A press report from Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, notes that the legendary General Vi Nguyen Giap, one of the most eminent figures in Vietnamese history and a great friend of Cuba and revolutionary causes, died at the age of 102 on October 4.
Ge Luo means Volcano under the Snow; the name given by his compatriots to this exceptional man, who defeated the Japanese, then the French at Dien Bien Phu and, decades later, forced the U.S. army to flee from Saigon, thus completing the reunification of Vietnam.
A life linked to the struggle for national liberation
His life is indissolubly linked to the struggle for national liberation, to the history of the training, growth and development of the Vietnam People’s Army. For his victories the French themselves nicknamed him the Red Napoleon.
Vo Nguyen Giap was one of so many sons and daughters of campesinos who became figures thanks to socialism, not without much personal sacrifice. In 1926 he became a member of student organizations involved in the underground struggle. He joined the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) and quickly grew close Ho Chi Minh, a personal friend.
At the end of 1941, Giap left for the Vietnamese mountains in order to create the first guerrilla groups. There he established an alliance with Chu Van Tan, the leader of Tho, one of the fighting formations created by a national minority in northeast Vietnam. At Christmas 1944 he captured a French military post, after having trained the first battalions of his armed forces.
By the middle of 1945 he already had 10,000 men under his command, and could move onto the offensive against the Japanese, who had invaded the country.
The French police arrested his wife and sister-in-law, using them as hostages to put pressure on Giap and force him to surrender. The repression was ferocious: his sister-in-law was guillotined and his wife sentenced to life imprisonment. She died in prison after three years as a result of torture. The French also killed his newborn son, his father, his two sisters and other family members.
The first great victory of a colonized and feudal people
But Giap was resolute. He defeated the French during the Dien Bien Phu campaign, which was the first great victory of a colonized and feudal people, with a primitive agricultural economy, against an experienced imperialist army sustained by a vigorous and modern military industry. The most eminent French generals (Leclerc, De Lattre de Tasigny, Juin, Ely, Sulan, Naverre) failed one after the other facing troops who were poor campesinos, but determined to fight to the death for their country and for socialism. Vietnam was divided and Giap was appointed Minister of Defense of the new government of North Vietnam which, while the people’s war continued, made every effort to build a new socialist society.
As the Commander of the new people’s army, Giap led the struggle in the Vietnam War against the U.S. invaders in the south of the country, a struggle which, once again, began as a guerilla war. The first U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam when, on July 8, 1959, the Vietcong attacked a military base at Bien Hoa, northeast of Saigon.
Four U.S. presidents, one after another, fought against Vietnam, leaving behind a bloody trail of 57,690 dead American troops. In 1975 the country was reunified, when a tank of the revolutionary army charged the protective barrier of the U.S. embassy, while the last imperialists fled precipitously in a helicopter from the roof of the building.
Leadership, organization and strategy
General Giap was not only a maestro in the art of directing revolutionary warfare, but also wrote a number of valuable books about it, such as his famous work People’s War, People’s Army, a manual on guerilla war based on his own experience. In the manual, he established three basic fundamentals which a people’s army must possess to attain victory in the struggle against imperialism: leadership, organization and strategy. The leadership of the Communist Party, an ironclad military discipline and a political line adapted to the country’s economic, social and political conditions.
He defined the people’s war as “a war of combat for the people and by the people, while the war of guerrillas is simply a method of combat. The people’s war is a more general concept. It is a synthesized concept. It is simultaneously military, economic and political.” The people’s war is not just made by an army, however popular this might be, but is one made by all the people because it is impossible for a revolutionary army, alone, to achieve victory against reaction. All of the people have to participate and help in a struggle, which necessarily, must be prolonged.”
As a good guerrilla fighter, Giap knew that military success, when there is such a large disproportion of forces, is based on initiative, audacity and surprise, which demands that a revolutionary army has to constantly displace itself. He stood out as a genius of logistics, capable of constantly mobilizing troop contingents, following the principles of the war of movement. He acted in this way against the French colonialists in 1951, infiltrating an entire army across enemy lines in the Mekong Delta and again by bringing forward the Tet offensive in 1968 against the U.S. forces, when he placed thousands of men and tons of provisions for a simultaneous attack on 35 strategic centers in the south.
One of the great military strategists of history
Both his followers and adversaries considered Vo Nguyen Giap as one of the great military strategists of history.
Marcel Bigeard, the most decorated general in the French army, who was his prisoner, has said of the Vietnamese military chief: “Giap victoriously commanded his troops during more than 30 years. This constitutes an unprecedented feat (…) He extracted lessons from his errors and never repeated them”
William Westmoreland, commander-in-chief of the U.S. army in Vietnam and an adversary of Giap, stated that the qualities which make a great military chief are the aptitude to make decisions, moral strength, capacity for concentration, without forgetting the intelligence which unifies all of the foregoing. Giap possessed them all.
Source: Granma International Death of the 20th century General