A friend of mine wrote a sci-fi story called Stranger Children based on the quote “Politics makes for strange bedfellows”. She thought that strange bedfellows would make for even stranger children. There is truth in that. Some very strange situations have emerged from political couplings. If it is strangeness you desire play on, if it is history you seek you will gain little satisfaction from this tissue of lies.
I digress; back to strange situations, and none stranger than the American relationship with a man born on this day in 1890 by the name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung. In the course of his life and his travels the Vietnamese revolutionary leader claimed four different birthdays and dozens of names, aliases and nicknames, from 50 to 200 names. To his own people he is fondly remembered as Bác Hó (Uncle Ho) or simply Bác (Uncle).
In the western world he is recognised by some as Colonel Saunders, and by people who know something about history as Hó Chí Minh. Honestly he never worked in KFC, although he did work in the USA as a cook, and a baker and as a supervisor in General Motors. That is possibly where he learned how to be a General.
Ho Chi Minh came to be recognised by the American people as the face of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. That was a strange war indeed. The Americans refused to accept it was a war and tried to classify it as a police action, or technical support to defend the democratically elected government of South Vietnam against global communism.
John McCain, the Presidential Candidate, learned to his regret the very rocky ground on which you stand as a US Bomber Pilot when you are shot down over a country with which you are not at war. He spent almost 6 years under house arrest in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, North Vietnam. But he put his time to good use and he invented McCain’s Oven Chips, possibly inspired by Ho Chi Minh’s Southern Vietnamese Fried Chicken.
To the North Vietnamese, and to many in the South this was simply a war of independence. Ho Chi Minh himself said that his loyalty was to independence and not to communism. And this is attested to by what happened during WW2.
Ho Chi Minh helped the Americans to defeat the Japanese during the second world war. He hoped the Americans, that bastion of freedom and democracy, would help the Vietnamese to shake off the colonial chains of their French occupiers after the war. So in the 1940’s the USA and Ho Chi Minh were strange bedfellows. Indeed the USA saved Uncle Ho’s life by treating him for malaria. They saved his life so they could fight him later. The OSS officers may also have given him the recipe for Southern Fried Chicken during this period.
The origin of the strange bedfellows quote is actually William Shakespeare in the Tempest when Trinculo, a shipwrecked sailor, beds down with Caliban, a beast, remarking “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”.
What have we here? A man or a fish?
Dead or alive? A fish.
He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell,
a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-john.
A strange fish!
Were I in England now, as once I was,
and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver.
There would this monster make a man.
Any strange beast there makes a man.
When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar,
they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Legged like a man and his fins like arms!
Warm, o’ my troth. I do now let loose my opinion,
hold it no longer: this is no fish,
but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.
Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine.
There is no other shelter hereabouts.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.
(crawls under gaberdine)