such a government. But the United States will not recognize any such government.
Of course, the U.S. was engaging in pure propaganda and thus lying to the world about its true intentions. History proves it so, as Ho was to quickly learn.
In 1941, right before the release of the Atlantic Charter, the Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) War and Peace Studies groups pointed out that “formulation of a statement of war aims for propaganda purposes is very different from formulation of one defining the true national interest.”
In April 1941, the CFR suggested to the government that a statement of American war aims should be prepared as such:
If war aims are stated which seem to be concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they will offer little to people in the rest of the world, and will be vulnerable to Nazi counterpromises. Such aims would also strengthen the most reactionary elements in the United States and the British Empire. The interests of other peoples should be stressed, not only those of Europe, but also of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This would have a better propaganda effect.
Pretty cruel, right?
Thanks for reading,
The Pentagon Papers – A Detailed Summary of the First Three Volumes: https://elpidio.org/2018/11/30/the-pentagon-papers-a-detailed-summary-of-the-first-three-volumes/
The Complete Pentagon Papers: http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/2011_PENTAGON_PAPERS.html?module=inline
The Atlantic Charter, Propaganda, and the True Aims of the Post-War Period: https://elpidio.org/2018/09/11/the-atlantic-charter-propaganda-and-the-true-aims-of-the-post-war-period/
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