September 1945: Hồ Chí Minh’s Vietnamese Declaration of Independence… in Vain

On 2 September 1945, approximately 500,000 people gathered in Ba Đình Square[1] to hear Hồ Chí Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence and announce the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) government. His words mimicked the American Declaration of Independence and also made a brief nod to the credo of liberty, equality and fraternity found in the French Constitution, some say in an attempt to reconcile with future allies and past enemies: “All people are created equal. They are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”[2]

No sooner had Hồ Chí Minh had his words immortalized, however, did the prospect of true Vietnamese independence vanish. On 12 September, in the tense and unruly atmosphere of a liberated Saigon, British and French forces arrived to receive the unconditional surrender of the Japanese army at the close of World War II. From then on, until the end of March 1946, British and French forces clashed continually with southern Việt Minh forces over control of Saigon and South Vietnam. Codenamed Operation Masterdom by the British, the Southern Resistance War (Nam Bộ kháng chiến) reinstalled French rule in the south, in the process officially killing the first American soldier in Vietnam.[3]


[1] Ba Đình Square, named after the Ba Đình Uprising, is in the center of Ba Đình District of Hanoi. When Ho Chi Minh died, the granite Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was built here to display his embalmed body. It remains a major site of tourism and pilgrimage.


[3] Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey killed in Saigon.

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