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Ho Chi Minh He married nationalism to communism and perfected the deadly art of guerrilla warfare BY STANLEY KARNOW n emaciated goateed figure in a threadbare bush jacket and frayed rubber sandals Ho Chi Minh cultivated the image of a humble benign Uncle Ho But he was a seasoned revolutionary and passionate nationalist obsessed by a single goal independence for his country Sharing his fervor his tattered guerrillas vaulted daunting obstacles to crush Frances desperate attempt to retrieve its empire in Indochina later built into a largely conventional army they frustrated the massive US effort to prevent Hos communist followers from controlling Vietnam For Americans it was the longest war--and the first defeat--in their history and it drastically changed the way they perceived their role in the world To Western eyes it seemed inconceivable that Ho would make the tremendous sacrifices he did But in 1946 as war with the French loomed he cautioned them You can kill 10 of my men for every one I kill of yours yet even at those odds you will lose and I will win The French convinced of their superiority ignored his warning and suffered grievously as a result Senior American officers similarly nurtured the illusion that their sophisticated weapons would inevitably break enemy morale But as Hos brilliant commander General Vo Nguyen Giap told me in Hanoi in 1990 his principal concern had been victory When I asked him how long he would have resisted the US onslaught he thundered Twenty years maybe 100 years--as long as it took to win regardless of cost The human toll was horrendous An estimated 3 million North and South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians died The youngest of three children Ho was born Nguyen Sinh Cung in 1890 in a village in central Vietnam The area was indirectly ruled by the French through a puppet emperor Its impoverished peasants traditional dissidents opposed Frances presence and Hos father a
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