| || ||Preface by C. David Thomas |
At the time, I was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Pleiku, South Vietnam, as a combat engineer/artist. I dont remember the exact day when we heard that Ho Chi Minh had died (since he died on September 2, 1969, it was most likely mid September before we heard of his death) but I do remember a group of us huddled around a bottle of Jack Daniels toasting his death. After all, the only thing we knew about Ho was that he was the leader of the country we were fighting against, North Vietnam.
In 1987, eighteen years after leaving that war-torn country, I returned to Vietnam for the first time with the U.S. Indochina Reconciliation Project. Like most Americans, during those eighteen years I had learned very little about Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese people. Virtually all of the information available in the U.S. about Vietnam had a distinctly American viewpoint and Ho Chi Minh was always portrayed simply as the Communist leader of North Vietnam.
It was during that three-week trip that I was to begin to question everything I knew about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. I found the Vietnamese people friendly and welcoming while at the same time suffering in large part to the long standing trade embargo placed against them by a succession of U.S. presidents. It was also during this trip that I began to read about Bac (Uncle) Ho as the Vietnamese call him, the man whose picture was omnipresent in Vietnam.
Since then, I have searched the alleys and bookstores of Vietnam as well as libraries in the U.S. to locate information on Ho. What I found in Vietnam was mostly books published by the government which painted only a partial picture of this complex man. It was two modest books published in the United States which were to give me a more complete picture of Hos life. These were David Halberstams 118-page book published in 1971, titled HO and Charles Fens 144-page biography titled Ho Chi Minh published in 1973. Over the years I have added several other books but it still amazes me at how little information about Ho Chi Minh is currently available in the United States more than thirty years after his death. Can anyone deny his importance to the twentieth century?
That is why I began this artists book project two years ago. It is my attempt as an artist to give the reader a sketch of Hos complex life. By using the diary format I hope to humanize a man who has long been deified and demonized. I want the reader to understand the culture and world events which shaped the life of one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century. Although the diary is fiction, it is based on real events. The stories by Vy Ky and Dinh Dang Dinh are real and were given to me specifically for this book. Also included is poetry by several of Vietnams most renowned writers as well as several poems taken from Ho Chi Minhs own Prison Diary.