When World War I began, Nguyen moved to Paris. There he changed his name to Nguyen Ai Quoc ("Nguyen the patriot") and busied himself organizing the Vietnamese community in France, which had swollen in numbers during the war. Nguyen joined the French Socialist Party and became its spokesman in colonial matters. Ignored in his efforts to secure a hearing for Vietnamese independence at the Paris Peace Conference (1919), Nguyen was one of the founders of the French Communist Party in 1920. He then participated in the Vietnamese underground independence movement and in activities of the Communist International (Comintern) in the Soviet Union and China. In 1930, he helped to fuse various Vietnamese communist groups into the Indochinese Communist Party.
In the 1940s, Nguyen took the name Ho Chi Minh ("he who enlightens"). During World War II, Ho fought against both the French and the Japanese (who had arrived in Indochina in 1940). In 1941, Ho founded the Vietminh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), a nationalist front organization to end foreign control of Vietnam. In 1942, he was arrested in China by the Nationalist government but was released in 1943 in order to organize anti-Japanese intelligence activities throughout Indochina.
Ho's Vietminh worked with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to supply intelligence on Japanese activities, provide tactical support to Allied operations, and rescue downed American pilots. By war's end, Ho and the Vietminh had succeeded in liberating much of northern Vietnam from Japanese control. The Japanese had arrested the French officials and military in March 1945, so when Japan surrendered in August, the Vietminh was the only effective organized force in the northern party of Vietnam. The Vietminh then seized control of Hanoi, and Ho was declared president of Vietnam on 20 September 1945.
Despite an arrangement worked out with Ho by a representative of the French government, Paris persisted in attempting to reestablish French control over all of Vietnam, and fighting broke out in November 1946. In 1954, following its military defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the French government agreed at the Geneva Conference to recognize the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in northern Vietnam. It also agreed to a plebiscite in the southern part of the country on the issue of independence. With the failure to hold that plebiscite, fighting resumed, this time involving the United States, which supported the southern Republic of Vietnam government. Ho died in Hanoi on 3 September 1969, not living to see Vietnam reunited in 1975.
A. J. L. Waskey and Spencer C. Tucker
Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh: A Life. New York: Hyperion, 2000.; Halberstam, David. Ho. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.; Lacouture, Jean. Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1968.; Marr, David G. Vietnam, 1945: The Quest for Power. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.