General Vo Nguyen Giap has died at age 102, according to Vietnamese official sources. He passed away from old age on Friday October 4 at Military Hospital 108, where he had been living for several years. He is survived by his second wife, Dang Bich Ha, and four children.
Vo Nguyen Giap was born on August 25, 1911 in An Xa village, Quang Binh province, in central Vietnam. He studied law in college, then worked as a professor and journalist. He was already involved in revolutionary activity against the French colonial regime at age 15. In 1931, influenced by the Marxist leader Troung Chinh, he joined the Indochina Communist Party, which worked for socialism and the expulsion of the brutal French colonial regime from what are now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
In 1939, he was forced by a colonial government crackdown to move to China, where he met Ho Chi Minh. He had to leave his wife, Dang Thi Quang, a newborn child and other relatives behind, and the French regime took revenge on them, executing his sister-in law, murdering the baby and causing his wife’s death due to horrible prison conditions.
When Japan invaded Vietnam in 1941, Giap, Ho Chi Minh and other Vietnamese patriots of the Viet Minh liberation organization, moved into the North of Vietnam, whence they carried out effective guerilla warfare. Giap’s army was recruited from peasants and other humble folk, and was famous for its political will and military discipline and skill.
When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam. However, the French government did not accept the loss of its lucrative colony, and, with help from the United States, tried to suppress the new state. Giap, in command of all Viet Minh forces, ran rings around some of France’s best generals, defeating them and sealing the end of French colonialism in Southeast Asia at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, on May 7, 1954.
But U.S. imperialism engineered the splitting of Vietnam into two pieces, North and South, to avoid what otherwise would have been the inevitable election of Ho Chi Minh as president of the whole country. There followed Vietnam War, in which the United States and its allies unleashed every conceivable horror of modern warfare, from napalm to high level bombing to the machine gunning of villagers.
Though more than 3 million Vietnamese were killed and much infrastructure was destroyed, it was all in vain: Vo Nguyen Giap’s concept of a “people’s war” in which the whole population, civil and military, is mobilized, defeated the B 52’s. Such a mobilization was only possible because of the Marxist roots of Ho’s and Giap’s strategic thinking.
The United States pulled out in 1973, and Giap’s army took Saigon and united Vietnam under socialist leadership two years later.
After the war Giap continued in his post as Defense Minister until 1980 and as member of the leadership of the Politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party until 1982.
Afterwards, he headed the government’s Commission on Science and Technology.
His works on people’s war, especially his 1961 book “People’s War, People’s Army” are of lasting value.
Giap had no formal military training and, far from having the mentality of a militarist, he deplored war and told interviewers that after every battle, he shed tears for the dead. Into his 90s, he was still engaged in efforts to help his country’s development and improve the life of the people.
On international developments, he told a reporter from L’Humanite, the newspaper of the French Communist Party in 2004: “We are facing a difficult international situation in which we do not know how things will develop. There is talk of preventive war, of the happiness of the peoples imposed by arms or by the laws of the market. Above all there is a push by certain governments to impose their hegemony. Everywhere, there is the law of the jungle. One cannot tell what is going to happen, but I can say that the third millennium should be one of peace. That is what is most important. We have seen huge demonstrations to proclaim it. Youth should learn to appreciate peace. It is everything to live and to live together…all the nations should have their sovereignty, and everyone should have the right to live in dignity”.
Vo Nguyen Giap’s fame will never die; his strength of character, integrity and skill as a military leader led the Vietnamese people to victory over the Japanese, French and American empires, and freed their country.
We in the United States are still drawing lessons from his life and the tragedy of the war.
Photo: Giap in 2008. Wikipedia