Vo Nguyen Giap

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General Vo

General Vo Nguyen Giap (Vietnamese: V Nguyn Gip - V is his family name) (born 1912) is a Vietnamese four-star general, who was the military leader of the Viet Minh guerrilla group under Hồ Ch Minh's political leadership, and of the Peoples' Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.


Giap was born in the village of An Xa, Quang Binh province. His father worked the land, rented out land to neighbors, and was not poor. At 14, Giap became a messenger for the Hai Phong Power Company and shortly thereafter joined the Tan Viet Cach Mang Dang, a romantically-styled revolutionary youth group. Two years later he entered Quoc Hoc, a French-run lycee in Hue, from which two years later, according to his account, he was expelled for continued Tan Viet movement activities. In 1933, at the age of twenty-one, Giap enrolled in Hanoi University. He studied for three years and was awarded a degree falling between a bachelor and master of arts. Had he completed a fourth year he automatically would have been named a district governor upon graduation, but he failed his fourth year entrance examination.

While at Hanoi University, Giap met one Dang Xuan Khu, later known as Truong Chinh, destined to become Vietnamese communism's chief ideologue, who converted him to communism. During this same period Vo came to know another young Vietnamese who would be touched by destiny, Ngo Dinh Diem.

While studying law at the University, Giap supported himself by teaching history at the Thang Long High School, operated by Huynh Thuc Khang, another major figure in Vietnamese affairs. Former students say Vo loved to diagram on the blackboard the many military campaigns of Napoleon, and that he portrayed Napoleon in highly revolutionary terms.

In 1939, he published his first book, co-authored with Truong Chinh titled "The Peasant Question", which argued not very originally that a communist revolution could be peasant-based as well as proletarian-based.

In September 1939, with the French crackdown on communism, Giap fled to China where he met Hồ Ch Minh for the first time; he was with Hồ at the Chingsi (China) Conference in May 1941, when the Viet Minh was formed to take back Vietnam from the French. At the end of 1941 Vo found himself back in Vietnam, in the mountains, with orders to begin organizational and intelligence work among the Montagnards. Working with a local bandit named Chu Van Tan, Giap spent World War II running a network of agents throughout northern Vietnam.

Between 1942 to 1945 Giap helped organize resistance to the occupying Japanese Army with the assistance of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS - later known as the CIA). After the Japanese occupiers interned the Vichy French collaborators, suspecting them of preparing to change sides, the Americans had little choice but to collaborate with the Viet Minh. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August, 1945, the Vietminh was in a good position to take over the control of the country and Giap served under Hồ Ch Minh in the provisional government.

In September, 1945, Hồ Ch Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Hồ had been confident of the support of his wartime allies, the Americans, but any residual loyalty felt by the US was quickly lost in their Cold War desire to conciliate the French, and the colony was returned to them. France refused to recognise the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and fighting soon broke out between the Vietminh and the French troops. At first, the Vietminh under General Vo Nguyen Giap had great difficulty in coping with the better trained and equipped French forces. The situation improved in 1949 after Mao Zedong and his communist army defeated Chiang Kai-Shek in China. The Vietminh now had a safe-base where they could take their wounded and train new soldiers.

General Navarre, the French commander in Vietnam, realised that time was running out and that he needed to obtain a quick victory over the Vietminh. He was convinced that if he could maneuver Vo Nguyen Giap into engaging in a large scale battle, France was bound to win. In December, 1953, General Navarre set up a defensive complex at Dien Bien Phu, which would block the route of the Vietminh forces trying to return to camps in neighbouring Laos. Navarre surmised that in an attempt to reestablish the route to Laos, General Giap would be forced to organise a mass-attack on the French forces at Dien Bien Phu.

Vo proved his brilliance as a logistician when he had his troops disassemble artillery pieces and antiair weapons, mostly supplied by China and the Soviet Union, and packed them over the mountains onto the high ground overlooking the French garrison. Thousands of men with no more than bicycles for transportation delivered the tons of supplies and munitions necessary for a long siege.

Giap concentrated seven thousand to eight thousand soldiers, along with two hundred heavy guns, against the French garrison, which totaled fifteen thousand men. Since weather and Vietminh gunners prevented all but a few deliveries of resupplies, the French retreated to the interior posts, while the Vietminh advanced through tunnels and trenches and under support of superior artillery. On May 7, 1954, the French surrendered. Of the original force, five thousand were dead. Of the ten thousand who surrendered, half were wounded. Estimates of communist casualties exceeded twenty-five thousand, but Vo had won his Phase III battle. In leaving Indochina, the French negotiated a partition that separated the Communist North from the American-dominated South.

In 1959 Vo and the North Vietnamese began supporting communist guerrillas in the south known as Vietcong. Vo continued his three phases of warfare, remaining reasonable successful with I and II in fighting the superior arms and numbers of the South Vietnamese and their American allies. As long as he remained patient, Vo fared well. In 1965, however, he challenged the first American combat divisions with North Vietnamese divisions across the border into neighboring sanctuaries.

Vo attempted to recreate his successes on the Americans with the Tet Offensive during the lunar New Year celebrations in 1968 when North Vietnamese forces temporarily captured most provincial southern capitals. International news headlines were made as the ground floor of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was attacked and put into contention, and the Dien Bien Phu-like siege of Khe Sanh ensued. But in less than six weeks the Americans and the South Vietnamese virtually annihilated the Vietcong and seriously depleted the North Vietnamese forces.

One controversial theory raised by historians is that the Tet Offensive was aimed at trying to damage American morale and send shock waves to the home front. If this was true, then Giap succeeded as the images shown across America heightened the American public's reluctance to continue participation in the conflict. Before the Tet Offensive occurred, the public were told by the administration that they were ultimately winning against the Vietnamese, yet when the Offensive happened, it showed that America was going to be trapped in a long fight.

The eventual success of Giap and North Vietnam depended on outlasting American commitment to the war, and waiting until the United States withdrew most of its troops. In 1972 Giap started the Eastertide Offensive. South Vietnamese troops, supported by American air power, once again stopped the communist offensive. The losses were so great that the communists removed Giap from command and returned him to Hanoi as minister of defense. The North Vietnamese forces finally defeated South Vietnam and reunited the country into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1975. Giap was made minister of defence and deputy premier in the new government.

Giap, who never trained as a military leader other than reading some articles in an old encyclopedia, nonetheless proved himself as a master at accomplishing victory against tremendous odds. His tactics were simple, and he allowed his subordinate commanders much latitude. In the end, his willingness to fight as long as necessary and sustain as many casualties as required gained him victory and unification of his country. He is cited in Vietnam as a "national treasure," and regarded internationally as a unique expert on guerrilla warfare.

His metaphoric appellation is Nui Lua, roughly "volcano beneath the snow" meaning a cold exterior but boiling within, an apt description of his personality according to those who know him. Associates also have described him as forceful, arrogant, impatient and dogmatic.

Vo has been a prolific writer whose titles include "Big Victory, Great Task", "Dien Bien Phu" and "Once Again We Will Win."

External links

de:Vo Nguyen Giap es:Vo Nguyen Giap fr:Vo Nguyen Giap it:Vo Nguyen Giap ja:ボー・グエン・ザップ nl:Vo Nguyen Giap pl:Vo Nguyen Giap vi:V Nguyn Gip zh:武元甲


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