Savarkar’s life influenced the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh

Martin C. Windrow (born 1944) is a British historian, editor and author of several hundred books, articles and monographs, particularly those on organizational or physical details of military history, and the history of the post-war French Foreign Legion. His most notable work is The Last Valley, an account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu during the First Indochina War, which was published in 2004 to “critical acclaim” (The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, Martin Windrow Da Capo Press, 2004). The following account from Windrow’s book makes it clear that Savarkar’s biography was at Ho Chi Minh’s bedside on the day the latter died.

“I recently visited Dien Bien Phu, a dusty nondescript Vietnamese border town near Laos. Here, French fantasies of re-colonialism were dashed by a Vietnamese peasant army. Visiting Dien Bien Phu is not difficult for a progressive anti-imperialist left liberal. There are no mixed emotions, at least politically. Who can begrudge Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party their great victory in Dien Bien Phu? Even the Americans thought the French were a lost cause. They refused to help France directly when Dien Bien Phu was about to fall.

I was taken around by a motorcycle taxi to the different battlefield sites. They included the hills and other the strong points which the Vietnamese inexorably took, despite a heroic French defence, the French Commander’s bunker, and the war cemeteries. The motorcycle taxi driver stopped on the way to the war cemeteries and bought sticks of incense. He made me burn them for the souls of the dead, French and Vietnamese. I was surprised that he wanted me to burn incense sticks for French souls as well. I should not have been.

The Vietnamese did not fight a xenophobic war. They fought an “internationalist war”. This may sound strange in these days of “identity politics” when your ethnic or religious identity is supposed to determine the side you are rooting for, or whether you live or die. In his official memoir of the war, General Vo Nguyen Giap commander of the Vietnamese forces, considered the mastermind of the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu, thanked the French people and the French Communist Party for their support of the Vietnamese cause. Ho Chi Minh, the first President of Vietnam and founder of the Indo Chinese Communist Party, was also a founder of the French Communist Party.

Ho Chi Minh’s bedroom and study are still as they were on the day he died. The books near his bedside include one on New Zealand Verse, another on the Indian nationalist leader Veer Savarkar, another on the history of Vietnam, another on Marxism and several other titles I could not read clearly. These books were written in English, German, French, Russian and Vietnamese. He read all these languages, and spoke many of them. No party hack, however sophisticated, could have put such an eclectic collection of books together after his death. It had to be his.

The Museum of Women in Hanoi described the support they received from women’s groups in the West opposed to the war. The Vietnamese highlighted, maybe even exaggerated, the international support they got from the people of countries who had sent troops to fight them – from France, the US and Australia. Peace activists travelled to Hanoi, and were welcomed as friends.”

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