cover design brought this book to my attention on the Bookazine shelves.
Written by an American historian David Halberstam, “Ho” (Talisman Publishing
2007, ISBN 9-7898-1058-8, third printing), was originally written in 1971
and updated in 1987 and again last year.
The back cover advertises that the book contains “a fine and vividly drawn
sketch of Ho Chi Minh’s lifelong struggle for Vietnamese independence
through political mobilization, diplomacy and warfare.”
The author, David Halberstam, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his
reporting in Vietnam and has written several other books. In his new
introduction he states that his first book about Vietnam called “The Making
of a Quagmire” was written in 1965 but he was then invited to write about Ho
Chi Minh for a consortium of international publishers. This he did, but the
editorial board differed in their concept of Ho Chi Minh, to that of
Halberstam. No middle ground was reached and his take on the leader of the
Vietnamese resistance was then withdrawn, revamped and became this book,
just called “Ho”.
The book begins by taking you through colonial Vietnam, governed by the
French (French Indo-China), and highlights the problems that French rule
brought to the Vietnamese people. He quotes an unidentified Vietnamese in
1963, “If you were very bright, the choices were quite terrible because the
brighter you were the more you understood exactly what was happening to you,
and you either accommodated yourself to them and played on their side, or
you had to leave them and fight them.”
Ho Chi Minh was certainly bright, and was not prepared to accommodate
himself, but took himself to France towards the end of WW I and found the
French in France were not the same as the French who lorded over colonies.
He found himself siding with the downtrodden. “Contact with the French Left
was soon to turn an angry patriot into a modern revolutionary.”
By the end of WW II, Ho Chi Minh was leading the Vietminh and had molded it
into a military wing as well as a political wing. He knew that ideology
alone was not enough.
When the Americans waded into the Vietnam conflict, they were convinced that
their superior firepower would soon rid Vietnam of the revolutionaries. Ho
Chi Minh knew differently as he controlled the population!
At B. 650 for a slim 120 page book, this is looks like top money. Indeed, if
you want some details of Ho Chi Minh as a man, there are other tracts that
will tell you more; however, for me, the value of this book lies in its very
detailed examination of just why the French lost in Vietnam, and the
Americans likewise. It also shows the astute reader just why America cannot
win in Iraq either. This book makes it plainly obvious, and if George Dubbya
had read it beforehand, he obviously did not understand it!
If you are interested in international conflicts, and the reasons why
colonies revolt, you will find this book very interesting, but do not buy it
as a reference treatise on Ho Chi Minh himself.