About this activity
Suggested for grades 9-12
1. How did Ho Chi Minh view Vietnam's struggle for independence?
2. What did communism actually mean for Ho, and how did it fit together with his nationalist convictions?
3. What influenced Ho Chi Minh's writings and speeches and how did his stated views develop over time?
Try using this activity when teaching about...
- The Vietnam War
- Ho Chi Minh
- Ngo Dinh Diem
- Nationalism and Communism
- Colonialism and Post-colonialism
- Political Vision and Rhetoric
- Vietnam and the Cold War
Common Core Connections
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
What were North Vietnam's reasons for fighting the "American War"? To examine the war's causes through only U.S. narratives often obscures why the North and some Southerners fought so hard and long against South Vietnamese and American forces. To shed light on this dimension, we may look at the views of Ho Chi Minh, an influential revolutionary who led Vietnam's fight against the French and, later, the United States and South Vietnam. What was the nature of the conflict according to Ho Chi Minh?
Born in central Vietnam in 1890, Ho Chi Minh grew up in a Vietnam dominated by French colonial rule. His desire for Vietnamese independence from the French was evident throughout his life, even during the 30 years he spent outside of Vietnam living throughout Europe, Asia, Russia, and even the United States. He petitioned leaders at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I to improve the rights of the Vietnamese under the French and returned to Vietnam in 1941 to organize opposition to Japanese occupation forces and the Vichy French during World War II. At the end of that war he declared independence for Vietnam using the words from the American Declaration of Independence. In order to realize that independence, Vietnam entered a prolonged war against the French. Ho's forces were eventually victorious, defeating French troops at Dienbienphu in 1954.
Communism, for Ho, provided a means to secure Vietnamese independence and social justice for all Vietnamese. While living in Moscow during the 1920s, Ho spent time with the Comintern and became a founding member of the French and Indochinese Communist Parties. An examination of his speeches, interviews, and policy actions also suggests that his ideas went beyond a strict adherence to communist principles and was committed to Vietnamese independence. He was a nationalist opponent of French colonialism before he became a communist and joined that movement because he viewed communism as the best option to overthrow the French. At a time when many American leaders were consumed by early Cold War tensions and believed that nationalism and communism were mutually exclusive, Ho was typically portrayed as a communist and depicted by the United States as an unsuitable leader for Vietnam.
What did Ho Chi Minh believe? This activity allows students to contemplate Ho's ideological stance and views through an examination of two texts. The first text is a statement prepared in February 1930 when Ho founded the Vietnamese Communist Party. This statement was designed with the intention of distributing it widely within Vietnam to a general public audience. This speech draws on communist ideology and rhetoric to promote Vietnamese independence. In the second speech, given 15 years later in 1945 at the end of World War II and Japanese occupation to a large crowd in the center of Hanoi, Ho uses quotations from the American Declaration of Independence and Enlightenment ideals to appeal to the United States and declare Vietnam's independence from France. The primary audience of this speech was the entire population of Vietnam, but Ho was also aware that the American intelligence operatives present at the event would spread his message to the U.S. government. In light of the disparate ideas, these two speeches raise the question: What views and beliefs did Ho Chi Minh hold?
|Ho Chi Minh
||Revolutionary leader who fought for Vietnamese independence and founded the Vietnamese/Indochinese Communist Party. President of Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969.|
|Vietnamese Communist Party||Established in 1930 by Ho Chi Minh as an organization for Vietnam's national liberation as a part of the worldwide communist movement. The party changed its name to the Indochinese Communist Party and resurfaced in 1951 as the Vietnamese Worker's Party. In 1976 the party was renamed the Communist Party of Vietnam and, today, serves as the only legal political party in Vietnam.|
|Viet Minh||A "front" organization organized by Ho Chi Minh in 1941 as the League for Independence of Vietnam (Viet Minh). Technically, the Viet Minh was a non-communist organization and accepted any Vietnamese who was willing to fight against the French. The organization ceased to exist by 1954.|
|Comintern||An international communist organization (also known as the Communist International or the Third International) established in 1919 by the Soviet Union in an attempt to organize a worldwide communist revolution. It was officially disbanded in 1943.|
|Imperialism||The policy of extending the power and authority of one nation into another region.|
- Handout #1: Knowledge Rating Vocabulary Activity (download from Documents box in left column)
1. This pre-reading vocabulary activity supports students' reading comprehension by targeting challenging vocabulary terms found in the text. Pass out Handout #1: Knowledge Rating Vocabulary Activity. This handout, adapted from Blachowicz (1986), lists ten vocabulary words found in the documents used in the primary source activity.
2. Tell students to read the vocabulary words listed on the handout and to check off the column that best reflects their understanding of the word (Know It; Seen/Heard It; No Clue).
3. Tell students to write a definition of the words that they know. (Walk around the room, look at students' charts, and take note of which words are most problematic for students.)
4. Then, ask students to work with a partner to compare their words and use a dictionary to define the words they do not know.
5. Review the definitions as a class, focusing on the words that have the most "No Clue" checks on students' charts. Explain to students that these words will appear in the documents they are about to read.
Primary Source Activity
- Appeal Made on the Occasion of the Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Ho Chi Minh, February 1930
- Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, September 2, 1945
- "The Path Which Led Me To Leninism," Ho Chi Minh
- Handout #2: Vietnam Timeline (download from Documents box in left column)
- Handout #3: Document Excerpts
- Handout #4: Speech Graphic Organizer
- Handout #5: Take-A-Stand
- Handout #6: Exit Ticket
1. Explain to students that one way to understand the origins of the Vietnam War is to consider how Vietnamese leaders viewed the conflict. Specifically, in this activity students will examine the views of Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader of North Vietnam, through a statement that he wrote in 1930 and a speech that he gave in 1945.
2. (Optional) Depending upon where this activity falls within your study, you may need to provide background information on Vietnam's struggles against French colonial rule. To do this, have students create a short timeline of events that are relevant to the two speeches presented here. Handout #2: Vietnam Timeline provides a list of important events and a template for students' timelines. Tell students to place the events on the timeline (either individually, in groups, or as a whole class). Or, to save time, provide students with a copy of the completed timeline to use as a reference for the rest of the activity. Tell students that they will use the timeline to help them understand the texts they will read.
3. Explain to students that they will each be given one of two texts written by Ho Chi Minh. The first text is a statement written in 1930 when Ho Chi Minh founded the Vietnamese Communist Party. The second text is a speech that was given in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam a nation independent from France. Give half of the class copies of one text and the other half copies of the other text. (You can find the texts in their entirety at the links above. Excerpts of the texts can be found in Handout #3: Document Excerpts, if you prefer a shorter lesson or have struggling readers.)
4. Ask students to read the document that they have been given and to fill out the column related to their speech on Handout #4: Speech Graphic Organizer in pairs/small groups after they have finished reading. The graphic organizer will focus students' reading of the document to consider aspects of the source such as when and where the speech was given, tone, message, and influences on the text. Remind students to refer to their vocabulary lists from the pre-reading activity and their timeline as they fill out the graphic organizer.
5. When students are finished with the worksheet, do a "Take-A-Stand" activity. Ask students a series of statements about Ho Chi Minh's views and have them rate the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement based on what is stated in the text they read. Handout #5: Take-A-Stand provides a list of statements and a handout that you could give to students or project to the class. Place pieces of paper around the room that correspond to the answers (see Handout #5) and ask students to stand near the sign that reflects their answer for each statement. For example, students who agree with the first statement would go to the "Agree" sign, while students who disagree with the statement would go to the "Disagree" sign. (For many of the statements, students will have opposite opinions depending upon the speech they read. This activity will help students visualize the similarities and differences between the two different speeches and recognize that Ho Chi Minh used different language over time. His speeches reflected multiple ideologies and influences.)
6. The Take-A-Stand activity should make students curious about the speech that they did not read. Provide students with a copy of the speech that they did not read and give them time to look over the second speech and fill out the second half of Handout #4: Speech Graphic Organizer.
7. After students have read both excerpts, engage students in a discussion about the two speeches and Ho Chi Minh's views. Question prompts could include:
- What were Ho Chi Minh's goals?
- What is similar about the two speeches?
- What differences do you see between the two speeches?
- What events might have influenced Ho Chi Minh in 1930? What impact do you think they had?
- What events occurred between 1930 and 1945? How might they have influenced Ho Chi Minh's beliefs?
- What views did Ho Chi Minh hold?
- How might the public audience of the documents influence what Ho Chi Minh said?
- Do you think Ho Chi Minh supported nationalist views? Communist views? Both?
- Is it possible to support both nationalist and communist views?
- In your opinion, how should the United States have responded to Ho Chi Minh?
In your discussion, you might want to emphasize how the U.S. government often portrayed Ho Chi Minh as a communist during the Vietnam War and that label was used to support the assertion that the U.S. was involved in the war to stop the spread of communism. However, Ho Chi Minh's speeches reflect other influences, particularly a strong sense of nationalism and anti-colonialism. Ho believed in both nationalism and communism, ideologies which most American leaders at the time believed were mutually exclusive. They did not think that he could believe in both ideologies together.
8. To understand how Ho Chi Minh reconciled his beliefs in nationalism and communism, have students read "The Path which led me to Leninism," a text that Ho Chi Minh wrote for publication in 1960. Depending upon students' background knowledge, you may need to define the terms "First International" (International Working Men's Association founded in 1864), "Second International" (Socialist International founded in 1889), and "Third International" (Communist International founded in 1919). Discuss with students why Ho decided to join the Third International. How does this text help us understand Ho's previous words in the 1930 statement and 1945 speech?
9. To end the lesson, ask students to complete the following prompt: "Ho Chi Minh believed _______________________ . Two pieces of evidence that support this claim are ________________________ ." (See Handout #6: Exit Ticket for a handout that you could use.)
1. Compare Ho Chi Minh's views to those expressed by Ngo Dinh Diem (the leader of South Vietnam from 1956 – 1963) in his addresses made to the National Constituent Assembly of Vietnam on April 17, 1956, and to a joint session of the United States Congress on May 9, 1957. (See Handout #7: Extension Activity for text. Excerpts of the 1956 speech were reprinted in the 1957 address.)
2. How do their views, as stated in these texts, compare and contrast? Background information on Diem's statements is provided in the paragraph below.
Background Information for Ngo Dinh Diem's Speech
by Edward Miller
Ho's arch-rival during the early years of the Vietnam War was Ngo Dinh Diem, the fervent anti-communist who ruled South Vietnam from 1954 to 1963. But despite his obvious differences with the communist leader, Diem was similar to Ho in his determination to pursue what he saw as an authentically Vietnamese brand of nation building. While he rejected communism as a form of dictatorship, Diem also expressed doubts about liberal democracy, suggesting that its emphasis on individualism and economic freedom had "lessened the effectiveness of the state" in Western Europe and the United States. Having concluded that liberalism and communism were equally flawed, Diem proposed to split the difference between them. He proclaimed that South Vietnam would be a "personalist" society in which the "fundamental value of the human person" would be respected, but in which the state would still wield a "more stable and more effective grant of power." While the abstract language that Diem used in this speech is much harder to understand than Ho's straightforward prose—a shortcoming that contributed to the rising dissatisfaction with Diem's rule in South Vietnam during the late 1950s and early 1960s—his remarks showed that he hoped to do more than merely secure power for himself and his family. At the same time, Diem's speech hints at his reluctance to embrace the liberal reforms which his U.S. allies wanted him to implement in South Vietnam. In the long run, his refusal to accept American advice about nation building would play a major role in Washington's backing for the 1963 coup that resulted in his overthrow and assassination.
About the Authors
Jessica Lander is a teacher with Citizen Schools, currently working within the Boston Public School System. Her primary focus is global education reform. Previously she lived in Southeast Asia, teaching English and Shakespeare as a university teacher in Thailand. For her undergraduate thesis at Princeton University, she conducted original anthropological research at a school in Northern Tanzania.
Ann Marie Gleeson is a Program Director at Primary Source. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College, specializing in social studies and museum education. Ann Marie has taught U.S. history and pre-service social studies methods.