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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

HO CHI MINH

By Blas Ople


Curriculum Vitae

HISTORIANS SOMETIMES CALL the Philippines the first Vietnam. They refer to America's intrusion into Philippine affairs at a time when Filipino nationalists were waging a successful revolution against Spain. In 1898, U.S. Lt.-Col. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders were fighting Spanish troops in Cuba. And the Philippines, a Spanish colonial outpost for more than 300 years, seemed ripe for the taking.

U.S. President William McKinley sent an armada to Manila Bay in 1898, and on May 1, Admiral George Dewey's fleet sank the Spanish navy off the coast of the capital. The Americans stayed, unsure of what to do with the Philippine islands. Then McKinley, according to his memoirs, dropped to his knees and prayed for divine guidance. It was then that McKinley realized the "manifest destiny" of the United States was to colonize the islands and civilize the people.

The Philippine-American War began not long afterward. It was a savage war, fought with ferocity by both sides. The Americans tried to deny control of strategic villages to Filipino fighters. In one encounter, Brig.-Gen. Jacob Smith, in retaliation for a guerrilla attack, ordered his troops to turn a municipality into a "howling wilderness." Women, children and teenagers were not spared. The carnage was to presage the tragedy of My Lai, where American soldiers killed hundreds of innocent Vietnamese villagers.

The Philippine Revolution was the first national uprising in Asia; the 1898 Republic the first modern state in this part of the world; and the constitution the first such document in the Asia-Pacific. This year we commemorate the Centennial of Philippine Independence with great pride and joy. We also look to our Asian neighbors and link arms in solidarity as we remember common bonds of struggle and sacrifice. Our fight and our victory inspired other subjugated peoples to rise against their masters. The people of Vietnam among them.

Ho Chi Minh became the first president of North Vietnam after the 1954 Geneva Conference, which ended French rule but divided the country. Soon after, the communist guerrillas, or Viet Cong, tried to overthrow the government in the South. This precipitated a crisis in Washington, and beginning in 1961 the U.S. sent "volunteers" to help prop up Saigon.

Twelve years and many hundreds of thousands of deaths later, a ceasefire agreement was signed in Paris that allowed American troops to withdraw. But the war finally ended in 1975, when the North Vietnamese routed the South Vietnamese with tanks, artillery and full divisions. A guerrilla army defeated its enemies with a classic Western blitzkrieg.

The victory reunified Vietnam and marked the end of a century of Western domination. It was America's first military defeat after World War II; its 20-year effort to establish a noncommunist government in Saigon ended in total failure.

Ho Chi Minh belongs to the pantheon of Asian national leaders and liberators. When Filipinos venerate their heroes - Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini - they also remember Ho Chi Minh, Mahatma Gandhi and Sun Yat-sen.

Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19, 1890 in his mother's village. He grew up in French Indochina. He saw and experienced the bitterness of colonial rule. By the age of 15, he was engaged in underground work and served as a messenger for Vietnamese "scholar-patriots."

In 1911, he left Vietnam and resided in Britain, the United States and France, where he was a founding member of the French Communist Party. He later lived in Moscow but returned to Vietnam in 1941. It was then that he organized a Vietnamese independence movement, the Viet Minh, to fight the Japanese, who occupied Southeast Asia.

At the end of the war, the Viet Minh established a republic headed by Ho Chi Minh. Paris, however, insisted on reasserting control and establishing Bao Dai as emperor. The Vietnamese fought the French for eight more years before finally defeating them in 1954. The decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu was a military tour de force.

Ho did not live to witness America's defeat and Vietnam's reunification. He died on September 3, 1969 after a heart attack at the age of 79. The spirit of Ho Chi Minh animated the Vietnamese struggle for freedom. "Uncle Ho" taught the world that a strong-willed native army can crush a mighty military machine, that a small nation can stand up to a big power. The capital city of South Vietnam was renamed in his honor. Ho Chi Minh stands out today as a Father to his nation, a great Asian and a freedom fighter against Western domination.

Blas Ople, a longtime opponent of imperialism, is president pro tempore of the Philippine Senate.


HO CHI MINH

•Born in 1890 in French Indochina

•Returned home in 1941 to lead independence movement after 30 years abroad

•Named president of communist North Vietnam in 1954 after country was divided

•Began guerrilla war to reunify Vietnam

•Died of a heart attack on September 3, 1969 at the age of 79

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