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Vo Nguyen Giap

General Vo Nguyen Giap, who forced the French and later the Americans out of Vietnam, has died at the age of 102. Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese Minister of Defense and guiding spirit behind the Vietminh, Viet Cong, and People's Army of North Vietnam, earned the nickname "Tiger of Dien Bien Phu" with his decisive victory over the French in 1954. He fought the Japanese, the French, the South Vietnamese, and the Americans in Vietnam. He borrowed from and improvised upon the techniques of earlier and contemporary commander from Tzu Fan (676 BC) to Mao Tse-tung. His doctrine for revolutionary war was violent, brutal, and callous. There was little evidence that Giap had personally engaged in much active combat - he was probably not even present at Dien Bien Phu. Rather, he organized, planned, and directed. Vo was reported to have died on 4 October 2013 in a military hospital in Hanoi, where he had spent 4 years battling a protracted illness.

Vo Nguyen Giap was born on August 25, 1911 in the village of An Xa, Le Thuy District, Quang Binh Province in the year of Tan Hoi, when the Tan Hoi Revolution broke out in China. As a poor little boy of the country with "west wind, white sand", he went to school, grew up, joined the revolutionary movement, and became an outstanding general of the Vietnamese Revolution. His life and career has been closely linked to the history of formation, growth and development of the Vietnam People's Army. He was a close disciple of President Ho Chi Minh, and a close comrade-in-arms of the leaders of the Party and State of Vietnam.

Expelled from the College for his participation in the April 1927 school walkout, he taught himself, wrote articles for the paper "Tieng dan" (People's Voice) edited by the patriot Huynh Thuc Khang and joined the "Tan Viet" (New Vietnam) Party. In 1930, he was arrested and indicted, then put under house arrest at his home village. He went to Hanoi , learning and working for his own living, passed the exams as First Laureate in the All-Indochina general examinations, held exclusively for excellent students, then graduated as a Baccalaureate in Philosophy and Bachelor of Laws with an excellent thesis.

Giap worked as a teacher and a journalist while embarking on revolutionary activity. During time off from teaching at Thang Long School, he wrote articles for the newspapers "Lao Dong" (Labour), "Tin Tuc" (News), "Tieng Noi Cua Chung Ta" (Our Voice), both in Vietnamese and French.

In May 1945, in the jungle of Pac Bo, Nguyen Binh District, Cao Bang Province - the 8th Session of the 1st Party Central Committee Plenum, chaired by Ho Chi Minh decided to found the "Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi", known as "Viet Minh". Vo Nguyen Giap was entrusted with controlling the Military Division of the Viet Minh Central Committee, forming the armed forces in preparation for insurrection to seize power. The important turning point that brought him to the post of a general commanding a people's army was the foundation on December 22, 1944, of the "Viet Nam Tuyen Truyen Giai Phong Quan" (Vietnam Propaganda Liberation Army) in Tran Hung Dao Jungle of Nguyen Binh District - Cao Bang Province, the predecessor to the Vietnam People' Army.

Giap found the military sphere of the Vietminh regime vacant and, because of an early interest in military history, decided that this was the place for him to cut his niche. He thus became a self-taught general, in the tradition of the guerrilla leader. It is little wonder that Giap adopted the tactics of Mao and possibly those of Sun Tzu, for the tactics of the guerrilla are basically those of common sense and of the untrained military leader.

The August General Insurrection was victorious. The Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed. Vo Nguyen Giap held the posts of Minister of Home Affairs and Vice Minister of Defence, building and safeguarding the fledgling revolutionary power. Then, taking cover behind the British Army, the French troops opened fire to reconquer Vietnam.

On December 19, 1946, the resistance war against the French colonialists started. Vo Nguyen Giap was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the National Army and the self-defence militia forces. Giap faced continual trouble when confronting his first sophisticated enemy, the French. His trial-and-error methods were not those of the great strategist but rather those of the amateur, unsure of how to deal with the situation. This holds true for the siege of Dien Bien Phu, where Giap demonstrated neither great strategy nor any great degree of resourcefulness. He had an ideal situation in almost all respects: he faced a hopelessly outnumbered enemy that lacked equipment, logistics, leadership, and the backing of its government. Yet what he won was a war of attrition.

His three stages of warfare derive from Mao Tse-tung. Stage I is concealed mobilization and guerrilla operations. Pitched battles are virtually unknown, and engagements are short in order to avoid overwhelming enemy reinforcements. In stage II, guerrilla war diminishes as mobile war and entrenched camp warfare increase in importance. Stage III is classic conventional military operations. The shift from stage II to stage III is more dramatic and its timing is most crucial. To delay unnecessarily means useless prolongation of the war with attendant loss of morale and added costs, but to move too quickly is much worse, for this could mean total defeat.

Giap's nearly fatal mistake in the anti-French war was the too-early challenge of French forces in open battles during the first half of 1951. In three battles, the Viet-minh were defeated each time and Giap almost lost his position as Viet-minh commander in chief. The Viet-minh immediately went back to stage II - smaller battles on their own terms in scattered areas.

The basis of this fame is Giap's leadership of the Viet Minh in their victory over the French in the Indochina War. Giap's fame as a tactician and strategist were exaggerated, that neither his tactics nor his strategies were new or imaginative. Giap's greatest ability was an organizer of the masses in a total effort behind the war. Giap successfully combined the roles of civil organizer, politician and battlefield leader in achieving his victory over the French.

In late 1964, the Viet Cong moved into stage III and ultimate victory was near when the United States committed large numbers of troops using weapons and tactics new to Giap. Giap's best contribution to revolutionary war was his estimate of the political-psychological shortcomings of a democratic system when faced with an inconclusive military operation, which concludes essentially that the democracy seeks a short war and is not psychologically able to stand a prolonged indecisive war.

General Giap led an ill-equipped insurgent army against two western armies over the course of 30 years, and won. His success was not luck. It was patient application of basic military principles in a unique environment. In teaching himself operational art, Giap made profound contributions to the military profession. He applied Mao Tse Tung's insurgent warfare theories in a pragmatic, successful manner, conceived a unique 'People's War' concept which captures the essence of the Clausewitzian trinity (Military, Government, People) and precipitated an era of innovative operational thinking, especially as it applies to insurgent warfare.

In 1978, as Vice Prime Minister, he was in charge of the development of science and education. Retiring at the age of 80, General Giap still contributed to the development of the armed forces and the country of Vietnam and boosted solidarity between Vietnam and other nations in the world. General Vo Nguyen Giap began his 100th year on August 25, 2010.

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Page last modified: 04-10-2013 14:52:29 ZULU