Rimko van der Maar: ‘Conflict, memory and history.'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

'Conflict, memory and history in the writings of Ho Chi Minh, 1920-1960.'

The penultimate paper of our workshop stemmed from another of our colleagues here at the University of Amsterdam, Rimko van der Maar, assistant professor for the History of International Relations. In his presentation, he focussed on the use of history in the propaganda of Ho Chi Minh (1890-1960), leader of the Vietnamese decolonization war against France and president of Communist North Vietnam. Rimko presented Ho as a skilled propagandist who could rely on a broad range of personal experience gathered in his life abroad which in the first half of the 20th century led him on travels throughout the world.

In his paper, Rimko suggested three main ways in which Ho made use of the past in conflicts. First of all, Ho referenced prominent elements of Western history to point out Western hypocrisy in the treatment of colonized people. Quoting extracts from the American Declaration of Independence to the Vietnamese public, Ho demanded the proclaimed universality of rights to freedom to extend also to the colonized people. Even more poignantly, he also justified the fight against France with reference to the French revolution. In a second strategy, Ho chose the teaching of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (or, more precisely: his interpretation of these teachings) to construct a bridge between Vietnamese identity and history and Communist ideology. Last but not least, he utilized his own mythologized biographical history – in particular his many travels throughout the world – to present the Vietnamese anti-colonial fight as part of a global movement. In his state-sanctioned and probably self-written biography Stories of Ho Chi Minh, Ho depicts his travels as an idealistically driven study of racism and oppression but leaving out the crucial support Ho received from the Soviet Union and the Comintern. This experience, Ho claimed, allowed him to become at the same time a Vietnamese nationalist and a cosmopolitan anti-colonial leader.

Rimko van der Maar is senior researcher at the University for History, University of Amsterdam. He is preparing a book about the war in Vietnam, including the person of Ho Chi Minh, for a broader audience. For a shorter introduction see his article 'Oom Ho. De behoedzame revolutionair: Het mysterieuze leven van Ho Chi Minh',  Historisch Nieuwsblad, 28(9), 2019, 56-61. https://www.historischnieuwsblad.nl/nl/artikel/51275/oom-ho-de-behoedzame-revolutionair.html

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