This week, our Travel pics series is H for Ho Chi Minh City.
For Thursday, a view I’m calling Bricks and Billboards, taken from our hotel in HCMC, The Ruby River.
It’s typical of the vistas in Ho Chi Minh City – utilitarian, a bit run down – and peppered with reminders that this country is ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam, and don’t you forget it!
We were in Vietnam in January 2016 – a time which coincided with the Communist Party’s 12th National Congress, so there was no doubt an extra dose of propaganda … but it struck us as interesting that everywhere we went, there were billboards lauding the party.
As an aside, when I posted an image from this series on Facebook, a number of my Facebook friends were struck with the similarity to images of Colonel Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I had thought that myself but realised that for Vietnamese, it would more likely be the other way around – that the image of Ho Chi Minh was so quintessentially Vietnamese that Colonel Sanders would seem like the imposter.
Ho Chi Minh was born Nguyen Sinh Cung in 1890, and adopted a number of aliases as he had brushes with authorities in three continents, before adopting the name Ho Chi Minh (‘He who has been enlightened’) around 1940.
He is in a very real sense the father of modern Vietnam. He led the Viet Minh independence movement against the Japanese and the Vichy French, supported by the US – and then against the Gaullist French in the aftermath of WW2.
After the French withdrew in 1954, as part of the Geneva Accords, Ho Chi Minh led North Vietnam – there were supposed to be elections to reunify the country but that didn’t happen, and the nation remained split in two, the south supported by the US, and the North by Russia.
Even though he was sidelined for much of the ’60s, he was never too far from power – and in 1968 successfully pushed for the Tet Offensive, a military strike against the American-led forces in the heart of Saigon.
While it was a disaster, militarily (the north lost far more soldiers than the south during the offensive), it was a sparkling success in the propaganda war. The US military had been telling its people that the North was ‘on the ropes’ and nearing defeat – but that was starkly shown to be nonsense.
There are strong arguments that the Tet Offensive was the beginning of the end for US involvement in South East Asia – because it was the moment when the US public lost belief in its military invincibility. Within two years, the US would begin pulling out, and within seven years, North Vietnamese tanks would be rolling through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon (soon after renamed Ho Chi Minh City)
As for the man after whom the city was named? He failed to live out the war, dying in 1969. But he lives on, as well. His image is (as you see from today’s picture) everywhere, on billboards and posters, and on Vietnamese banknotes.
And his thoughts also continue to guide Vietnam nearly 50 years after his death – in fact, the philosophy of Ho Chi Minh Thoughts (or ‘Tu Tuong Ho Chi Minh’) is considered equal to the political philosophy of Marxism-Leninism in guiding Vietnam by the Communist Party.
So the billboards of ‘Uncle Ho’, as he was described in a famous revolutionary song, are just as much a part of the landscape as the Liberty Central hotel just behind them. And I make no comment about the apparent contradictions therein 🙂