COLUMN: Jefferson and Ho differ on liberty

Farm Forum

When it comes to Vietnam, I’m all for moving on, putting the past behind us, looking forward, letting bygones be bygones, but doing so requires honesty about the past, lest history be forgotten and the memory and honor tarnished of the 60,000 Americans who died in that war.

On his visit to Washington last week, President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam told President Barack Obama the late revolutionary Ho Chi Minh was inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the words of Thomas Jefferson. In an ad in the Washington Post, Sang even claimed Jefferson’s vision of liberty was the same as Ho’s. Not exactly.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Vietnam 2012 Human Rights Report: “The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam. . . . The most recent National Assembly elections, held in May 2011, were neither free nor fair. Security forces reported to civilian authorities. The most significant human rights problems in the country continued to be severe government restrictions on citizens’ political rights, particularly their right to change their government; increased measures to limit citizens’ civil liberties; and corruption in the judicial system and police.”

Does that sound Jeffersonian?

Alignment with the principles and men of America’s founding is an old tactic used by many dictators to dupe some Americans into the false belief that they are just like us — or can be made so.

Ronald Radosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, that Ho was “a committed Marxist-Leninist, trained in the 1920s at Moscow’s famed Lenin School.”

During World War II, wrote Radosh, Ho courted President Franklin Roosevelt, appealing both to Roosevelt’s anti-French sentiments and to America’s Declaration of Independence and American-style liberty as he sought support for driving the French out of Indochina.

All dictators have found apologists in America, whether it is actor Sean Penn cozying up to the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or the elites who supported Fidel Castro and the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

All dictators have attempted to show they have a rational side. The late Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov was said to enjoy Scotch and American jazz. Adolf Hitler’s propagandists showed him with little girls, who were of the same age as Jewish girls he had ordered killed. The Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini supposedly made the trains run on time. Stalin’s gulags were so good, claimed American journalist Anna Louise Strong, people applied for admission. Strong, who never met a communist she didn’t like, also praised China’s Mao Zedong.

It’s one thing for Vietnamese leaders to promote the fiction that Jefferson was a role model for Ho, but quite another for Obama to spread this propaganda. I heard the same preposterous assertion from a Vietnamese government official when I visited Hanoi last December.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who spent seven years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, isn’t buying it. Johnson said in a statement issued by his office: “Sadly, when it comes to individual liberty, the president doesn’t have a clue. What an insult to the POWs brutally tortured at the merciless hands — and rifle butts — of our captors. This is a slap in the face to those who served — and especially those who paid the ultimate price for freedom during that dark time in history. Let me tell you, there was nothing ‘free’ about my seven years in captivity in Hanoi — more than half of that time in solitary confinement. As a fellow POW etched on a prison cell wall, ‘Freedom has a taste to those who fight and almost die that the protected will never know.’ ”

Who sounds more Jeffersonian?

Readers may email Cal Thomas at