Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Uncle Ho

Ho Chi Minh was modern North Vietnam’s George Washington while at the same time a lesser Hitler to those in the south. Now long lines of tourists’ line up to tour his simple house and mausoleum where he lies in view in a fashion similar to Stalin’s Moscow tomb. Indeed he is transported once a year back to Moscow for a “freshening” before being placed back on display.

Moving through the line past his body is a somber experience however not because all necessarily revere the man. Instead it is because the military guards tolerate no disrespect, intended or otherwise.

My feelings about Ho Chi Minh notwithstanding, it was a significant moment for me, passing within feet of the body of the man who commanded the millions of troops who had directly and indirectly affected so many of my friends and family; indeed all Americans of that era.

What do most Vietnamese think of him today? There are many answers to that depending on who you talk to and under what circumstances you ask. Publicly, he is still praised although much less so in the south than in the north but privately, he is mostly a non entity; an artifact of an age now past as the Vietnamese rush to modernize, well on their way to a Capitalistic future “Uncle Ho” would have done all he could to prevent.

French Hanoi and the Communist Capitalists

What surprised me most about Hanoi was the French architectural influence. If you ever saw news footage taken in and around the city during the bombing, which occurred later in the war, what you saw was generally in black and white and appeared very bleak. Certainly nothing pretty, just simple utilitarian functional.

No doubt it was bleak given the pounding the city was subjected to but visiting years later it was clear that Hanoi once was and could be again, quite beautiful just as are Paris, Washington, Venice and many of the old Europe cities. The infrastructure is poor with much to be done but you don’t have to look far below the surface to see what could be.

Finally I was also struck by the commerce occurring on the sidewalk, such as this barber. Not so deep down, these Communists are true Capitalists.