Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

“ Viet-Nam has the right to be a free and independent country— and in fact it is so already.”
Overview On the afternoon of September 2, 1945, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of about four hundred thousand Vietnamese and an attentive handful of foreign observers in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square, the president of the provisional government, Ho Chi Minh, proclaimed the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence came at the high point of the August Revolution, staged in the weeks following the surrender of imperial Japan on August 15, 1945, which ended World War II. Seizing the opportune moment, the Vietminh had taken control of the major cities of Vietnam, replaced the shortlived Japanese-backed Tran Trong Kim government, and pressured Emperor Bao Dai, who had ruled for almost twenty years, to abdicate. The independence declaration was a defining moment in Vietnamese history. It signaled the long-awaited close of more than eighty years of French colonial domination and also the end point of the Vietnamese monarchy as a political institution. Internationally, however, it failed to have the same importance because the administration of U.S. president Harry Truman had already accepted France’s intent to return to colonial power in Southeast Asia. This discrepancy eventually led to the unleashing of destructive forces that would engulf the eastern half of the Indochinese peninsula in three decades of civil and international warfare. The enduring appeal of the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, as with the declarations produced by the Dutch in 1581 and the American colonists in 1776, is that this most public challenge to the colonial masters was not defeated but eventually led to victory. Coming in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the declaration also signaled the onset of a major wave of decolonization. In the presentday Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Communist Party regards the document, despite its many different versions, as a key foundational text and its issuance as a legitimizing event. In the context of world history, Ho Chi Minh’s presentation of the declaration continues to fascinate owing to the hybrid nature of the event, text in translation, and speech and the author’s means of addressing various audiences. Context In mid-1945 the opportune moment that Vietnamese nationalists had been awaiting for so long seemed to finally arrive in the shape of a double power vacuum. First, on March 9, 1945, the Japanese troops garrisoned in French Indochina since 1940 destroyed the French-Indochinese military apparatus and brought down the administration of Jean Decoux, which was aligned with France’s Vichy government (and so with Nazi Germany, since the Vichy government was the puppet regime that collaborated with the Nazis). Eighty or so years of French colonial domination were thus effectively ended within a day. Five months later, following the Soviet offensive in Manchuria and the devastation of the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 15 the Japanese imperial government surrendered—as such leaving a dangerous void of authority in French Indochina. While the Japanese troops remained in Indochina to be disarmed by the Allies and the French were yet held captive by the Japanese, the Japanese-backed government of the conservative scholar and politician Tran Trong Kim resigned. The international and domestic race for political control of Vietnam had begun in earnest. After being ousted, the French government proved intent on reoccupying Indochina, though they were willing to grant more autonomy within the framework of the Indochina federation the French had formed in 1893 and that encompassed the regions of Vietnam, Cambodia, and later Laos; officials of the Truman administration repeatedly signaled consent to this goal. In early June, French president Charles de Gaulle instructed General Philippe Leclerc to organize a French Far East Expeditionary Corps, which would arrive in October. Meanwhile, the close of World War II was orchestrated by the Potsdam Agreement of July 24 and Allied General Order No. 1 of September 2 (which established U.S. control of Japan following the Japanese surrender). In Vietnam, Chinese Nationalist troops (from the Republic of China, now known as Taiwan) were to disarm the Japanese north of latitude 16° north, and British forces were to do the same to the south. In late August, some two hundred thousand of General Lu Han’s Chinese Nationalist troops were entering Tonkin, while the vanguard of General Douglas Gracey’s twenty-six thousand

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Time Line

1893

Completing a piecemeal process of conquest begun in 1859, the French set up the Indochinese Union, including the states of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina as well as Cambodia and Laos.

1941

The Indochinese Communist Party sets up the Vietminh and the National Salvation Army, precursor to the Vietnamese Liberation Army.

1945

March 9 A Japanese coup overthrows the Jean Decoux administration in French Indochina and incapacitates its military forces. August 19–30 After the Japanesebacked government dissolves, the Vietminh seize control of major cities in the August Revolution, and Emperor Bao Dai is forced to abdicate. September 2 In Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh delivers the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. November 11 The ICP officially self-dissolves, although it continues to exist underground.

British Indian troops arrived in Saigon on September 12, three days after Lu Han’s first men marched into Hanoi. Domestically, Vietnamese political groups of various orientations were harboring hopes of filling the power vacuum. Only the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), however, was able to fully exploit the limited time frame of about three weeks between the Japanese surrender in mid-August and the arrival of the British and Chinese troops in early September. Drawing on the lessons of more than fifteen years of anticolonial mobilization, it had begun its preparations immediately after the Japanese coup of March 9. Indeed, the ICP was the most well-prepared and decisive of all Vietnamese political forces and the only one capable of operating countrywide. As early as May 1941, on Ho Chi Minh’s advice, the party had set up a broad Communist-led front, the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (Vietnam Independence League, or Vietminh). It was to be useful as a cover to project the image of a unity government and to integrate non-Communist groups and individuals, whereas its branch committees and mass organizations throughout Vietnam would mobilize the population and garner public support. The ICP had also created the National Salvation Army and the Armed Propaganda Brigade, which merged in May 1945 into the Vietnamese Liberation Army. Although at this stage it was merely a fledgling guerrilla force of not more than several hundred men, it had cultivated contacts with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS; the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency), the British, and to some extent the French. In particular, its friendly and openly visible relations with U.S. representatives were an invaluable asset in convincing the Vietnamese population and rival political organizations that the Vietminh had the blessing of the Truman administration. As the opportune moment arrived with the impending Japanese surrender, Ho Chi Minh gave the final call for a general insurrection on August 13, 1945. The rapid mobilization of the Vietminh’s military, paramilitary, and popular forces allowed it to take control of cities, towns, and villages throughout the country within twelve days. Among major cities, Hanoi was secured on August 19, Hue on August 23, and Saigon on August 25; cities in the south were taken over in coalition with other political forces. At last the Vietminh pressured Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate, which he did on August 30, thus irrevocably sealing the fate of the Vietnamese monarchy. Also in late August and into September, the Vietminh began to abduct thousands of people perceived as obstacles to the revolution or as traitors, many of whom were never to return. Tens of thousands more were neutralized by being placed under arrest. It was in this rapidly evolving international and domestic context that preparations for the independence declaration were made. In the evening of August 25, Ho Chi Minh was secretly ushered into Hanoi. His presence and identity were kept secret to all but a trusted few, for reasons of safety, security, and surprise. On August 27, in consultation with cabinet members, he decided to command countrywide preparations for Independence Day, to be held on September 2. With the main event to be held in Hanoi, for-

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mal observance was to be organized in as many places as possible. Ho then apparently drafted the independence declaration. On August 30, he showed a typewritten draft with many handwritten corrections and numerous marginal notes to Major Archimedes Patti, the senior OSS representative in Hanoi. When it was translated, Patti was surprised to find that the opening passage quoted from the American Declaration of Independence. With only five days to organize nationwide Independence Day celebrations, preparations were challenging. Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square, then known as the Place Puginier and located next to the palace of the governor-general of French Indochina, was chosen because it could easily accommodate the expected mass audience. A high wooden platform had to be erected and a public address system installed. Security measures were taken, and live audio transmissions to other parts of the country were set up, though they eventually failed because Japanese roadblocks obstructed the transmitter vehicle. On Sunday, September 2, Vietnamese Liberation Army guards secured the platform by keeping the arriving crowds about twenty yards away, while self-defense units were positioned in strategic places. Many Buddhists and Catholics arrived in groups led by their head monks and priests, respectively, while schoolteachers performed the same function for their pupils. Entire villages from the Hanoi countryside were guided by their elders and Vietminh organizers, and ethnic minorities also descended from the hills. Several American OSS members under Major Patti were present, as was the French representative, Jean Sainteny. Wearing white rubber sandals and a high-collared khaki jacket, similar in style to the ones worn by the Communist leaders Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, Ho briskly led his cabinet up the platform. The national anthem was played, followed by a flag-raising ceremony and Ho’s introduction by General Vo Nguyen Giap. Waving his hands to the crowds for several minutes, Ho eventually raised his palms to command silence and then read out the declaration.

Time Line

1946

October 30 Following breakthroughs in Jean Sainteny’s negotiations with Ho Chi Minh, a Franco-Vietnamese modus vivendi comes into force. December 19 The First Indochina War breaks out when the Vietminh attack the French in Hanoi.

Milestone Documents

1954

July 21 The Geneva Accords temporarily divide Vietnam along the seventeenth parallel, with the Communist-led Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the north and the State of Vietnam to the south.

1959

September 26 The Second Indochina War, also known as the Vietnam War, breaks out.

About the Author The Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was authored by Ho Chi Minh, who played a crucial role in the founding of the Vietnamese Communist movement. Ho was born as Nguyen Sinh Cung in the province of Nghe An, now in central Vietnam, in 1890. His father, a relatively poor scholar-official, inculcated in him patriotic and anti-French views. In 1911 he sailed to France but failed to be admitted to the École Coloniale in Paris, thereafter earning his living aboard ships. After a short time in London, at the end of World War I he arrived in Paris and circulated in the Vietnamese expatriate community and in French Socialist circles. He adopted a new name, Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot), and became a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1921. During this period he worked as a writer, journalist, and newspaper publisher.

1975

April 30 The Republic of Vietnam, known as South Vietnam, is defeated.

1976

July 2 Postwar unification is formally completed with the creation of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

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Trained as a Comintern (Communist International) agent in Moscow in 1923, Ho was assigned positions in southern China and Southeast Asia beginning in 1925. He created the proto-Communist Youth League (Thanh Nien) in Guangzhou (Canton), China, in 1925, while on assignment for the Comintern. In February 1930, in Hong Kong, he helped prevent a permanent fissure within the movement by reconciling two rival factions, along with another party, into the Vietnamese Communist Party. That party was soon reconfigured against Ho’s wishes as the ICP, which shows that he was not uncontested in his leadership. After he was arrested because of his Communist militancy in Hong Kong in 1931, he was released by the British authorities in 1933 and returned to the Soviet Union. He went to China in 1938 and reestablished contact with the ICP, founding the Vietminh in 1941. At about the same time, he adopted the name Ho Chi Minh (He Who Enlightens). He served as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s first president until his death on September 2, 1969. Although he had wished to have his ashes distributed in four urns in the four corners of Vietnam, his body lies embalmed and on public display in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which is symbolically located at the head of Ba Dinh Square.

Explanation and Analysis of the Document Although it is a relatively short document of less than 950 words and composed in clear language that avoids using difficult political jargon or legal terms, the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence nevertheless poses several explanatory and analytical challenges. It is hard to separate the text from the event—Ho Chi Minh even recorded an audio version about ten years later in a studio. Moreover, as it was made at a quickly shifting juncture of Vietnamese as well as world history and addressed to two distinct audiences, there are different Vietnamese versions and even more slightly different translations into English. The primary aim of the declaration is clear, namely, to announce to the Vietnamese and to the world the birth of an independent Vietnamese state and its new government. The Vietnamese audience was told that the new state would be the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, whereas early translations into English—such as the one derived from the Hanoi-based French-language newspaper La république of October 1, 1945—coyly dropped the “Democratic,” suggesting that the provisional government thought that a simple “republic” would receive a more favorable international response. It is arguably for this reason, too, that Ho Chi Minh highlighted that his government was a “provisional” one, knowing that he might have to negotiate the nature of the government in the months to come. Indeed, the Japanese forces were yet to be disarmed, while the Chinese, British, and French forces that would soon make their presence felt on Vietnamese soil would all favor Vietnamese political groups other than the ICP.

The secondary aim of the independence declaration was to gain domestic and international acceptance for the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam and its provisional government. It was also the right time to present the Vietminh as the nation’s major political force and to announce a radical rupture with the past. The period of time when Vietnam was ruled by foreigners—the French having encroached on Vietnamese sovereignty from 1859, to be briefly replaced by the Japanese in early 1945—was finally over. The abdication of Emperor Bao Dai represented a radical break with Vietnam’s indigenous past, as it constituted the end to a centuries-old political institution and the associated feudal order. While the Vietminh had achieved the twin goals of ending imperialism and feudalism, the declaration also makes clear that these achievements would have to be defended. While the aims of the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence were clear, its proclamation was also an opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and international audiences by explaining why the new state and government were legitimate and deserved to be supported and recognized. In part drawing on the argument and structure of the American Declaration of Independence, Ho Chi Minh nevertheless gave the Vietnamese declaration an original touch. Ho’s words of address, “the compatriots of the entire country,” are inclusive and set the tone for the speech, allowing him to connect to his audience as equals rather than keeping as much distance as possible between government and governed, as had been the preference of the Vietnamese imperial tradition. The term compatriots also allowed the speaker to give his address broader historical and mythical meaning. Moreover, the inclusive phrase, literally meaning “from the same sack of eggs,” allowed Ho to make much larger mythical claims. The phrase refers to offspring of the country’s mythical progenitors, the waterbased dragon Lac Long Quan and the mountain-based fairy goddess Au Co, whose eggs gave rise to the first Vietnamese people and the first of the nation’s kings. Having united his entire audience in Hanoi by reference to their common origins, Ho tried to find common ground for his global audience in referring to the international lineage of Vietnam’s August Revolution. He adroitly omits reference to the Russian October Revolution of 1917 (the second phase of the Russian Revolution of that year, which brought the Communists to power); doing so would not have won him friends in the capitalist West, among General Lu Han’s Chinese Nationalist forces, or among Vietnamese conservative nationalists. Ho suggests that the August Revolution was a continuation of the American and French revolutions and their ideologies. In a later section, the declaration also refers to the 1943 Tehran Conference (among U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, which, among other matters, pledged to recognize Iran’s independence) and the 1945 United Nations Conference on International Organization, held in San Francisco, invoking the norms of the newly emergent U.S.-led inter-

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An Algerian unit of French colonial forces move through a swamp in the countryside of Indochina during the First Indochinese War. (AP/Wide World Photos)

national society of states, particularly the “equality of nations.” In this context, it is unclear to what extent Ho actually subscribed to the notions of inborn and “inalienable” rights of individuals promulgated in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence and the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, or whether he rather believed in the inalienable collective right of peoples to form independent nations. Regardless of Ho’s beliefs in individual or collective rights or both, the Vietnamese experience of French rule clearly contradicted the ideals of the French Republic. As the Americans had summarized their grievances in 1776, Ho recalls the suffering of the Vietnamese, though in language far more modern and evocative—almost headline style—and everyone in his audience could have related to at least some of his points. Politically, French rule had been oppressive, inhumane, and divisive and had weakened the Vietnamese race. Economically, French domination had led to the exploitation of Vietnam’s natural resources and its people. Ho does not refrain from reminding the French of their painful failure to live up to their colonial and protectorate obligations to defend the Vietnamese against Japanese occupation.

Given all these shortcomings, which blatantly contradicted the very ideals of the American and French revolutions, it followed that the French did not have any legitimate right to rule over Vietnam. If, in fact, they ever had, they had lost it, and so had the Japanese through their surrender. Instead, a combination of popular and morally superior actions had earned the Vietnamese the right to independence and the Vietminh the legitimacy to govern the country. With Emperor Bao Dai’s abdication, there would be no return to the traditional monarchical and feudal order; the Vietnamese were finally free of foreign and domestic oppression. The last few paragraphs, like the American Declaration of Independence, announce the rupture with the French colonial past and appeal to the Allied powers to recognize Vietnamese independence. All French treaties and privileges are considered annulled. While Ho threatened to fight any French attempt to return to power, the provisional government also indirectly suggested that it was willing to entertain relations with a nonimperialist France on equal terms. As the Allies had already recognized the equality of peoples at the 1943 Tehran and 1945 San Francisco conferences, Ho expresses his conviction that they should

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recognize Vietnam’s independence as the Vietnamese people’s right; even if they would not, the clock could not be turned back because Vietnam was already “free and independent.” In view of the decades of warfare to come, Ho’s final words were almost prophetic: “To safeguard their independence and liberty,” the Vietnamese were “determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength” and “to sacrifice their lives and property.” These words were also a final bow to the Americans, whose support his triumphant and yet fledgling government greatly needed in the face of external threats and domestic political rivals who had different visions of Vietnam’s future. The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence originally closed with the signatures of Ho and his fourteen provisional government members. Most of them belonged to the ICP, which formally self-dissolved on November 11, 1945; this might be why later versions usually do not feature the signatures. It is equally plausible that the divergent political fortunes of some—Vo Nguyen Giap, for example, was repeatedly sidelined by party rivals—made it opportune to omit all signatures.

prevent him from saluting the Vietnamese flag. Patti reported that Ho reached the audience owing to his “powerful emotional delivery” (p. 251). He had the Vietnamese text version translated and sent to OSS headquarters in Kunming, China, which duly delivered it to the OSS director in Washington. The reports were passed on as mementos to the secretary of state but appear to have been ignored in light of more urgent matters needing attention. Perhaps determining the level of American interest in the event was the fact that by this time the U.S. State Department had already signaled to Charles de Gaulle that it would accept France’s return to Indochina. Jean Sainteny, France’s commissioner for the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin, also had the speeches translated. Although he must have swallowed hard regarding Ho’s account of French colonialism, Sainteny recognized a willingness to negotiate—but he failed to get instructions from Paris to open formal discussions. As with the Truman administration, it seems that Paris simply ignored Vietnamese independence, probably because preparations were well under way to regain a position of strength in Indochina, though perhaps on different terms than previously.

Audience Impact The newly founded Democratic Republic of Vietnam needed full patriotic support from all Vietnamese—regardless of political inclination, ethnicity, or social station—in order to maintain independence. It also nonetheless required the recognition of the international society of states, most notably the United States and France. Ho Chi Min’s Vietnamese audience responded enthusiastically to the proclamation, as they wanted to be independent and in charge of their own national destiny. His inclusive message, which did not outline any Communist policies, appealed to all. In Hanoi and many other places, families welcomed Independence Day by lighting incense on the family altars and informing their ancestors of independence. Led by well-placed party members, the crowd of four hundred thousand, regardless of age, gender, class, ethnicity, or religion, cheered Ho and repeatedly chanted “Independence” as he waved to them, even though few really knew who he was. A few sentences into his proclamation, Ho achieved an intimate and lasting bond with the crowd when they responded as one to his question—not part of the text—“Do you hear me distinctly, fellow countrymen?” In contrast to the proclamation’s reception by the immediate Vietnamese audience—beyond Hanoi, the population was able to read the speech in the newspaper and on posters or hear it read aloud on the radio the next day— the international response was far more muted. Ho had tried to court the Americans and sway the French with the speech, and he knew that American and French representatives were attending and closely observing. Yet Major Patti, the senior OSS representative in Hanoi, had declined Ho’s invitation to stand on the platform alongside the provisional government, instead positioning himself in front of the platform among local dignitaries—though this did not While the independence declaration does not directly touch on inopportune issues such as Russia’s October Revolution or the policies that the provisional government stood for, the remainder of the Independence Day ceremony made Ho Chi Minh’s intentions for Vietnam clear. He was handed Bao Dai’s golden seal and sword, and after an oath sworn by his cabinet members and several more speeches, he declared that the sword would be used to sever the heads of traitors. When two American planes suddenly flew over the crowd, it was announced that they demonstrated U.S. support for the democratic republic. The ceremony concluded with the recitation of an oath in support of the provisional government and its president. The audience was also sworn to defending the nation at all cost. The most obvious significance of the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was that it symbolized Vietnamese aspirations toward independence. It also boosted the legitimacy of the provisional government and the Vietminh; no other political organization would have been able to profit from the vacuum of authority to seize power on a nationwide level. Historically, the declaration precipitated a series of events that led to the First Indochina War (1946–1954), the Second Indochina War (1959–1975), and arguably even the Third Indochina War (1979). As the first successful Communistled pro-independence movement in the third world, it also represented a major turning point in the history of early post–World War II anticolonialism. In terms of its immediate impact on Vietnamese politics and society, the proclamation demonstrated, at least temporarily, the political leadership of the Vietminh and, behind it, of the ICP. Still, while other political contenders,

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“All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.”
(Paragraphs 1–2)

“Those are undeniable truths. Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.”
(Paragraphs 4–5)

Essential Quotes

Milestone Documents

“The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution made in 1791 also states: All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.”
(Paragraph 3)

“A people who have courageously opposed French domination for more than eighty years, a people who have fought side by side with the Allies against the fascists during these last years, such a people must be free and independent!”
(Paragraph 26)

“Viet-Nam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact it is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty.”
(Paragraph 28)

most at the regional level, had lost out in the short term, Vietminh hegemony was far from dominant, despite the assassinations and arrests of those considered political rivals or even traitors, and in November 1945 the ICP officially self-dissolved, although it continued to exist under-

ground. In the north, where the Vietminh were strongest, Ho Chi Minh had to be mindful of and accommodate his Chinese-backed competitors in the Vietnamese Revolutionary League, at least as long as the two hundred thousand Chinese Nationalist troops were present. In contrast,

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the Vietminh’s hold on power in the south was far more tenuous, as Saigon could be taken in alliance only with other parties, while the existence of influential religious sects such as the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai further complicated the political landscape. These regional differences would be further accentuated by Ho’s unsuccessful courting of the United States and his fruitless appeal to the French to live up to French republican ideals. The Potsdam Agreement had tasked neither of these nation’s forces but rather British troops to the south of the sixteenth parallel and Chinese Nationalist troops to the north to accept Japan’s surrender and disarm its troops. Ho would find a modus vivendi (an expression used in diplomacy to refer to a temporary accommodation) with General Lu Han in the north and profit from the fact that French troops who had retreated into southern China as a result of the Japanese coup were held up by Chinese authorities until early 1946; but General Gracey’s troops in the south acted sternly against the Vietminh, liberated the French prisoners of war, and prepared for the arrival of the French Far East Expeditionary Corps under General Leclerc in October. Despite various attempts by France and Vietnam to attain peaceful resolution over the next fifteen months— including the Ho-Sainteny Agreement of March 1946, the Da Lat conferences, the Fontainebleau negotiations, and the eventual coming into force of a Franco-Vietnamese

modus vivendi on October 30, 1946—Franco-Vietnamese relations soon turned sour. After a relatively minor dispute over customs in Haiphong harbor on November 20 appeared to be settled two days later, the French fleet bombarded the city’s indigenous quarters on November 23, killing up to six thousand people. Less than a month later, the outbreak of the First Indochina War came on December 19 with a Vietminh counterattack in Hanoi. Nearly ten conflict-ridden years later, the French defeat and the Geneva Accords of 1954 led to the temporary partition of Vietnam along the seventeenth parallel, with the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the State of Vietnam in the south. The accords provided only limited reprieve from warfare, as the elections scheduled for 1956 did not materialize owing to southern fears of a Communist electoral victory; these fears spurred the preemptive formation of the Republic of Vietnam in the south in 1955, thus sowing the seeds for the Second Indochina War, also called the Vietnam War. This war ended with the fall of Saigon and the southern regime’s surrender on April 30, 1975. On July 2, 1976—two days before the two hundredth anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence—the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was inaugurated. Meanwhile, by this time a Cambodian-Vietnamese conflict was already under way, which would lead to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia of late 1978, triggering the brief Third Indochina War, or Sino-Vietnamese War, of 1979.

Questions for Further Study

1. The text makes reference to the Dutch Declaration of Independence of 1581. Consult that entry and prepare a list of the similarities between the Dutch Declaration and the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. 2. Vietnamese independence was part of a broader movement toward decolonization that was taking place in the 1940s and beyond. In particular, France was losing its colonies, both in Vietnam and Algeria. Compare this document with the Proclamation of the Algerian National Liberation Front of 1954. What similar—or differing—impulses motivated the Vietnamese and the Algerians? 3. Vietnam eventually became a Communist nation. To what extent did Vietnam realize the aspirations expressed in documents by other prominent Communists, such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro (History Will Absolve Me), China’s Mao Zedong (“Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan”), or Russia’s Vladimir Lenin (What Is to Be Done?)? 4. From the early to mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the United States was embroiled in a highly divisive war in Vietnam. Would the history of those years have been any different if the Truman administration had acted differently in the years following the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence? Explain. 5. The Japanese played an important role in the history of Asia in the 1940s. How did its role in Vietnam resemble its earlier role in Korea, leading to the Korean Declaration of Independence in 1919?

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If not for the ensuing several decades of civil war and international conflict and if not for the eventual success of the Vietnamese Communists in their bid for independence, the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam would have been a curious footnote in world history. Today, the declaration remains one of the most interesting independence proclamations of all time, issued at a crucial juncture when the European-dominated society of nations was being recrafted by a new hegemonic power, the United States. It was one of the first declarations of independence to come from the third world or from Asia. The intriguing content, with a staunch Communist quoting the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence and the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, makes for an excellent study in decolonization, the Vietnam War, and world history. The declaration remains a key document for a state ruled by a Communist Party that seeks to maintain its political domination through reference to foundational documents and events that give it continued legitimacy in times of rapid economic and social change. With the number of adults who can remember the heady days of the August Revolution and the birth of the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence fast diminishing, modern-day Vietnamese schoolchildren are required to read and memorize the document. It remains to be seen whether a Vietnamese reinterpretation of the declaration, such as with particular attention focused on individual rather than collective liberty and rights, might eventually be used to change the Communist Party of Vietnam from within or to challenge the existing regime.

Charlton, Michael, and Anthony Moncrieff. Many Reasons Why: The American Involvement in Vietnam. New York: Hill and Wang, 1989. Dommen, Arthur J. The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh: A Life. New York: Hyperion, 2000. Ho Chi Minh. Selected Writings, 1920–1969. Hanoi, Vietnam: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1977. Huynh Kim Khanh. Vietnamese Communism, 1925–1945. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982. Isaacs, Harold R., ed. New Cycle in Asia: Selected Documents on Major International Developments in the Far East, 1943–1947. New York: Macmillan, 1947. Marr, David G. “Ho Chi Minh’s Independence Declaration.” In Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, ed. Keith W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1995. ———. Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Patti, Archimedes L. A. Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America’s Albatross. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Porter, Gareth, ed. Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decisions, Vol. 1. Stanfordville, N.Y.: Earl M. Coleman Enterprises, 1979. ———. Vietnam: A History in Documents. New York: Meridian, 1981. Tønnesson, Stein. The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh and de Gaulle in a World at War. London: Sage, 1991.

Milestone Documents

Further Reading

Articles

Bradley, Mark Philip. “Making Revolutionary Nationalism: Vietnam, America and the August Revolution of 1945.” Itinerario 23, no. 1 (1999): 23–51. Huynh Kim Khanh. “The Vietnamese August Revolution Reinterpreted.” Journal of Asian Studies 30, no. 4 (August 1971): 761–782.

—Tobias Rettig Books
Bradley, Mark Philip. Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919–1950. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

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Document Text

Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
The compatriots of the entire country, All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution made in 1791 also states: All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights. Those are undeniable truths. Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty. They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center, and the South of Viet-Nam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united. They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion; they have practiced obscurantism against our people. To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol. In the field of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people and devastated our land. They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolized the issuing of bank notes and the export trade. They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty. They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers. In the autumn of 1940, when the Japanese fascists violated Indochina’s territory to establish new bases in their fight against the Allies, the French imperialists went down on their bended knees and handed over our country to them. Thus, from that date, our people were subjected to the double yoke of the French and the Japanese. Their sufferings and miseries increased. The result was that, from the end of last year to the beginning of this year, from Quang Tri Province to the North of Viet-Nam, more than two million of our fellow citizens died from starvation. On March 9 [1945], the French troops were disarmed by the Japanese. The French colonialists either fled or surrendered, showing that not only were they incapable of “protecting” us, but that, in the span of five years, they had twice sold our country to the Japanese. On several occasions before March 9, the Viet Minh League urged the French to ally themselves with it against the Japanese. Instead of agreeing to this proposal, the French colonialists so intensified their terrorist activities against the Viet Minh members that before fleeing they massacred a great number of our political prisoners detained at Yen Bai and Cao Bang. Notwithstanding all this, our fellow citizens have always manifested toward the French a tolerant and humane attitude. Even after the Japanese Putsch of March, 1945, the Viet Minh League helped many Frenchmen to cross the frontier, rescued some of them from Japanese jails, and protected French lives and property. From the autumn of 1940, our country had in fact ceased to be a French colony and had become a Japanese possession. After the Japanese had surrendered to the Allies, our whole people rose to regain our national sovereignty and to found the Democratic Republic of VietNam. The truth is that we have wrested our independence from the Japanese and not from the French. The French have fled, the Japanese have capitulated, Emperor Bao Dai has abdicated. Our people have broken the chains which for nearly a century have fettered them and have won independence for the Fatherland. Our people at the same time have

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overthrown the monarchic regime that has reigned supreme for dozens of centuries. In its place has been established the present Democratic Republic. For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government, representing the whole Vietnamese people, declare that from now on we break off all relations of a colonial character with France; we repeal all the international obligation that France has so far subscribed to on behalf of Viet-Nam, and we abolish all the special rights the French have unlawfully acquired in our Fatherland. The whole Vietnamese people, animated by a common purpose, are determined to fight to the bitter end against any attempt by the French colonialists to reconquer the country. We are convinced that the Allied nations, which at Tehran and San Francisco have acknowledged the principles of self-determination and equality of nations, will not refuse to acknowledge the independence of Viet-Nam. A people who have courageously opposed French domination for more than eighty years, a people who have fought side by side with the Allies against the fascists during these last years, such a people must be free and independent! For these reasons, we, members of the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of VietNam, solemnly declare to the world that: Viet-Nam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact it is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty.

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Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

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