Vo Nguyen Giap

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For more information, see: Vietnam War.

Vo Nguyen Giap (25 August 1911 – 4 October 2013) was the principal military commander for the Communist forces in Vietnam, both against the French as leader of the Viet Minh troops, and the first Senior General of the People's Army of Viet Nam, and Minister of Defense until 1980.

He wrote extensively, perhaps best known for People's war, People's Army[1]. Giap could be frank within government circles,[2] write in dense Communist revolutionary jargon,[2] or speak eloquently, as in discussions with some of his former opponents. [3]

His approach draws from Marxist-Leninist and Maoist principles of inherently grand strategic political warfare; "Not only did we fight in the military field but in the political, economic and cultural fields." [1] Its execution ties strongly to Mao's doctrine of protracted war, which includes high attrition as a basic premise.[4]

Every minute, hundreds of thousands of people die all over the world. The life or death of a hundred, a thousand, or of tens of thousands of human beings, even if they are his compatriots, represents very little. [5]

Still, he was more in the tradition of armed dau tranh than his chief rival of the time Truong Chinh. Subsequently, however, as Le Duan took power from the ailing Ho Chi Minh in 1964, both of those pro-Soviet leaders lost power by 1968, apparently through disappointment in the results of the General Offensive-General Uprising. No one seriously describes Giap as only a kindly teacher. His actions, along with those of others, resulted in the deaths of at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of human beings. Nevertheless, when he met with Moore and Galloway on September 2, 1990, his conversation did focus on Vietnamese-U.S. history and relations, and was cordial. As the meeting ended, Moore impulsively gave Giap his watch as a memento from one old soldier to another.

Giap held the watch in both hands, looking at it in amazement, as tears gathered in his eyes and mine. Then he turned and clutched me to himself in a full embrace. It was my turned to be stunned as this former enemy — arguably one of the greatest military commanders of the twentieth century — held me like a son in his arms for a long moment.[6]

Early life

Born to a peasant family that was educated and nationalist, in what is now Quang Binh Province he entered at the Quoc Hoc French school in Hue in 1922. At the age of 14, he joined the Tan Viet (Revolutionary Party for a great Viet Nam), was expelled for political activism in 1927, and participated in the unsuccessful Yen Bai revolt by the VNQDD in 1930. [7] Returning to school, he eventually received a law degree in 1937 and a doctorate in political economics in 1938; he had taught history while his study and his early career has often been described as "teacher".

He joined the Indochinese Communist Party, founded in 1930 by Ho Chi Minh, possibly somewhat after its creation, but was active in it by 1936. Giap, in 1940, went to join Ho in China. He never saw his wife and sister again, who died in French custody. [5].

Second World War and immediate aftermath

Until March 1945, Vichy French officials and military, in Vietnam, cooperated with Japan. The U.S. first became aware of the Viet Minh in 1942, through activities of Ho; Giap was not, at first, known.[8] The Viet Minh had been founded in May 1941. [9] Review of previously classified U.S. communications intelligence suggests the Viet Minh were stronger than generally believed; after being driven out of Indochina, they trained and armed in China, which became known to Japanese and French intelligence.[10] French VADM and Governor-General Jean Decoux[11] reported attacks, explicitly identified as Viet Minh, in December 1943 and February 1944. There was also a rebellion against French economic policies, in November 1944. [12]

In the Vichy-Japanese context, Ho, in 1944, ordered Giap to set up an Armed Propaganda Brigade. That unit, initially of 34 men, was created on December 22, which is considered the birthday of the People's Army of Viet Nam. On the 24th, it attacked French posts at Khai Phat and Na Ngan, mostly for supplies. [13] Viet Minh troops did obtain U.S. assistance in forming and arming, but only first fought the Japanese, rather than the French, in 1945.

Giap became known outside the local circles as the key military deputy to Ho. As a result of June 1945 negotiations, in Chungking, China, between the French and American Office of Strategic Services, OSS MAJ Allison Thomas, formed the DEER mission to investigate Vietnamese resources against the Japanese. [14]. Thomas' DEER team stayed, for several weeks, with Ho and Giap. The mission deliberately had no French participation, which OSS detachment Patti considered would be unwelcome. [15]

Following the Japanese surrender, Viet Minh forces entered Hanoi on August 15-19. [16]. Giap, with the DEER team, was still fighting the Japanese, 40 km away. [17] Patti's team was met by Ho and Giap after the OSS arrived in Hanoi in late August. Giap, representing Ho, and Patti, soon met with the French intelligence officer, MAJ Jean R. Sainteny. It must be remembered that the French had not reestablished authority over still-armed Japanese.

Patti emphasizes that Cochinchina in the south, with Saigon at its heart, was very separate from Tonkin and Hanoi. Even the southern and northern Communists differed as to how broad a front they would accept. [18] Bao Dai was scheduled to abdicate on August 30.

While Ho declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, this must be taken in the context It is in the context that actions in Hanoi did not necessarily affect areas outside Tonkin. After Ho's dramatic introductory speech, he turned the podium over to Giap, in the role of Minister of the Interior. Giap spoke of the Party role in social, economic, educational and cultural, and politicomilitary areas. In the latter, he singled out China and the United States as allies, but did not mention the Soviet Union.[19]

Revolutionary warfare against France

After a year of training the Viet Minh, he launched the first major offensive on October 1, 1950.[20] Combat continued until the decisive defeat of French forces, in 1954, at Dien Bien Phu.

Vietnam War

While Giap retained the title of Defense Minister, Nguyen Chi Thanh, until his death in 1967, commanded operations in the South. [21], who was succeeded by Tran Van Tra. Giap's protege, Van Tien Dung, who had been Giap's chief of staff at Dien Bien Phu, commanded the 1975 invasion of South Vietnam.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Vo Nguyen Giap (1962), People's war, People's Army, Praeger Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "PWPA" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 , Strengthening National Defense and Building Up the People's Armed Forces, "World Situation and Our Party's International Mission" as seen from Hanoi, 1960-1964., Saigon: U.S. Mission in Vietnam, September 1960, Vietnam Documents and Research Notes No. 98 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Giap-Sept1960" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Moore, Harold G. (Hal) & Joseph L. Galloway (2008), We are soldiers still: a journey back to the battlefields of Vietnam, Harper Collins
  4. Mao Tse-tung (1967), On Protracted War, Foreign Languages Press
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mallin, Jay (1973), General Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnamese Military Leader, SamHar Press, p. 9 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Mallin" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Moore and Galloway 2008, pp. 10-11
  7. Patti, Archimedes L. A. (1980). Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America's Albatross. University of California Press. , pp. 483-484
  8. Patti, p. 47
  9. Cima, Ronald J., ed. (1987), Establishment of the Viet Minh, Vietnam: A Country Study, Library of Congress
  10. Hanyok, Robert (Spring 1996), "Guerrillas in the Mist: COMINT and the Formation and Evolution of the Viet Minh, 1941-45", Cryptologic Quarterly 15 (1), pp. 101-102
  11. Patti, p. 480
  12. Hanyok 1996, p. 103-104
  13. Mallin, pp. 7-8
  14. Patti, p. 107
  15. Patti, pp. 127-129
  16. Roger Hilsman, introduction p. xxxv to Giap
  17. Patti, p. 167
  18. Patti, p. 184
  19. Patti, p. 151
  20. Fall, Bernard B. (1967), Street without Joy (Fourth, Shocken paperback 1972 ed.), Schocken, pp. 29ff
  21. Moyar, Mark (2006), Triumph Forsaken, Cambridge University Press, p. 297