Ho Chi Minh Through the Eyes of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Brandon Do.

It is easy for us to become trapped in a perpetual state of hopelessness and despair when we haven’t realized there is a great world beyond us and the responsibility to change it rests in our hands. We have yet to be awakened to our responsibility to eliminate injustice and false values. A culture of identity politics weaponized by the ruling establishment continues to impose a narrow and self-absorbed worldview on our youth. Individual freedom comes first, even at the expense of the enslavement of humanity. We find ourselves paralyzed within our fear of taking up the great task of evolving into new human beings. Thus, the propaganda of the ruling class scares us into a state of passive acceptance and pessimism. With our worldview made significantly smaller, there is no way to reach the soul of another person. Accepting this version of ourselves prevents us from seeing who we can be as free people. 

The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Ho Chi Minh show us a different model of being human. The two revolutionaries saw themselves as global citizens, as people who in their initiative to change the world also evolved into full beings. They linked the destinies of Black America and Vietnam with one another and with the anti colonial struggles of Africa and Asia. They bridged the gap between Asia and Black America to form a new synthesis of values that defeated the imperialist war against Vietnam. Their legacies show us that another life is possible if we commit ourselves to inheriting their great responsibility to create a more peaceful and beautiful world.

Howard Thurman, theologian and Martin Luther King Jr.’s advisor, posed the crucial question necessary to laying the foundation for a revolutionary vision in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited. He says, “What must be the attitude toward the rulers, the controllers of political, social, and economic life? This is the question of the Negro in American life. Until he has faced and settled that question, he cannot inform his environment with reference to his own life, whatever may be his preparation or his pretensions.” Although he uses the story of Jesus as an example, we can conclude that the rulers and controllers of political, social, and economic life is white civilization — still existing today, anchored in the historical degradation of Africa and Asia and its peoples through murder and theft. Knowing the true enemy of mankind makes clear to us what we stand against and lays the foundation for us to imagine the world we are fighting for. To know the enemy of humanity shifts our attitude from self-blame to courageously taking up the responsibility of destroying individualism and building a new future for mankind. 

Martin Luther King Jr. stood against the American war in Vietnam in his 1967 speech, “A Time to Break Silence”. He called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” for committing atrocities against the people of Vietnam and across Asia and Africa. He urged Black American troops to rebel against the orders to kill Vietnamese people on behalf of their common enemy, who was also oppressing Black people in the United States. He furthermore said that we need a revolution of values. King says, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death…A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing — embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.” 

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Ho Chi Minh indicted the culture of the west and embraced the responsibility for revolution and spiritual uplift. During his journey as a youth around the world, he immersed himself in the anti colonial movements from Africa, Asia, and Latin-America, and the United States. In 1924, he published “A Civilization That Kills”, an article identifying white civilization as the cruelest enemy of mankind for destroying Africa. He writes “If lynching-inflicted upon Negroes by the American rabble is an inhuman practice, I do not know what to call the collective murders committed in the name of civilization by Europeans on African peoples. Since the day the whites landed on its shores, the black continent has constantly been drenched in blood. ” The slave trade which degraded the people of Africa and imposed a European ideal of freedom and manhood on all people’s triggered the dark descent of humanity. 

Ho Chi Minh beared witness to the suffering of Black people in the United States during his stay in Harlem during the 1910s. He studied the lynchings of African Americans and later wrote, “It is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well-known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery. What everyone does not perhaps know is that after sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching.” While correctly understanding the history of African Americans, Ho did not see himself as a passive observer. He took responsibility to undo their suffering as he did with the Vietnamese. During the height of the imperialist war against Vietnamese independence, he assured that the Vietnamese people were fighting for all of the oppressed. “Our people have fought and made sacrifices not only for the sake of their own freedom and independence, but also for the common freedom and independence of the other peoples and for peace in the world.” 

Like King, Ho Chi Minh uncompromisingly stressed the importance of a new human culture that synthesized the best of the world’s traditions. To wipe off the selfishness of white culture, a new one must be created by drawing upon the ancient values of the Vietnamese people and infusing them with the world’s greatest ideals. He writes in his poem:

We will fight and fight from this generation to the next.

 Today the locust fights the elephant, but tomorrow the elephant will be disemboweled. 

Our rivers, our mountains, our men will always remain. 

The Yanks defeated, we will build our country ten times more beautiful.

Uncle Ho secures the foundation of his spirit in the destruction of the greatest enemy of mankind. A new realization of life and purpose replaces passivity. The connection between building a new civilization, beauty, and defeating the United States implicates that beauty only grows from the desire to bring justice to all of the world’s people. 

Ho Chi Minh anchored the unity of the civilizations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the common basis of being part of the global anti-imperialist movement, bringing them out of the shadows of colonialism and guiding them into a new age of moral and universal values. His founding of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930 served the specific function of bringing the Southeast Asian anti-colonial struggle closer to the world socialist movement. The Vietnamese Revolution ushered the people of Indochina out of the ideological propaganda of French and U.S. colonial rule, which stoked sentiments of narrow cultural nationalism to divide and conquer Southeast Asia, and inevitably brought them closer to the Black Liberation Struggle. In 1970, Pham Van Dong, the prime minister of North Vietnam, said to a delegation of Black Panthers who attended as guests of honor at the international day of solidarity with Black people of the United States, “In the west, you are Black in the shadow, in Vietnam, you are Black in the sun!”.

King and Ho Chi Minh created the conditions for Black people to see themselves in the anti colonial movements of Asia, and for Asia to see themselves in the struggle to free Black America. They completed each other. Even though they were far in distance, they united in spirit to move Black troops in Vietnam to reject orders to kill Vietnamese people, crumbling the infrastructure of the barbaric U.S. military, ultimately putting an end to the war. Their courage lived on in movements in Asia and Africa fighting the forces of wrong and in the Vietnamese who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of humanity.

Knowing how King and Ho Chi Minh lived, we can now define our lives differently. We must engage critically with the popular culture of our time and correctly address its function and whose interests it is ultimately serving. King and Ho Chi Minh realized the large potential of the human spirit to make the world peaceful and beautiful. They embraced a vision for humanity based on the universal love of mankind. They placed the ultimate meaning of life in committing ourselves to forming a new culture of peace and harmony. The foundation for a true love and a purposeful life can only be built on fighting against the evil of white civilization.

We can only envision a new future when we recognize the purpose of the vilification of our heroes, who stood up to the destructive nature of the west and continue their legacy. We must bridge the gap between our history and our present to fulfill the promise of a new and complete future for humanity. Let us then revive the spirit of King and Ho Chi Minh to strive toward our endless possibilities. Let us fight for a revolution of values and universal love for mankind. Let the spirit of King and Ho Chi Minh entrench themselves deeply into our hearts so that we can make the world “ten times more beautiful”!

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