Saturday, September 06, 2008

General Vo Nguyen Giap of the Vietnam People's Army Has Recently Turned 97

Vo Nguyen Giap at 97: Vietnam’s incomparable military leader

By G. Dunkel
Published Sep 4, 2008 10:59 PM

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, a hero and leader in Vietnam’s struggle against Japanese, French and U.S. imperialism, celebrated his 97th birthday on Aug. 25. NĂ´ng Duc Manh, secretary general of the Vietnamese Communist Party, told Giap that he was “an elder of the Vietnamese People’s Army who remained a wonderful example for the younger generations.”

Besides Manh, other prominent leaders of the Vietnamese party and state also paid Giap a visit on his birthday, along with 30 foreign delegations.

Even his adversaries, like retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Harold Moore, who led a battle against troops Giap commanded in 1965, called Giap “arguably one of the greatest military commanders of the 20th century.”

Using skills developed in his early career in the 1930s as a revolutionary journalist, Giap also described and analyzed the struggles he led. Two of his significant books in English are “Banner of People’s War, the Party’s Military Line” (Praeger, 1970) and “The Military Art of People’s War” (Monthly Review, 1970).

Giap’s parents were fairly well-off farmers from families who opposed the French colonialists then ruling Vietnam. In 1925 he joined a youth group opposed to French occupation. Giap did time in French prisons when he was 19 and joined the Communist Party. After his release, he completed his education and became a teacher, revolutionary journalist and agitator. In the late 1930s he was sent to China to work with Ho Chi Minh in organizing a revolutionary movement among Vietnamese exiles.

During World War II, Japan displaced France as the colonial power in Vietnam. Giap returned home in 1944 to organize against the Japanese occupation. After the August Revolution in 1945 that overthrew Japanese rule, Giap became interior minister in Ho Chi Minh’s government.

But France began reoccupying Vietnam in the fall of 1945. The Communist Party decided that Vietnam needed an army. Giap was picked to form and lead it.

In a 2003 interview, Giap said the army’s goal “was to lean upon military action as a way to organize the masses, produce a military effect beneficial toward revolution, thus developing and reinforcing the political stand of the Viet Minh.” (Journal of Third World Studies) The Viet Minh were the liberation forces who fought the French colonialists and Japanese occupiers.

Giap said that within 48 hours of its founding, “my new army won two successive victories. The first was against the [French] post Phai Khat, the second was at Na Ngan,” just 21 miles away. The intelligence agent who provided the information needed to attack Phai Khat was a 13-year-old named Hoang, while the attack on Na Ngan owed its success to “Duc Long, a man of the region.”

Giap told his troops, “Be bold, quick and aim for certain victories.” He followed this motto from the beginning of the Vietnamese People’s Army until the offensive that led to Vietnam’s liberation in 1975.

Giap led 100,000 troops against the French in the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Another 100,000 Vietnamese workers, mainly women, provided logistics and carried artillery in pieces on bicycles or their backs, along with ammunition and food for the resistance troops. The French colonial power was astonished by its humiliating defeat.

Concept of people’s war

The Vietnamese people were able to produce such forces by relying on and developing “people’s war,” led by the Communist Party headed by Ho Chi Minh.

Giap explained people’s war in a PBS interview aired in 1999: “It was a war for the people by the people. FOR the people because the war’s goals are the people’s goals—goals such as independence, a unified country, and the happiness of its people. ... And BY the people—well, that means ordinary people—not just the army but all people.”

He avowed: “We know it’s the human factor, and not material resources, which decide the outcome of war. That’s why our people’s war, led by Ho Chi Minh, was on such a large scale. It took in the whole population.”

The U.S. provided a great deal of the funds and military supplies that France used before its last soldiers left Vietnam in April 1956. Washington supported the regime that the French left in place in south Vietnam and opposed the elections that were supposed to unite the country, elections that Ho Chi Minh, then north Vietnam’s leader, would surely have won.

As the puppet regime in south Vietnam fell apart, the U.S. stepped up its direct military intervention, first with advisors and then with combat units in 1965. Its strategy was “escalation” until the Tet Offensive in 1968. The Vietnamese liberation forces carried out simultaneous, surprise uprisings in hundreds of towns and villages throughout south Vietnam, with commando strikes against the U.S. Embassy and major U.S. air force bases. The Tet Offensive turned the tide against U.S. forces in Vietnam.

Giap told PBS, “It was the American policy to try and escalate the war. Our goal in the ’68 offensive was to force them to de-escalate, to break the American will to remain in the war. ... We did this by confronting them with repeated military, as well as political and diplomatic victories.”

The U.S. lost 58,226 soldiers in its war against Vietnam and suffered a few thousand missing in action. This was more than enough to shred popular support for continuing the war.

Vietnam released figures on April 3, 1995, that a total of 1 million Vietnamese combatants and 4 million civilians were killed in the war. The accuracy of these figures has generally not been challenged.

Even with all these deaths, the U.S. could not break the will of the Vietnamese to wage a people’s war for their national sovereignty and liberation from neocolonialism.

U.S. aggression against Vietnam, however, still continues in the form of lingering, terrible effects from Agent Orange, the herbicide spread over huge areas of south Vietnam by the U.S. Air Force. Even after three generations, 150,000 Vietnamese children suffer from physical and mental abnormalities caused by Agent Orange.

Long live Vietnam and its struggles! Long live Senior Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap!
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