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Later in the war, however, Ho's forces in the south, the National Liberation Front (NLF), or Viet Cong, carried out a sustained campaign of public executions of corrupt or noncompliant local authorities in the South Vietnamese countryside. Most notably, during the 1968 Tet offensive, North Vietnamese and NLF units massacred several thousand "class traitors" in Hue, the historic capital of the Annamese dynasty.
In 1969, the U.S. military and CIA responded to the Tet offensive by launching Operation Phoenix, a campaign of terrorism, torture and execution that left tens of thousands of Vietnamese dead. Targets of Operation Phoenix included suspected NLF agents and their supporters in South Vietnam-along with anyone unlucky enough to end up on the wrong list.
By that time, Ho had reached the twilight of his life. He died in April 1969, a full six years before the realization of his lifetime goal of a united, socialist Vietnam free of Western control.
For as long as the U.S. was involved in Vietnam, Ho was depicted as little more than a tool of Moscow and Beijing. The myth of China-Vietnam axis is belied by history: China had occupied Vietnam for a millennium before the arrival of the French; just four years after North Vietnam's 1975 victory, China invaded Vietnam again. Armored columns of the Red Army rolled through the same rugged mountain passes where Ho's Vietminh guerrillas had evaded French and Japanese troops decades earlier. After a few weeks of grueling combat, Vietnam routed the invaders, ending the last attempt by an outside power to threaten Vietnam's independence.
There's added irony in the claim that Ho was a front man for foreign governments in Moscow and Beijing. While it's true that Ho's forces received military assistance from the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries; Soviet rail shipments to North Vietnam were routinely picked clean by quick-fingered Chinese military officials.
Furthermore, although North Vietnam clearly depended on military support from the Soviet Union for its survival, South Vietnam relied upon the physical presence of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops-along with the use of more bombs than were dropped by all sides during World War II-for its national security.
"South Vietnam was always dependent on the West, particularly the U.S.," says Vlastos. "It was always a client state in that sense. The leaders of the government from Diem on down the line always aspired to independence. But they were never able to achieve it. The rapidity of the collapse of South Vietnam once America pulled out of the war caught everyone by surprise, including the North Vietnamese."
Indeed, when North Vietnam launched its final offensive against the south in 1974, Ho Chi Minh's lifelong colleague and friend General Vo Nguyen Giap planned for a two-year campaign. Instead, the fighting lasted a mere six months. The swiftness of South Vietnam's demise was perhaps best illustrated by the famous image of the last U.S. helicopter hovering over the abandoned American embassy just moments before a North Vietnamese tank burst through the building's front gate.
For some people-especially those who now call Little Saigon home-the fighting still hasn't ended. Sometimes the evidence is less obvious than the recent appearance of hundreds of anti-Ho protesters in Little Saigon. A copy of the Halberstam biography Ho, which was obtained from the UC Irvine library and cited in this story, bore the following pithy epitaph on its title page: "Fuck you, Ho!"
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