September 1945: Hồ Chí Minh’s Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

On 2 September 1945, approximately 500,000 people gathered in Ba Đình Square1 to hear Hồ Chí Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence and announce the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) government (fig. 1). His words mimicked the American Declaration of Independence. In addition, he made reference to the credo of liberty, equality and fraternity found in the French Constitution. Some believe this was an attempt to reconcile with future allies and past enemies.

“All people are created equal,” said Hồ Chí Minh. “They are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”2

independence
Figure 1: Hồ Chí Minh delivers his Declaration of Independence on a podium overlooking a crowded Ba Đình square in Hanoi. (Image courtesy of Speakola).

Out of Reach

However, no sooner had Hồ Chí Minh delivered his speech, the prospect of true Vietnamese independence vanished. On 12 September 1945, British and French forces arrived in Saigon to accept Japan’s unconditional surrender. The presence of three foreign militaries in the city created a tense and unruly atmosphere.

Meanwhile, British and French forces clashed continually with southern Việt Minh forces over control of South Vietnam until March 1946. 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

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