Post date: 27/10/2013

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Vo Nguyen Giap: Vietnam’s last centurion*

General Vo Nguyen Giap’s career spans sixty-four years of active service to the Vietnam Communist Party, the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Vietnamese nation.

General Giap’s career may be divided into six phases. In the first phase, from 1927-1994, he was a student activist, progressive journalist, a political activist, a political prisoner, teacher and a postgraduate student.

The second phase of his career, from 1944-73, was his most important. General Giap held multiple appointments as commander in chief of the People’s Army of Vietnam, Minister of National Defence, and member of the Politburo.

In this second phase General Giap transformed a platoon of 34 men into a people’s army that in the course of ten years was able to defeat the French on the battle field. General Giap, who was never formally trained in the military arts, mastered the military writings of Mao along with those of Napoleon and Clausewitz. He integrated these teaching with Vietnamese military tradition.

General Giap became a master strategist whose aim was to drive the French out of Vietnam. He combined local war with regional warfare. He built up an impressive capacity for military logistics. He brought all these skills together at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. He first crearted a diversion by driving into Laos and then quickly launching a strike at Dien Bien Phu. He disregarded advice from his Chinese advisors and employed siege tactics to humble the French.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu not only marked the end of French colonialism in Indochina but global colonialism.

After partition in 1954 General Giap modernized the People’s Army of Vietnam and saw to the creation of an embryonic navy and air defence-air force. General Giap took main responsibility for the war in the south roughly during the decade 1963-73,

At the end of phase two, aged 79, General Giap relinquished operation control of the People’s Army of Vietnam.

During phase three, from 1974-80, General Giap held the posts of member of the Politburo, Minister of National Delfence and Vice Premier.

During phase four, from 1981-1991, General Giap gradually gave up his many responsibilities. In 1980 he retired as Minister of National Defence and assumed ministerial-level responsibilities for science and technology, demography and family planning and then education.

In 1991 at age 80 he stepped down as Deputy Premier and entered the sixth phase of his career in full time retirement. During this period he occasionally made public comments on important anniversaries and tendered his advice to the government and party on important issues. Probably his most notable intervention came in 2009 when he offered his views on bauxite mining and its impact on the environment and national security.

General Giap will be forever be remembered for developing the People’s Army of Vietnam and masterminding the defeat of two major foreign powers, France and the United States. He was single minded in his pursuit of Vietnamese independence and national reunification. He was a loyal member of the party who worked closely with Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong. General Giap was also a patriot, nationalist and military strategist extraordinaire. He mastered the art of people’s war by combining political with military struggle in a protracted war that wore down his opponents.

General Giap’s career has captured the imagination of both the younger and older generations in Vietnam. This is witnessed by the spontaneous outpouring of grief by citizens of all ages who flocked to his home to light candles and incense. General Giap embodied the Vietnamese character of using their intellect to devise tactics and strategies by rudimentary weapons could overcome modern weapons and by which the seemingly weak could defeat the strong.

*Commander of a century (100 men) in the Roman Army but in this context a professional soldier/commander who has reached 100 years of age.

Carl Thayer

Center for Defense and Strategic Studies (CDSS), Australian, a well-known expert on security in Southeast Asia, the East Sea and China.

Source: VIETNAMNET Bridge