VO NGUYEN GIAP

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Retired General Vo Nguyen Giap in 1991.

(b. 1911), general and commander of the People’s Army of Vietnam. Vo Nguyen Giap is best known as the general and commander of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) during the Vietnamese resistance against France and the United States between 1946 and 1973. Giap is widely recognized as an expert in military science and particularly in logistics, tactics, and strategy. His personal style of conducting war, crafted from a wide array of sources and field experiences, enabled the Vietnamese armies under his command to oust both the French and U.S. military forces from his country.

Giap was born in Quan Binh Province in 1911 to a poor family that was fervently anti-French. After reading the writings of Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969), he joined the underground Communist Party in his teens and, because of his anti-French activities, was imprisoned by the French at the age of sixteen.

After he was released, he entered the National University in Hanoi and earned a Bachelor of Law degree. After graduation, Giap became a public member of the Communist Party in 1937, coauthored the influential study The Peasant Problem with Truong Chinh (1907–1988) in 1938, and in 1939 published The Question of National Liberation in Indochina, which stressed the importance of protracted warfare for defeating a foreign military adversary. He professed that revolutionary warfare passed through three stages: guerrilla warfare, strategic defensive, and counteroffensive, and worked later to follow this process against the French and the United States.

In 1940 he fled to China after the French banned the Communist Party. There he began a long relationship with Ho Chi Minh. Ho appointed Giap head of the anti-French guerrilla forces, later to be known as the Viet Minh, and ordered Giap to the mountainous region in northern Vietnam, where he successfully recruited and trained hill tribes and lowland Vietnamese for the anti-French cause. Giap’s forces made their first attacks against French installations in December 1944 and later, after learning of the Japanese surrender in August 1945, marched his troops into Hanoi. The Viet Minh was able to claim control from the Red River to the Mekong Delta between 19 and 30 August, which enabled Ho to proclaim the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in September 1945. Giap became the minister of the interior in the new government and later was promoted to the rank of full general and commander of all Viet Minh military forces.

During the ensuing Vietnamese-French war beginning in 1946, Giap shaped the new People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) into a strong and motivated fighting force with rigorous military training and a program of political indoctrination and education. He depicted Vietnam’s war for independence as a political war first and a military one second, a people’s war that involved total commitment from the population. His victory at Dien Bien Phu against the French in 1954 ensured his international recognition. After the French ouster from Indochina, Giap led the DRV forces against the Republic of Vietnam and the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. After Ho’s death in 1969, Giap shared power in Hanoi with Le Duan (1908–1986) and Pham Van Dong (b. 1906). In 1972, after the failed Easter Offensive, Giap was replaced as commander of DRV forces but retained his position of minister of defense, which he held until 1980. In 1982 he lost his seat on the Politburo but remained very popular with the Vietnamese public. He spent the next years making trips to other Communist countries and in 1992 was awarded the Gold Star Order, Vietnam’s highest decoration.

Further Reading Currey, Cecil B. (1997) Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. Washington, DC: Brassey’s. Davidson, Phillip B. (1988) Vietnam at War: The History, 1946–1975. Novato, CA: Presidio Press. Giap, Vo Nguyen. (1962) Dien Bien Phu. Hanoi, Vietnam: Foreign Languages Press. ———. (1967) People’s War People’s Army: The Viet Cong’s Insurrection Manual for Underdeveloped Countries. New York: Praeger. ———. (1975) Unforgettable Months and Years. Translated by Mai Elliot. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ———. (1978) Unforgettable Days. Hanoi, Vietnam: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

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