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2013-10-05 07:48:00
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Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, Who Won Over France and The U.S. Is Dead
Washington/ UrukPress
Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, Who Won Over France and The U.S. Is Dead

 



Gen. Giap Supported Palestinian Struggle Against The Israeli Occupation



Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the hugely admired relentless and charismatic North Vietnamese general who ousted France and the U.S. the United States out of Vietnam, died on Friday in Hanoi. He was believed to be 102.
A teacher and journalist with no formal military training, Vo Nguyen Giap (pronounced vo nwin ZHAP) 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.
General Giap understood something that his adversaries did not, however. 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.
Vo Nguyen Giap was born on Aug. 25, 1911 (some sources say 1912), 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 and a fervent nationalist who, like his father before him, encouraged his children to resist the French.
Mr. Giap earned a degree in law and political economics in 1937 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.
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 late 1953, the French established a stronghold in the northwest at Dien Bien Phu, near the border with Laos, garrisoned by 13,000 Vietnamese and North African colonial troops as well as the French Army’s top troops and its elite Foreign Legion.
From a ragtag band of 34 men assembled in a forest in northern Vietnam in December 1944, Gen. Giap built the fighting unit that became the Vietnam People’s Army. At the beginning, its entire supply of weapons consisted of two revolvers, one light machine gun, 17 rifles and 14 flintlocks, some of them dating to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, said Cecil B. Currey, Gen. Giap’s biographer.
But the original 34 men took a solemn oath to fight to the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule, and they promised not to help or cooperate with colonial or any other foreign authorities. By August 1945, when the surrender of Japan ended World War II, they had become an army of 5,000, equipped with American weapons supplied by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA, to use against the Japanese who had occupied Vietnam.
For almost three decades, Gen. Giap led his army in battle against better-supplied, better-equipped and better-fed enemies. In 1954, he effectively ended more than 70 years of French colonial rule in Indochina, dealing a humiliating defeat to a French garrison in a 55-day siege of the mountain-ringed outpost at Dien Bien Phu. To millions of Vietnamese, this was more than a military victory. It was a moral and psychological triumph over a hated colonial oppressor, and it earned Gen. Giap the status of a national legend.
After an eight-week siege by Communist forces, the last French outposts were overrun on May 7, 1954. The timing was a political masterstroke, coming on the very day that negotiators met in Geneva to discuss a settlement. Faced with the failure of their strategy, French negotiators gave up and agreed to withdraw. The country split into a Communist-ruled north and a non-Communist south.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and later President John F. Kennedy looked on with rising anxiety as Communist forces stepped up their guerrilla war. By the time Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, the United States had more than 16,000 troops in South Vietnam.
A Turning Point
On Jan. 30, 1968, during a cease-fire in honor of the Vietnamese New Year (called Tet Nguyen Dan), more than 80,000 North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops hit military bases and cities throughout South Vietnam in what would be called the Tet offensive. For the Communists, things went wrong from the start. Some Vietcong 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 Vietcong 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.
“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.”
The United States government began peace talks in Paris in May 1968. The next year, Nixon began withdrawing American troops under his policy of Vietnamization, which called for the South Vietnamese troops to bear the brunt of the fighting.
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.
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.”


With the capture of Saigon, Vietnam was united under a single governmental authority for the first time since its partition into North and South Vietnam after the 1954 French defeat. Gen. Giap was defense minister in the Communist government that ruled the new Vietnam and a member of the powerful politburo.
But it was as a military leader that he made his mark on history.
In the course of his career, Gen. Giap commanded millions of men in regular army units, supplemented by local militia and self-defense outfits in villages and hamlets throughout Vietnam. He journeyed to the remotest areas of his country on recruiting missions, and he learned the art of combat the old-fashioned way — by fighting.
He waged all manner of warfare: guerrilla raids, sabotage, espionage, terrorism and combat on the battlefield, and he involved as much of the civilian population in this effort as he could. Peasant women carried concealed arms, ammunition and supplies to hiding guerrilla soldiers. Children passed along information about troop movements through their villages. Everyone was a lookout for enemy aircraft.
“All citizens are soldiers. All villages and wards are fortresses, and our entire country is a vast battlefield on which the enemy is besieged, attacked and defeated,” Gen. Giap was quoted as saying.
In the end, Gen. Giap would outlast his enemies. The French grew tired of paying the price of fighting him in Southeast Asia, and so did the United States, after 58,000 American deaths in a war that promised no more than a stalemate.
He said: “The United States imperialists want to fight quickly. To fight a protracted war is a big defeat for them. Their morale is lower than grass. . . . National liberation wars must allow some time — a long time. . . . The Americans didn’t understand that we had soldiers everywhere and that it was very hard to surprise us.”
To at least one U.S. military commander, this strategy was apparent even in the early years of American involvement in the hostilities. Marine Corps Gen. Victor Krulak, in a 1966 memorandum to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, wrote that Gen. Giap “was sure that if the cost in casualties and francs was high enough, the French would defeat themselves in Paris. He was right. It is likely that he feels the same about the USA.”
A master of military logistics and administration, Gen. Giap directed construction, maintenance and operation of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, down which a steady stream of men and arms flowed from North Vietnam to support the war in the South.
Under his command, a corps of 100,000 Vietnamese and Laotian laborers slogged under 70-pound packs through swamps and jungles, up and down mountains to deliver the supplies, weapons and ammunition to fuel the fight. From a network of mountain footpaths used by peasants and travelers for centuries, they built a 12,000-mile system of camouflaged roadways and spurs, much of it in the neutral territory of Laos. Some sections were two-lane paved roads, capable of handling tanks and heavy trucks. Others were primitive dirt roads. There were air raid shelters, rest stops and bridges. All of it demanded unremitting repair and upkeep.
In three decades of combat, he is said to have had more than a million of his soldiers killed, a casualty level that would have cost any U.S. general his command. “Every minute hundreds of thousands of people die all over the world. The life or death of a hundred, a thousand or tens of thousands of human beings, even if they are our own compatriots, represents really very little,” the French writer Bernard B. Fall quoted him as saying.
Metaphorically, Gen. Giap was described in Vietnamese as “Nui Lua,” which means roughly “volcano beneath the snow.” On the surface, his personality was cold and arrogant, but he was seething on the inside and capable of fearsome explosions. Colleagues said he was impatient, dogmatic, energetic and loyal to his friends.
He was ambitious and not above personal vanity. To several interviewers, he suggested that he could be considered an Asian Napoleon. Time magazine, in a 1968 article, described him as a “dangerous and wily foe . . . a tactician of such talents that U.S. military experts have compared him with German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.”



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