President Obama has insulted the memory of the nearly 60,000 Americans who died in Vietnam. Last week, Mr. Obama met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Mr. Sang peddled the lie that the communist nation’s founder, Ho Chi Minh, was inspired by the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Obama agreed, publicly stating that both countries share a mutual admiration for Jefferson and our founding principles. In short, Mr. Obama advanced a grotesque historical myth — one that was repeatedly mouthed by the American anti-war left during the 1960s: Ho was a champion of Jeffersonian democracy, a patriot who simply wanted to end colonial rule.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Ho was a committed Marxist revolutionary, who from his youth sought to erect a one-party Leninist state. In the 1920s, Ho visited the Soviet Union, where as a student he was trained at Moscow’s infamous Lenin School. He then established his communist movement in Vietnam. His forces sought to drive the French out of Indochina.
In North Vietnam, Ho created a Stalinist nightmare. Opponents were sent to slave-labor camps. Dissidents were shot or imprisoned. Press freedoms were abrogated. Religious groups were harassed. The land was collectivized. A socialist command-and-control economy was erected. Non-communist political parties were banned. There was nothing Jeffersonian about Ho’s iron-fisted rule.
Ho’s admirers — including Mr. Obama and Mr. Sang — cite the communist leader’s courting of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In written correspondence, Ho asked for FDR’s support in overthrowing French imperialism. Ho was shrewd and cunning: He understood that FDR not only disliked the French, but European colonialism in general. Like other Marxists before (and after) him, Ho knew that the best way to lobby the U.S. government was to fake his supposed love of our Founding Fathers. Just as Soviet dictator Josef Stalin used American assistance to defeat Nazi Germany and eventually cement Moscow’s enslavement of Eastern Europe, Ho sought to manipulate FDR to help set up a communist police state.
Many protesters against the Vietnam War — Jane Fonda, Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky — openly glorified Ho. They saw him in exactly the same way Mr. Obama does today, as an anti-colonial democrat. It was the most successful piece of propaganda of the entire war.
Ho died in 1969, but his bloody legacy lives on. Following America’s defeat, North Vietnamese forces conquered South Vietnam. Hanoi’s victorious regime unleashed a genocidal campaign of mass murder and ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese were slaughtered. Nearly a million boat people took to the seas. The country’s ethnic Chinese were expelled. The Hmong tribe was wiped out. The deterioration of American power led to a regional Holocaust. The sadistic Khmer Rouge came to power in neighboring Cambodia, massacring at least 2 million Cambodians. Laos was invaded by Vietnam, and a communist-puppet government installed.
For liberals, Vietnam was the bad war — the symptom of an evil, militaristic and imperialist America. Returning veterans were slandered as “baby killers” and psychotic criminals. The very opposite was true: Vietnam was a just and noble war. It was part of a larger struggle against the Soviet Union. Moscow supplied Ho with weapons, training and assistance. The goal was clear — and obvious: to create a Soviet satellite in Southeast Asia. Until the end of the Cold War, Vietnam remained a client of Moscow. The country was independent in name only. We were in Vietnam for one simple reason: to oppose communist totalitarianism. Ho’s real inspiration was never Jefferson; it was Karl Marx. “The Communist Manifesto” trumped the Declaration of Independence. Like other Marxist utopias, the result was death and economic destruction on a vast scale.
To this day, Vietnam remains a communist basket case. Many citizens live in squalor and misery. The political opposition is suppressed. The press is muzzled. Human rights are abrogated. The state dominates large swaths of the economy. Corruption is rampant. The ruling elite lives in wealth and privilege, while the rest of the country struggles to survive. This is not Jeffersonian democracy; rather, it is an authoritarian kleptocracy.
Instead of confronting this reality, Mr. Obama deliberately chose to ignore it. Indeed, he warmly embraced the myth of Ho, granting legitimacy to Vietnam’s odious regime. Mr. Obama betrayed every U.S. serviceman who never returned from the jungles of Southeast Asia. He also dishonored the POWs who were tortured — some of them for years — in the Hanoi Hilton. There is only one word to describe what Mr. Obama did: shameful.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio commentator on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.