Vo Nguyen Giap


The passing of this Vietnamese communist revolutionary should be noted.  Giap was a scion of a family of the landholding class in Tonkin.  He grew up in comfortable circumstances and was educated in public institutions created by the French colonial administration of Indochina.  He was a student at Hanoi University from 1933 to 1938.  He became a provincial schoolteacher on graduation.  There is a great irony in this since many of the French paratroop officers he waged war against had been provincial school teachers and reservists before World War Two.

Giap displayed a taste for revolutionary politics from an early age.  He took an active role in organizing Vietnamese guerrillas against Japanese occupying forces during WW2.

The French decision to re-occupy Indochina at war's end put Giap and other Vietnamese revolutionaries on the path to creation of a socialist state with the help of the communist countries of Europe and Asia and with the sympathy of leftists across the world.  Communist China began to provide large amounts of materiel aid as well as training at all levels after 1948.

Giap was not a field commander on the model of many who could be named.  He was a military theorist and organizer of victory.  He was more like Fox Connor or George Marshall than he was like Patton, Guderian or Rommel.

His writings are significant in the context of the literary patrimony of the military art.  "People's War, People's Army,"  is, in my opinion, the best theoretical work on insurgency that emerged in the post WW2 era.  It is much better than the writings of Guevara or Mao.

A North Vietnamese Colonel supposedly told Harry Summers that although the US won all the battles in the VN war, the communists won the war.  In that context it can be fairly said that Giap won both the French War and the US War.  He won both wars because his forces and strategy exhausted political support for these wars among the populace of his adversaries.  pl




This entry was posted in Vietnam. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Vo Nguyen Giap

  1. b says:

    Giap was certainly one of the really great generals.
    A small, little known episode missing in the above and in Wikipedia that shows some classic blowback.
    In July 1945, a six-man OSS Special Operations Team Number 13, code-named “Deer,” parachuted into the jungles near Hanoi with the mission of setting up guerrilla teams of 50 to 100 men to attack the railroad line running from Hanoi to Lang Sơn and thus slow down Japan’s movement into southern China. General Võ Nguyên Giáp and 200 guerrilla fighters greeted them. One member of the OSS team was a weapons trainer. They intended to air drop in a supply of weapons for the Việt Minh and teach them to use them.

    Some members of this team soon developed a close working relationship between themselves and Hồ and Giáp. Thomas even used Hồ’s recommendations for United States Army Air Forces targets against the Japanese in direct defiance of his OSS orders.
    After they received supply drops in early August, the Deer team began small arms and weapons training for the communists. The weapons trained were the M-1 and M-1 carbines as well as mortars, grenades, bazookas, and machine guns. The Japanese surrendered on 15 August and so the training mission was over almost before it began. The Deer Team gave the weapons to the Việt Minh and started making plans for their departure.
    One wonders how many of those M1s were still in use when the U.S. tried to occupy Viet Nam.

  2. turcopolier says:

    “One wonders how many of those M1s were still in use when the U.S. tried to occupy Viet Nam.” We tried to occupy VN? If you had been there the “try” in your sentence would not be present. We did occupy SVN with the help of a great many of its inhabitants. There were many OSS contacts between the OSS and Viet Minh at the end of WW2. Aaron Bank was a traveling companion of Ho for months. The US government foolishly decided to support the French effort to reoccupy the countries of Indochina. The reasons for this were deeply embedded in the politics of the Europe of the day. The VC and NVA did not use US made weapons, and not French weapons either. The logistics of finding ammunition for such weapons would have been a daunting task. The communist forces were richly provided with a flood of Warsaw Pact and Chinese weapons and ammunition. They did not need old junk from WW2. IMO Giap is a great general only in the sense that Eisenhower was a great general. So far as I know he never fought in any of the great battles of his two wars. At DBP he never got closed than the artillery gun line. IMO he would never have won there if Navarre had been able to read a map. pl

  3. VietnamVet says:

    We must note the passing of General Giap. He did impact our lives.
    There are lessons to be learned from history. Such as never get mixed up in someone else’s Civil War. Forty years later the USA was on the brink of getting into the Syrian Civil War. The covert training and arms shipments to the Free Syrian Army could still draw America back into the Big Sandy again.
    Vietnam could be described as a lost battle in a Cold War Victory; except, no one celebrated our success. The Soviet Union collapsed when the Russians contrary to propaganda realized that they weren’t living in the best of all possible worlds. A repeat is playing out now with America’s Empire:
    In the end, only the Transnational Elite win.

  4. turcopolier says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Na_San This is one that Giap lost disastrously.
    “Late 1 December into 2 December:
    At 9:00 PM, General Giap’s forces launched their all out offensive at Nà Sản. Wave after wave of soldiers relentlessly assaulted several P.A., especially 21 bis and 26; sometimes the attackers outnumbered the defenders fifteen to one. All night, Dakotas dropped flares over the battlefields to give support troops visibility to defend the positions. Defending forces continuously fired their cannons into Vietminh human waves while Privateers dropped bombs onto enemy positions around Nà Sản. The battles raged on until mid-morning when all attacks abruptly stopped, leaving behind an eerie silence.
    Na San had achieved the unthinkable: halting Giap’s seemingly unstoppable Vietminh forces. ” wiki pl

  5. I tend to view Bernand Fall, Harry Summers, and Frances Fitzgerald as authors worth reading about the war in RVN and nearby. What others do the followers of this blog recommend and has enough time passed to at least start learning the long term lessons of this US effort?
    And related to a recent thread how did issues of honor fare in the US officer corps during this effort?

  6. turcopolier says:

    “how did issues of honor fare in the US officer corps during this effort?” I suppose that you are being deliberately insulting. I require an answer. pl

  7. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Col. Lang:
    “At DBP he never got closed than the artillery gun line. IMO he would never have won there if Navarre had been able to read a map.”
    “Na San. This is one that Giap lost disastrously.”
    Was Na San the decisive factor in Navarre’s decision-making prior to Dien Bien Phu? It seems to me he had underestimated the Viet Minh. Shortly before the battle, LTG O’Daniel had noted the danger of ceding the high ground in his report to JCS:
    “The defense area is twelve kilometers long and six kilometers wide. I feel that it can withstand any kind of attack the Viet Minh are capable of launching. However, a force with two or three battalions of medium artillery with air observation could make the area untenable. I would have been tempted to have utilized the high ground surrounding the area, rather than the low ground, and when I asked about this, the commander said that the fields of fire were better where they were.”
    (John W. O’Daniel, Report to Joint Chiefs of Staff, “U.S. Special Mission to Indochina,” February 5, 1954)

  8. turcopolier says:

    Yes, I think Gilles’ victory at Na San led Navarre to think that more could be accomplished with similar resources. at the same time Paris was pressing him to produce a result that would give France leverage at the negotiations at Geneva. O’Daniels does not seem to have understood that the French would not have the resources at DBP to defend a perimeter large enough to keep the airstrip free of continual artillery fire. pl

  9. jmc5588 says:

    Giap made many serious mistakes, costing the lives of thousands of his soldiers (the 1951 campaign in particular comes to mind), but he always seemed to learn from them. If something did not work, then something else had to be tried. No Western commander would have been permitted such a lengthy and costly period of OJT. And the VM retained the initiative from the late 1950 battles on RC4 until the end, eventually crushing the will of France to continue “la sale guerre.”

  10. PL! Why do you assume I am being deliberately insulting? I did not intend to be!

  11. mike says:

    @WRC – “What others do the followers of this blog recommend…”
    Hal Moore,
    David Hackworth,
    Paul Mus,
    Lam Quang Thi,
    Or the view from the other side:
    Doan Van Toai,
    John Delezen’s ‘Red Plateau’
    Truong Nhu Tang’s ‘VC Memoir’
    Also agree with the Colonel on Giap’s books, however they can be hard reading unless you are willing to wade through the communist dialectic to find the acorns.

  12. Medicine Man says:

    Col.: When I saw this news, I wondered immediately what you might have to say. Thank you for commenting.

  13. turcopolier says:

    I particularly like Martin Windrow’s massive book on th french war. “The Last Valley, Dien Bien Phu and the defeat of the French in Indochina,” pl

  14. turcopolier says:

    We and the French killed his soldiers endlessly and it did not seem to bother him at all. they just kept moving replacements to the front like the cookies on Lucille ball’s conveyor belt. By 1968 when I spent a lot of time working at the conveyor belt regular VC units were about 80% northern fillers. pl

  15. Neil Richardson says:

    Thank you, Colonel.

  16. oofda says:

    Colonel, that is a little-appreciated fact, that by 1968, Viet Cong units were about 80% manned from the North. The standard concept seems to be that the VC were from the South and the NVA was the Northern Vietnamese in the war.

  17. turcopolier says:

    VC guerrillas were from the south and were often part time, but the VC regular forces as the military force of COSVN had many full time units and as I said these were more and more made up of northern vietnamese from Tonkin. I spoke to many of them when they were prisoners and they were quite willing to discuss their origin, Their accent was unmistakable to the south Vietnamese. the NVA were, of course, all northerners. pl

  18. Farmer Don says:

    Don’t think I’ll be buying a copy of his book from Amazon.
    “People’s War People’s Army: The Viet Cong Insurrection Manual for Underdeveloped Countries [Paperback]
    Vo Nguyen Giap (Author)
    4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
    Available from these sellers.
    4 new from CDN$ 204.33 11 used from CDN$ 106.64”
    Must be valuable info inside for this price!

  19. Thanks Mike and PL! IMO the Viet Nam War is of lasting historical significance not just to the USA but also Asia and East Asia in particular and hoping more is written about it.

  20. Kunuri says:

    I wholeheartedly recommend any book by late Col.David Hackworth, the copy of his book “Steel My Soldier’s Hearts”, it is still journeying between several table tops around my apartment.
    Unfortunately he could not duplicate himself, or his successes in Viet Nam. If he could, we would not be looking at Giap from the same perspective as we are today.

  21. robt willmann says:

    Regarding books about Vietnam, when you refer to Frances FitzGerald, I guess you mean “Fire in the Lake” (1972), which is pretty long, 442 pages, excluding end notes. I read it as not being sympathetic to U.S. policy. That does not mean it is not scholarly and factual; that is just the impression I got.
    I liked “A Viet Cong Memoir”, by Truong Nhu Tang, which mike mentioned. I think Tang had been the justice minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. He became disillusioned after the war by the squabbling and apparent desire of North Vietnamese to control everything in the south.
    Nguyen Ngoc Huy was exiled out of Vietnam and wrote quite a few books and papers about Vietnam, including about Vietnamese law. He is no longer living. He also spent time in France. I have not yet acquired any of his writings, although I hope to.
    I am curious about what role, if any, General Giap played in the brief war between Vietnam and China in 1979.

  22. Amir says:

    As someone who has no direct personal experience with the Vietnam Liberation but was imagening how it must have felt to walk in Paris as Ho must have done, I found The following link very interesting:

  23. Neil Richardson says:

    “I am curious about what role, if any, General Giap played in the brief war between Vietnam and China in 1979.”
    Giap had been politically marginalized by the late 1960s (Lien-Hang Nguyen, _Hanoi’s War_). Le Duan, Le Duc Tho and Thanh (until his death) were primarily responsible for the direction of the war by 1967. Giap had lost most of his influence after the Easter Offensive when he was replaced by Van Tien Dung. He had also opposed the invasion of Cambodia. IIRC he had lost the defense ministry portfolio by the time of the Sino-Vietnese war.

  24. mike says:

    @robt willmann: “I am curious about what role, if any, General Giap played in the brief war between Vietnam and China in 1979.”
    Giap was still Minister of Defense and Secretary of the Party Military Commission during Vietnam’s wars with both China and with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He was not ousted by the Le Duan/Le Duc Tho clique until 1981.

  25. Perhaps am greatly in error but I always found it of interest that Viet Nam for so long and so skillfully fended off the Chinese including to some degree culturally!

  26. turcopolier says:

    To describe the Communist war against SVN and the US as a war of liberation is just silly leftism. We did not want their wretched country, pl

  27. Tigershark says:

    Just as point of historical accuracy, Lucy and Ethel were in a chocolate factory, supposedly researched at the See’s Candy factory in Los Angeles.

  28. Charles I says:

    After many perilous years here, methinks your supposer is overrsensitive to disparagement.
    A couple of flavors of honor seem redolent when I think of Walt coming across a prisoner being dropped out of a helicopter.

  29. turcopolier says:

    Charles I
    Thanks, friend. Border Warlord’s staffies were mighty irritated with me just then. pl

  30. jmc5588 says:

    You were down there with the 5th, 7th, and 9th “PLAF” Divisions. They started out with single locally-recruited battalions in the early 60s, then gradually increased to regiments. A division would usually have one regiment largely of southern soldiers and two of PAVN. After Tet 68 they were almost all northern, getting assigned to a regiment and getting killed before anyone even knew who they were. In 68-69 we killed the 9th Division three times, but they still kept coming, hitting targets of opportunity from bases in Cambodia. I’ve talked to hundreds of PAVN veterans over the past 20 years. Many of them are amazed that they survived. None of them doubt the justice of their cause, even if they doubted they would live to see it prevail. It may be those qualit1es of endurance and acceptance of fate (not resignation) that allowed Giap and his successors to spend those resources so freely, without much concern about dissent within the ranks.

  31. turcopolier says:

    We had all those NVA divisions in my first tour area at one time or another. We also had VC Military Region ten main force units at battalion level. pl

  32. Keith Harbaugh says:

    An occasional topic at SST is WHY did the U.S. abandon its war effort,
    either direct or indirect, in Vietnam.
    I have views on that, which may be worth putting forward.
    Surely the loss of public support for the war was a primary reason.
    But WHY did public opinion turn against support for the war, and the Republic of Vietnam?
    In my opinion, the primary reason was HOW the media presented the war.
    I had a good view on the media’s presentation of the war.
    I was a graduate student in Boston from September 1967 to January 1973,
    and subscribed to and regularly read both the Boston Globe and New York Times.
    One photo was omnipresent in the coverage of the war by both papers:
    the photo of a Viet Cong captive having his brains blown out by a South Vietnamese officer:
    Rarely was the context, described in the Wikipedia article, for the execution mentioned.
    The photo ran again and again, accompanying stories about VN.
    The effect on readers was clear: to present the war as a series of brutal attacks by U.S. and RVN forces against their foe.
    Later in the war, another photo became another nearly inevitable accompaniment to VN stories:
    The one of the young girl running naked down a dirt road, fleeing a napalm bombing:
    (See her today:
    http://www.digitaljournal.com/img/6/8/2/8/9/9/i/1/5/7/o/About-Face-Phan-Thi-Kim-Phuc-2.jpg )
    Like the execution, this, after June 1972, was ubiquitous in accompanying stories on the war.
    I suspect the cumulative effect of those photos on public opinion was profound.
    And was the result of the deliberate attempt of the media’s editors to drive down support for the war.
    On the other hand,
    in this blog I have read Colonel Lang reference the brutal tactics various forces on the NVA/VC side used to kill what they viewed as “enemies of the people”.
    I really appreciate his bringing that up,
    for the brutality on the other side, in my memory, really didn’t get much coverage.
    To make a long story short,
    I think public opinion turned against the war because of how the media presented it.
    You can see how Wikipedia describes the coverage here:
    and Wikipedia’s views on the antiwar movement here:
    This last reference suggests the primary reason for declining support was
    concern over the loss of young U.S. men in what was portrayed as an endless and unwinnable war.
    Whether the war was winnable is arguable;
    the loss of so many young U.S. men surely was a factor;
    but the media’s methods described above surely was also a major factor.

Comments are closed.