GENERAL VO NYGUYEN GIAP: NORTH VIETNAM’S MILITARY GENIUS

GENERAL VO NYGUYEN GIAP

Regarded as a 20th century David, who slew two Goliaths with a single stone, General Vo Nguyen Giap (pronounced vo nwin ZHAP) was the military leader in Vietnam for more than 30 years and is regarded as one of the greatest military strategists ever. He: 1) led the Viet Minh in the critical stages of war against France; 2) was the strategist behind Dien Bien Phu; 3) helped create the Ho Chi Minh trail; 4) built up the North Vietnamese army; 5) lead the North Vietnamese forces Viet Cong in the war against the United States; and 6) masterminded the Tet Offensive

According to Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper: His nickname was "Ge Luo," which means volcano under the snow. "That is how his compatriots named this extraordinary man, who defeated the Japanese, later, the French in Dien Bien Phu and decades later he made the Americans flee Saigon, to complete the reunification of Vietnam.His life is inextricably linked with the struggle of national liberation, with the history of the formation, growth and development of the Vietnamese People’s Army, and whose victories caused the very French to nickname him "The Red Napoleon." [Source: Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper as "The Legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap has many nicknames: 'the Red Napoleon,' 'Volcano Under the Snow.'" Translation for Liberation News by Gloria La Riva. August 26, 2011]

Associated Press reported: The legendary Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap built his career on never backing down, even against seemingly impossible odds...Giap is revered by the Vietnamese second only to the former president Ho Chi Minh. Together, they plotted gutsy campaigns from jungles and caves using ill-equipped guerrilla fighters to gain Vietnam's independence, eventually leading to the end of French colonial rule throughout Indochina. Two decades later, Giap's northern communist forces also wore down the US military, forcing them out of the former South Vietnam. "It can be said that some of the country's most glorious and most important events are associated with his name and his cause," Do Quy Doan, Vietnam’s vice culture minister, said at an event honoring Giap's 100th birthday. [Source: Associated Press , August 28, 2011]

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, Giap "was a self-taught soldier who became one of the foremost military commanders of the 20th century. He used his charisma and tactical skills to transform a tiny band of Vietnamese guerrillas into an army that defeated both France and the US. In 1944 he founded the Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Vietnam, gathering together 31 men and three women armed with flintlock rifles. By 1954, he had turned this ragtag group into the Vietnamese People's Army that defeated the French at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The surrender of French forces after a 55-day siege in this valley in north-western Vietnam was the coda for colonialism in Indochina. [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013]

Praise and Critcism of Gen. Vo Nyguyen Giap’s and His Legacy Today

Both allies and adversaries consider Vo Nguyen Giap to be one of the great military strategists in history. Marcel Bigeard, the most decorated general of the French army, who was his prisoner, said: "Giap successfully commanded his troops during more than 30 years. This constitutes an unprecedented prowess. … He took lessons from his errors and never repeated them."

Gen. William Westmoreland, commander in chief of the U.S. army in Vietnam from 1964 until 1968, and the chief adversary of Giap in the Vietnam War, declared, "The qualities that make a great military leader, is the ability to make decisions, moral strength, the ability to concentrate and the intelligence that unifies all those qualities. Giap possesses them all." But Gen. Westmoreland also said his victories were rooted in an appalling disregard for the lives of the soldiers under his command. "Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would not have lasted three weeks," he said.

Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "A teacher and journalist with no formal military training, Vo Nguyen Giap joined a ragtag Communist insurgency in the 1940s and built it into a highly disciplined force that ended an empire and united a nation. He was charming and volatile, an erudite military historian and an intense nationalist who used his personal magnetism to motivate his troops and fire their devotion to their country. His admirers put him in the company of MacArthur, Rommel and other great military leaders of the 20th century. [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013 <>]

"General Giap was among the last survivors of a generation of Communist revolutionaries who in the decades after World War II freed Vietnam of colonial rule and fought a superpower to a stalemate. In his later years, he was a living reminder of a war that was mostly old history to the Vietnamese, many of whom were born after it had ended. But he had not faded away. He was regarded as an elder statesman whose hard-line views had softened with the cessation of the war that unified Vietnam. He supported economic reform and closer relations with the United States while publicly warning of the spread of Chinese influence and the environmental costs of industrialization. <>

"To his American adversaries, however, from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, he was perhaps second only to his mentor, Ho Chi Minh, as the face of a tenacious, implacable enemy. And to historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did, costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American — sapping the United States Treasury and Washington’s political will to fight, and bitterly dividing the country in an argument about America’s role in the world that still echoes today. <>

Vo Nyguyen Giap’s Early Life

Vo Nguyen Giap lived to be 102. He was born on August 25, 1911 (some sources say 1912) and died on October 4, 2013. He turned 100 years old in 2011 (2010 by the Vietnamese calendar).

The sixth of eight children in a middle class family, Giap was born in the village of An Xa in Quang Binh Province, the southernmost part of what would later be North Vietnam. His father, Vo Quang Nghiem, was an educated farmer, a Confucian scholar and a fervent nationalist who, like his father before him, encouraged his children to study hard and resist the French.

As a boy, Giap was found of history, particularly the stories of Vietnamese heroes and their victories against the Chinese and Mongols.. He attended a French secondary school in Hue—the Lycée Nationale in Hue—the same school that produced the North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh and the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. There he began reading works by Marx and Ho Chi Minh and became involved in anti-colonial activities. After two years, he was expelled form his school for extremism.

Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "Giap earned a degree in law and political economics in 1937 at the University of Hanoi and then taught history at the Thanh Long School, a private institution for privileged Vietnamese in Hanoi, where he was known for the intensity of his lectures on the French Revolution. He also studied Lenin and Marx and was particularly impressed by Mao’s theories on combining political and military strategy to win a revolution. [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013 <>]

Giap Joins the Vietnamese Communists and Fights Against the Japanese

Giap joined the Communist Party of Indochina soon after it inception and wrote for the People's Voice. In the 1930s, he created a guerilla band comprised of 34 men armed with two revolvers, one light machine gun, 17 rifles and 14 antique flintlocks used Russo-Japanese in 1905. According to Viet Cong lore, the units were called into action two days later by Ho Chi Minh and killed all the soldiers in two French outpost. Giap’s army unit grew into the People's Liberation Army, which had hundreds of thousands of members.

In 1941, Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party, chose Mr. Giap to lead the Viet Minh, the military wing of the Vietnam Independence League. In 1944 he founded the Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Vietnam. Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, "By the time he founded his army, posing at the first swearing-in wearing a white suit with a Mauser pistol in his belt, he was well versed in Marx and had read Mao Zedong's writings on guerrilla warfare. He would always deny the obvious influences of Mao and Napoleon, saying: "We fought our wars in a Vietnamese way. My only influences were the great strategists of Vietnamese history." [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013]

According to Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper,"Vo Nguyen Giap was one of many children of peasants who became a known personality thanks to socialism, although there was much personal sacrifice. In 1926, he became a member of clandestine student organizations in the struggle. In 1933, he joined the Communist Party of Indochina and very quickly joined the inner circle of Ho Chi Minh, with whom he was a personal friend. [Source: Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper as "The Legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap has many nicknames: 'the Red Napoleon,' 'Volcano Under the Snow.'" Translation for Liberation News by Gloria La Riva. August 26, 2011 ><]

"At the end of 1941, Giap moved to the mountains of Vietnam to create the first guerrilla groups. There he established an alliance with Chu Van Tan, leader of the Tho, a guerrilla group of a national minority in northeast Vietnam. Around Christmas in 1944, he captured a French military post, after having formed the first battalions of his armed forces. In mid-1945, he already had 10,000 men under his command and was able to go on the offensive against the Japanese, who had invaded the country. ><

Vo Nyguyen’s Giap’s Character and Family

Giap was only 160 centimeters (5 foot three inches) tall. He was fluent in French and had a benign almost cute face. He was married twice. In 1946, Giap married his second wife, Dang Bich Ha. They had two sons and two daughters. As to his first wife and other members of his family, according to Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper, around the time World War II ended "The French police detained his wife and sister-in-law, using them as hostages to pressure Giap and try to force him to surrender. The repression was ferocious: his sister-in-law was guillotined and his wife sentenced to life in prison. She died in prison after three years due to brutal torture. The French torturers also assassinated his new-born son, his father, two sisters and other family members."

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, "Giap, an elfin lawyer with an intellectual bent, was an unlikely warrior. He often claimed his only military lesson came from an encyclopedia entry describing the mechanism of a primitive hand grenade...Giap was an unusual figure in the anonymous hierarchy in Hanoi. He had not forged links with the others in French jails where revolutionaries earned their political stripes. He had escaped to China ahead of the French in 1939, his tracks covered by his wife Quang Thai, with whom he had a daughter, and who later died in prison. He could be imperious and frosty, which, combined with his aggressive temper, earned him the nickname "the snow-covered volcano". He was often querulous and rudely didactic, traits that come across in his many books on warfare. With his well-cut uniforms, curtained Russian limousine and grand French villa in the centre of Hanoi, Giap did not even pretend to follow the puritanism that the leadership affected. [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013]

Vo Nyguyen Military Career

Gap headed the North Vietnamese army from 1952 to 1977. According to Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper: General Giap defeated the French during the battle of Dien Bien Phu, which was the first great victory of a people in colonized and feudal conditions, with a primitive agricultural economy, against an experienced imperialist army sustained by an aggressive and modern war industry. The best-known French generals (Leclerc, De Lattre de Tasigny, Juin, Ely, Sulan, Naverre) were defeated one after the other against troops made up of poor peasants, but who were determined to struggle to the end for their country and for socialism. Vietnam became divided and Giap was named Minister of Defense of the new government of North Vietnam, which struggled to build a new socialist society, while it continued the people’s war. [Source: Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper as "The Legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap has many nicknames: 'the Red Napoleon,' 'Volcano Under the Snow.'" Translation for Liberation News by Gloria La Riva. August 26, 2011 ><]

"As commander of the new people’s army, Giap directed the struggle in the Vietnam War against the new U.S. invaders in the country’s south, which once again began under the mode of a guerrilla war. The first U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam on July 8, 1959, when the NLF fighters attacked a military base in Bien Hoa, northeast of Saigon. Four U.S. presidents fought in succession against Vietnam, leaving behind the blood of 57,690 U.S. mercenaries. In 1975, the country was reunified, when a tank of the revolutionary army smashed through the protective barricades of the U.S. embassy, while the last imperialists fled hurriedly in a helicopter from the roof of the building. ><

Vo Nyguyen Giap, the Military Strategist with a Low Regard for Human Life

General Giap was not only a master in the art of leading the revolutionary war, he also wrote about it in several books with important analyses. His famous work, "Peoples War, Peoples Army," is a manual of guerrilla war based on his own experiences. Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "General Giap understood something that his adversaries did not...Early on, he learned that the loyalty of Vietnam’s peasants was more crucial than controlling the land on which they lived. Like Ho Chi Minh, he believed devoutly that the Vietnamese would be willing to bear any burden to free their land from foreign armies. He knew something else as well, and profited from it: that waging war in the television age depended as much on propaganda as it did on success in the field. These lessons were driven home in the Tet offensive of 1968, when North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas attacked scores of military targets and provincial capitals throughout South Vietnam, only to be thrown back with staggering losses....Militarily, it was a failure. But the offensive came as opposition to the war was growing in the United States, and the televised savagery of the fighting fueled another wave of protests" leading to "the long withdrawal of American forces." [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013 <>]

"General Giap had studied the military teachings of Mao Zedong, who wrote that political indoctrination, terrorism and sustained guerrilla warfare were prerequisites for a successful revolution. Using this strategy, General Giap defeated the French Army’s elite and its Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, forcing France from Indochina and earning the grudging admiration of the French. "He learned from his mistakes and did not repeat them," Gen. Marcel Bigeard, who as a young colonel of French paratroops surrendered at Dien Bien Phu, told Peter G. Macdonald, one of General Giap’s biographers. But "to Giap," he said, "a man’s life was nothing." <>

"Hanoi’s casualty estimates are unreliable, so the cost of General Giap’s victories will probably never be known. About 94,000 French troops died in the war to keep Vietnam, and the struggle for independence killed, by conservative estimates, about 300,000 Vietnamese fighters. In the American war, about 2.5 million North and South Vietnamese died out of a total population of 32 million. America lost about 58,000 service members. "Every minute, hundreds of thousands of people die on this earth," General Giap is said to have remarked after the war with France. "The life or death of a hundred, a thousand, tens of thousands of human beings, even our compatriots, means little."<>

Vo Nyguyen Giap in the French Indochina War

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, In 1944 Giap "founded the Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Vietnam, gathering together 31 men and three women armed with flintlock rifles. By 1954, he had turned this ragtag group into the Vietnamese People's Army that defeated the French at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The surrender of French forces after a 55-day siege in this valley in north-western Vietnam was the coda for colonialism in Indochina. [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013\*/]

"In 1940 Giap joined Ho Chi Minh in China. They returned to Vietnam a year later and founded the Viet Minh, which briefly took power in the August Revolution of 1945, when the Vietnamese communists filled the vacuum left by the defeated Japanese forces. Giap began talks with the French on independence, but they were determined to return to Vietnam and in December 1946 the Viet Minh began an eight-year war. \*/

"Poorly armed and trained, the Viet Minh made little headway until after 1949, when Mao had taken control in Beijing. China began sending advisers and supplies to help the Vietnamese. For the first time Giap had access to heavy weapons but his first direct confrontation with the French forces was a 1950 battle in the Red River Delta that proved disastrous for the Vietnamese, who lost some 20,000 men. His luck turned in 1954, when General Henri Navarre decided to set up camp in Dien Bien Phu to protect Laos from the guerrillas. The French settled into the broad valley, confident that the surrounding mountains would protect them from the Viet Minh. \*/

They had not accounted for Giap's skill in mobilising forces and keeping them supplied. Tens of thousands of farmers were drafted to carry dismantled artillery and weapons into the hills around Dien Bien Phu. Reinforced bicycles were loaded with hundreds of pounds of supplies and pushed up muddy tracks. Giap would later recall that it would take 21kg of rice for the porters for each kilogram of the staple that arrived to feed soldiers laying siege to the French. Viet Minh artillery rained hell down on the French troops from the surrounding hills. On 7 May the French surrendered. The cost of Giap's victory at Dien Bien Phu had been extremely high. His forces suffered massive casualties, many times the toll inflicted on the French. A horrendous loss of life marked all Giap's victories, but he was coldly unapologetic, saying the number of dead was small compared with the number who died each day of natural causes. \*/

Vo Nyguyen Giap After Dien Bien Phu

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, "After 1954, Giap became defence minister in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Almost immediately the government ran into serious problems when the population turned against a brutal Maoist campaign of land reform in which thousands of people were killed after being condemned as landlords. With their political base shaken, the Communist party sent out Giap to restore order. His apologies for the party's excesses were grudging at best, but using his popular support as the hero of Dien Bien Phu he was able to calm the angry crowds, which included many of the soldiers who had fought under him. [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013\*/]

"In 1960 the politburo decided to launch the fight for reunification of North and South Vietnam. It was a time of increasing tensions and disagreements in Hanoi. After straddling the Sino-Soviet split that ripped apart the communist world in 1960, Hanoi turned towards Beijing and relations with the Soviet Union were strained. Giap had always harboured a streak of resentment against the Chinese, whose advice at Dien Bien Phu he claimed to have ignored. He became staunchly pro-Soviet at a time when his comrades were leaning towards Beijing. In the midst of the power struggles and purges that afflicted the elite of Vietnamese communism, Giap was even accused of trying to foment a coup d'etat with aid from Moscow. \*/

Vo Nyguyen Giap in the Vietnam War

Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "General Westmoreland relied on superior weaponry to wage a war of attrition, in which he measured success by the number of enemy dead. Though the Communists lost in any comparative "body count" of casualties, General Giap was quick to see that the indiscriminate bombing and massed firepower of the Americans caused heavy civilian casualties and alienated many Vietnamese from the government the Americans supported. With the war in stalemate and Americans becoming less tolerant of accepting casualties, General Giap told a European interviewer, South Vietnam "is for the Americans a bottomless pit." [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013]

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, "Tensions were exacerbated when Giap's tactics against the US forces after 1965 achieved only mixed results. He was kept off guard by the mobility of American helicopter cavalry and his forces suffered an enormous number of casualties in battles they might have avoided. General William Westmoreland, commander of the American forces, once remarked that any US general that suffered Giap's losses would have been sacked instantly. His skills lay less in military tactics and more in managing the logistics and politics that were so vital to sustain the war in the south. His diplomatic skills kept open supply lines from China and the Soviet Union, while at home he organised the movement of troops and material down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a vast web of tracks stretching into Laos and Cambodia. "People should not be overawed by the power of modern weapons," Giap wrote. "It is the value of human beings that in the end will decide victory." [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013]

Throughout most of the war Giap was defense minister and armed forces commander, but he was slowly pushed aside after Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969. According to Associated Press: “The glory for victory in 1975 didn't go to Giap.”

Giap's Strategy and Tactics in the Vietnam War

Giap was a master of jungle tactics, guerilla logistics and battlefield psychology. In his 1962 book People Army, People's War Giap described how he mixed "political warfare and military strategy" to over come a more powerful enemy. An inspiration for revolutionaries and insurgents around the world, the book establishes three basic foundations as the key to success in a struggle against imperialism—leadership, organization and strategy— and defines people’s war as "a war of combat for the people and by the people, while guerrilla war is simply a method of combat. The people’s war is a more general concept. It is a synthesized concept. It is at the same time a military, economic and political war."

Former OSS officer Carelton B. Swift Jr. wrote in the Washington Post, "Up against an expeditionary army with superior resources, Giap created an army and marshaled a force of district militia, village and self defense units and ordinary citizens that fought everywhere and nowhere, overtly and covertly and unremitting...Giap provided his soldiers with more political indoctrination than military training, but their fanaticism was the element that prevailed against the rather inept American expeditionary effort to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the people."

"The North kept the initiative," wrote Bruce Nelan in Time magazine, "choosing when to lie low and rebuild its strength. Although 1.1 million of its soldiers were killed in the war of attrition, the North continued to sacrifice them until the U.S. negotiated its own withdrawal in 1973. [Source: Bruce Nelan, Time, April 24, 1995]

According to Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper: A people’s war is not only carried out by an army—no matter how popular it is. Rather, it is carried out by all the people, because it is impossible for a revolutionary army by itself to achieve victory against reaction. All the people have to participate and help in the struggle, which of necessity has to be prolonged. As a good warrior, Giap knew that the success of victory—when there is such a great disparity in forces—is based on initiative, in audacity and surprise, which requires that the revolutionary army be continuously mobilized. He stood out as a logistical genius, capable of continuously mobilizing important troop contingents, following the principles of a war of movements. He accomplished that against the French colonizers in 1961, infiltrating a whole army through the enemy lines in the Mekong River Delta, and again advancing the Tet Offensive in 1968 against the Americans, when he situated thousands of men and tons of supplies for a simultaneous attack against 35 strategic centers in the south. [Source: Cuba’s Granma Daily newspaper as "The Legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap has many nicknames: 'the Red Napoleon,' 'Volcano Under the Snow.'" Translation for Liberation News by Gloria La Riva. August 26, 2011]

The commander of 48th Viet Cong battalion, Ngu Duc Tan, told Time in 1994, "We went after Saigon puppet troops...If we beat them, everything collapse, the U.S. would have nothing more to fight for. You brought many soldiers, helicopters, bombs, but we chose not to fight you, except sometimes. America was not the main objective. [Source: Tim O'Brien, New York Times magazine, October 2, 1994]

General Vo Nguyen Giap and Tet Offensive From the Perspective of North Vietnam

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, "On 30 January 1968, tens of thousands of communist troops launched the Tet offensive, striking across South Vietnam during what was supposed to have been a truce to mark the lunar new year holiday. In Hanoi, the leadership had expected the South Vietnamese to rise up and overthrow the government but instead the VC suffered a huge military defeat. Their troops and command structures were nearly wiped out when the US forces regained control. [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013 /=\]

"The offensive was a severe military setback for the North, but they did win a psychological victory. Dramatic news coverage of the offensive in the US damaged claims in Washington that an end to the war was in sight. Support for the conflict and for President Lyndon B Johnson slumped. Once again, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap had suffered enormous losses but had still managed to declare victory. "After the Tet offensive, the Americans moved from the attack to the defence," he said. "And defence is always the beginning of defeat." That defeat would take another seven years of fighting, less time than Giap had expected. The South Vietnamese army collapsed precipitously as the North Vietnamese pushed down the coast. Saigon fell on 30 April 1975. /=\

Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "For the Communists, things went wrong from the start. Some Viet Cong units attacked prematurely, without the backing of regular troops as planned. Suicide squads, like one that penetrated the United States Embassy in Saigon, were quickly wiped out. Despite some successes — the North Vietnamese entered the city of Hue and held it for three weeks — the offensive was a military disaster. The hoped-for uprisings never took place, and some 40,000 Communist fighters were killed or wounded. The Viet Cong never regained the strength it had before Tet. But the fierceness of the assault illustrated Hanoi’s determination to win and shook the American public and leadership. [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013 >>>]

"The Tet offensive had been directed primarily at the people of South Vietnam," General Giap said later, "but as it turned out, it affected the people of the United States more. Until Tet, they thought they could win the war, but now they knew that they could not." He told the journalist Stanley Karnow in 1990, "We wanted to show the Americans that we were not exhausted, that we could attack their arsenals, communications, elite units, even their headquarters, the brains behind the war." He added, "We wanted to project the war into the homes of America’s families, because we knew that most of them had nothing against us." >>>

Vo Nyguyen Giap After the Tet Offensive

Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "In March 1972, the North Vietnamese carried out the Easter offensive on three fronts, expanding their holdings in Cambodia and Laos and bringing temporary gains in South Vietnam. But it ended in defeat, and General Giap again bore the brunt of criticism for the heavy losses. In summer 1972, he was replaced by Gen. Van Tien Dung, possibly because he had fallen from favor but possibly because, as was rumored, he had Hodgkin’s disease. [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013]

"Although he was removed from direct command in 1973, General Giap remained minister of defense, overseeing North Vietnam’s final victory over South Vietnam and the United States when Saigon, the South’s capital, fell on April 30, 1975. He also guided the invasion of Cambodia in January 1979, which ousted the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge. The next month, after Hanoi had established a new government in Phnom Penh, Chinese troops attacked along the North Vietnamese border to drive home the point that China remained the paramount regional power. It was General Giap’s last military campaign. He was removed as minister of defense in 1980 after his chief rivals, Le Duan and Le Duc Tho, eased him out of the Politburo. Too prominent to be openly denounced, he was instead made vice prime minister for science and education. But his days of real power were gone. In August 1991, he was ousted after Vo Van Kiet, a Western-style reformer, came to power. <>

Vo Nyguyen Giap After the Vietnam War

After the war Giap was gradually gave up his military positions and was put in charge of Vietnam’s family planning in 1984. After his retirement in 1991 he lived in a comfortable villa in Hanoi near the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and devoted his energies to environmental causes. Late in life Giap became a strong supporter of friendly ties between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Robert Templer wrote in The Guardian, "Giap was the first general to defeat the forces of the U.S. in a war. Flushed with the arrogance of their massive victory, the leadership in Hanoi pushed for an immediate reunification of North and South, and expanded its experiment in Soviet-style economics across the country. But although well-suited to winning a war, the government was inept at running a peace. Giap was said to have opposed the extreme economic measures, but his power was at a low. In December 1978, against Giap's advice, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge. Although the initial victory was rapid, Vietnamese forces were to get bogged down fighting a guerrilla war against the Khmer Rouge that would last more than 10 years. Giap's opposition to that war earned him a period in the wilderness. He was replaced as defence minister in 1980 and two years later lost his seat in the politburo. He remained a deputy prime minister in charge of science and technology, and was given the job of heading a national birth control campaign. [Source: Robert Templer, The Guardian, October 4, 2013 /*\]

"For most of the 1980s, Giap was a political outcast, occasionally wheeled out on ceremonial occasions but stripped of all real power. He did, however, command loyalty in the military, particularly among those officers disaffected by the war in Cambodia and angered by the economic collapse in the 1980s. In 1986, in the runup to a Communist party congress, a group of officers urged Giap to take control and launch sweeping changes to the economy and political system. Giap refused, terrified of what might happen if he failed. Bui Tin, an army colonel who had been a protege, urged him again in 1990 to take over and provide a new direction for Vietnam. Giap demurred, preferring a comfortable retirement. Tin later condemned him bitterly, quoting an old Chinese saying that "the reputations of generals are built on the bodies of 10,000 men". /*\

"Giap's political timidity came as a crushing disappointment to many. His last years were spent polishing his image as the "red Napoleon". He adored giving interviews, charming his hagiographers and fawning journalists with the same gestures and stories told in a fluent but outdated French of which he was immensely proud. He was always careful to avoid the real questions that hung over his increasingly contested career. He could not, however, stop many people from reconsidering his versions of history and heroism. Many Vietnamese also began to question whether the sacrifices of war had been worth it. Others saw too many moments in Giap's career where he had refused to stand up to hardliners or had failed to capitalise on his popular support to force through political and economic changes. /*\

In 1991 Giap stepped down as vice premier. In a sign of his political disfavour, his 80th birthday passed without celebration and it was not until the 40th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu that he was given a measure of rehabilitation. He spent his retirement travelling and meeting foreign dignitaries, including, in 1995, his opposite number during the war, the former US defence secretary Robert McNamara. /*\

Joseph R. Gregory wrote in the New York Times, "In his final years, General Giap was an avuncular host to foreign visitors to his villa in Hanoi, where he read extensively in Western literature, enjoyed Beethoven and Liszt and became a convert to pursuing socialism through free-market reforms. "In the past, our greatest challenge was the invasion of our nation by foreigners," he told an interviewer. "Now that Vietnam is independent and united, we can address our biggest challenge. That challenge is poverty and economic backwardness." Addressing that challenge had long been deferred, he told the journalist Neil Sheehan in 1989. "Our country is like an ill person who has suffered for a long time," he said. "The countries around us made a lot of progress. We were at war." [Source: Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, October 4, 2013]

Associated Press reported: "In 2009, he spoke forcefully against a bauxite mining plan in Vietnam's central highlands, calling on the government to reconsider the Chinese-led project because it posed environmental and security risks. He also protested against the demolition of Hanoi's historic parliament house, Ba Dinh Hall. Both projects, however, went ahead. [Source: Associated Press , August 28, 2011]

On the occasion of his 100the birthday, two years before he died, Associated Press reported: "The legendary Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap built his career on never backing down, even against seemingly impossible odds. Now, decades after ousting the French and later the Americans, he is celebrating another major victory: his 100th birthday. The four-star general has been in hospital for about two years but continues to sign cards – including a thank-you note to his "comrades" for their outpouring of birthday wishes – and is still briefed every few days about international and national events, said Colonel Nguyen Huyen, Giap's personal secretary for 35 years. Though he was shoved out of the inner circle of political power decades ago, the slight, white-haired military strategist remains a national treasure and was still welcoming foreign leaders to his French-style villa in Hanoi until three years ago. [Source: Associated Press , August 28, 2011]

Vo Nyguyens Giap’s Funeral: Hundreds of Thousands Bid Him Farewell

In October 2013, Tran Van Minh of Associated Press wrote: “Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Vietnam's capital Sunday to bid a final farewell to the legendary war hero who led the poor Southeast Asian nation to victory over the French and then the Americans. "Long live Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap," people chanted, many in tears, as his flag-draped coffin passed by on a truck-drawn artillery carriage. The procession traveled along a 40-kilometer (25-mile) route from the national funeral house in downtown Hanoi to the airport. Crowds of people, both young and old, lined the route, in places 10 deep. [Source: Tran Van Minh, Associated Press, October 13, 2013 />/]

“Giap, who died October 4 at age 102, was revered in Vietnam only second to his mentor, former President Ho Chi Minh. Alongside the public outpouring of emotion, the government orchestrated an elaborate send-off for the general, seeking to use the moment to foster national unity at a time of discontent and economic malaise. After the war, Giap was sidelined by the Communist Party, and toward the end of his life emerged as something of a critic, shielded from consequence because of his popularity. State-controlled media has been awash in eulogy for him since his death, but neglected to mention that chapter of his life. />/

"You, comrade, have made a great and excellent contribution to the revolutionary cause of our party and nation," Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong said in a eulogy read out at the funeral house. "Your personality and your great contribution were strongly imprinted in the heart of the people." Following the funeral, Giap's body was flown to his home province of Quang Binh in central Vietnam, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the 70-kilometer (43-mile) route from the airport to his burial site. />/

“The burial ceremony was attended by President Truong Tan Sang and other top officials and broadcast live on state television. Giap was buried in Quang Binh instead of the Mai Dich cemetery in Hanoi, where most high-ranking Vietnamese officials are traditionally buried, in accordance with his and his family's wishes. "No words can describe how much love and respect people reserve for Gen. Giap," 71-year-old Nguyen Thi Vi, from the central province of Ha Tinh, said as she waited in the crowd in Hanoi to pay her final respects. "I feel like I lost one of my relatives," she said. "Gen. Giap will live forever in the heart of Vietnamese people and we may not witness another great man like him. We should set up temples to honor him and where people can go and pay their respect." “/>/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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