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116. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Preliminary Analysis of the Significance of the Death of Ho Chi Minh

Ho's death will deal a blow to North Vietnamese morale, although it probably will not by itself soon lead to a softening, or significant change, in North Vietnamese policies toward the war in the South.2

[Page 370]

Four men appear to be the most likely candidates to succeed Ho as Party leader, although there is very little hard information concerning factions or policy differences within the top leadership. In order of position within the Party, they are:

  • —Party First Secretary Le Duan, 61: Duan has enjoyed a close personal relationship with Ho, but has almost certainly lost some of his influence in the past year.
  • —Theoretician and National Assembly Chairman Truong Chinh, 61: He is considered to be the most pro-Chinese of the top leadership, in the sense that he has apparently favored modelling North Vietnamese policies along Chinese Communist lines.
  • —Premier Pham van Dong, 61: Dong has long been closely associated with Ho. He is reputedly more moderate than the others.
  • —Defense Minister Vo Nguyen Giap, 57: Like Ho, Giap has great popular prestige because of his role in the victory over the French.

Of these, Chinh and Le Duan are believed to have the inside track.

Le Duan is known for his policies of sacrificing everything for the struggle in the South. Chinh, Giap and probably Dong advocate a cautious, steady application of the tactics of the “people's war” and simultaneously the preservation of the strength of the regime in the North and building it up along orthodox Marxist lines.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 69, Vietnam Subject Files, Death of Ho Chi Minh. Confidential. Sent for information. The memorandum was not initialed by Kissinger; a note on the memorandum reads: “Hand carried to the President, 9–6–69.” Kissinger's assessment is in part based on three papers, all undated but probably written on September 3. They are entitled “NSC Staff Analysis,” “CIA Analysis,” and “State/INR Analysis.” (Ibid.) Ho Chi Minh died on September 3.
  2. In a September 9 memorandum to Kissinger, Holdridge wrote that “with little to go on save gall” he and the NSC staff were attempting to estimate the trend in the DRV even before Ho Chi Minh was laid to rest. Holdridge acknowledged that the DRV leadership was collective and “that none of the big four in the politburo: Duan, Chinh, Giap or Dong is strong enough to grab the controls completely at the outset,” but he believed that “over the long pull, we are inclined to guess, and it is only a guess, that Le Duan will gradually consolidate his power position.” Holdridge agreed with most other observers that “DRV policy after Ho will almost certainly have to gravitate in the direction of moderation,” but he was not sure that these shifts would provide grounds for progress from Washington's point of view. (Ibid., Box 139, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, Vol. X, September 1969)