Last week the president of Viet Nam, Truong Tan Sang, visited US President Obama. One would think Sang’s presence in the Oval Office would be the closest the Communist would get to Thomas Jefferson, the author of America’s Declaration of Independence. You’d be wrong.
In what will surely go down as another in a long line of ignorant gaffes, after receiving from Sang a letter from Viet Nam’s most famous despot, Ho Chi Minh, President Obama said,
“…we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.” (emphasis added)
I routinely get emails claiming Obama has said or done something outrageous. Usually, a trip to Snopes.com clears things up. I shake my head, amazed that, although it turned out to be false I could still imagine it being true. To be honest, I assumed the emails about this story were of this variety.
They were not.
Barack Obama actually said, while standing next to the current Communist leader of Viet Nam, of the Communist founder of the People’s Republic of Viet Nam, that he was inspired by our nation’s founding documents.
The entire defense of such a notion rests in Ho’s announcement of Viet Nam’s independence. On September 2, 1945 Ho Chi Minh did, in fact, quote Jefferson and the Declaration and use the format of the US Declaration for his declaration of Vietnamese independence.
There is, however, a vast gulf in meaning and import between “inspired by” and “able to [sort of] quote” the Declaration. Sterling Beard at NRO references a 2011 article by Susan Dunn. It purports to show Obama’s statement might be “factually true.” However, even a cursory reading of the piece “Ho Chi Minh and Thomas Jefferson” clearly demonstrates that the former Vietnamese leader had been inspired by the Declaration and the Constitution about as much as he had been inspired by his morning constitutional that day.
Ho Chi Minh had lived, worked and studied in the US off and on from 1911 to 1918 and had reason to have come in contact with the Declaration. “Contact” is not the same as “inspiration,” either. According to Dunn, an American OSS advisor, James Patti, was present for some of the planning sessions wherein Ho’s use of the Declaration were discussed. Dunn’s recounting of those meetings don’t quite measure up to the level of “inspiration” if words continue to mean things. She wrote,
Ho Chi Minh struggled to recall Jefferson’s exact words …
Days earlier, Ho Chi Minh and his advisers had been laboring to recall as much of Jefferson’s language as they could. Ho had memorized the opening lines of the Declaration when he visited the United States as a menial laborer on a tramp steamer before World War I, but his memory had faded …
Ho explained to Patti that his draft of the Vietnamese declaration of independence needed polishing. Someone translated Ho’s words as Patti listened carefully. Patti immediately realized that the translator was reading very familiar words. After the translator read a few sentences, Patti turned to Ho in amazement and asked if he really intended to use this text as his declaration of independence … Ho sat back in his chair, his palms together with fingertips touching his lips ever so lightly, as though meditating. “Should I not use it?” he asked.
So much for “inspiration.” What man asks of his muse, “Should I not use it?”
Dunn does use the phrase “Ho Chi Minh too turned to the United States for inspiration.” But she later also allows that perhaps, “He might have felt that his use of Jefferson’s Declaration would impart some legitimacy to his struggle…”
True inspiration or merely cheap imitation? How is one to know? The answer is clear if we consider the fruit of Viet Nam’s independence.
Ho Chi Minh is generally recognized for murdering at least a half million of his own countrymen, imprisoning untold tens of thousands more in re-education camps while appropriating their stuff for the use of the state. Texas Fred has a long list of Ho’s excesses. So much for inspiration from Life, Liberty and Property.
Amazingly, none of this is hidden, esoteric arcana. It’s readily available history. That, my friends, really is a fact.
The real question then is “How did the President not know?”