Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013)

Old timers will remember the name Vo Nguyen Giap. He was the legendary leader of the North Vietnamese army who is credited with leading the Vietnamese to victory over much more powerful armies, first famously defeating the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and later successfully resisting the US invasion of his country and forcing them out, leading to the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.

Giap died yesterday at the ripe old age of 102. This obituary describes how the wily general outmaneuvered the occupying forces with limited resources, although at great cost in lives. The war waged by the US in Vietnam, using napalm, Agent Orange, defoliants, and other chemicals that devastated the countryside and caused untold damage to people was an atrocity.

this article has a brief video clip of his life.


  1. colnago80 says

    Ole Giap was a totally ruthless individual whose tactics led to the death of millions of his countrymen. In this, he resembled Soviet General Zhukov who basically fought a war of attrition against the Wehrmacht. The number of inhabitants of the former Soviet Union who were killed is estimated at 25 million, most of them soldiers. Russia has still not recovered from the loss of such a large fraction of their male breeding population. As a consequence, the population of Russia has been declining for years.

    I guess that, since he ultimately won his wars, defeating France, the US, and finally China, that justifies his tactics. The old ends justifying the means.

    Interestingly enough, in his declining years, he supported burying the hatchet with the US as it became clear that China was the real threat to Vietnam. I wonder how the Government of Vietnam views the appeasement tactics of the US vis Syria and Iran as they contemplate how they can stay out of the clutches of China.


  2. Lee Witt says

    Nothing written here was favorable to his tactics: rather, it was a statement of historical fact. His tactics led to the defeat of the French and the United States. There was no assertion of “ends justifying the means” – note the comment

    how the wily general outmaneuvered the occupying forces with limited resources, although at great cost in lives.

    I would add (my opinion) that Giap’s forces were able to prevail against the United States in part because of the foolish leadership of U.S. military. Attempting to use overwhelming military force against an enemy using primarily guerrilla tactics, and refusing to change when it became obvious it wasn’t working, was a horrendous decision. Westmoreland and his lackeys differed from Giap in willingness to sacrifice soldiers only in magnitude.

  3. Al Dente says

    Vo Nguyen Giap was a victorious general in the mode of Douglas Haig and Ferdinand Foch. He threw troops at the enemy regardless of casualties. Haig lost a million Britons at the Battle of the Somme. Giap only got 45,000 of his troops killed during the Tet Offensive, but because of lack of resources, not through lack of effort.

  4. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Giap and the cause he served were atrocious too. Their one virtue was that the Vietnamese could say of them “Our rulers then/ Were at least our countrymen”.
    In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was curious how other opponents of US involvement in Vietnam could convince themselves that the Vietnamese Communist Party and its leaders were decent cuddly liberals when all the evidence- including their own words- was against them. Even South Vietnamese members of the NLF chose not to know what their leaders announced.

  5. mnb0 says

    “later successfully resisting the US invasion of his country ”
    The USA never invaded North-Vietnam. No American ground soldier ever crossed the so called Demilitarized Zone at the 17th Parallel North.
    Bombing, no matter how ruthless, is not enough to call an attack an invasion.

    A few people above seem to forget that the South-Vietnamese government (from 1954 until 1975) was at least as atrocious as the North-Vietnamese one. South-Vietnam was the first example of the democratic USA with it’s high principles supporting a cruel dictature in the name of the fight against communism. Many more examples would follow.
    It makes me sick if Americans try to deny or duck that responsibility; if non-Americans do I think them plain stupid. I don’t need to be a fan of VNG for this; I’m certainly not.
    The USA, in particular the so beloved president Kennedey, made the wrong moral ánd the wrong political choice in the 60’s. It’s as simple as that.

  6. lorn says

    What gets lost is that “napalm, Agent Orange, defoliants, and other chemicals” are not so much devices as tactical choices. The Giap’s forces used guerrilla tactics backed by waves of terrorism, bribery, assassination, enforced starvation/ theft of crops, exploitation of peasant labor, and, once the situation was ripe, bloody mass attacks that sought to overwhelm superior technology and firepower with numbers. That was their choice of tactics.

    The US lost roughly 60,000 men. Giap lost over a million. And that doesn’t cover civilian casualties in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia.

    There is no good way to die. The results of an attack with a machete is every bit as ugly as a napalm strike. Spend some time in a trauma center. The ugliness is not a result of methodology, but result. There is no good way to die.

  7. colnago80 says

    Interestingly enough, Ho Chi Minh gave an interview shortly before his death in which he stated that the biggest mistake the US made was throwing Ngo Dinh Diem under the bus. In his considered opinion, Diem was a more formidable adversary then the likes of Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky.

    Unlike other Communist leaders, Minh had actually lived in the US for several years around the time of WW1 and gained a much better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses then did these other leaders, none of whom had even visited the US.


  8. Francisco Bacopa says

    I had no idea Giap was so young.

    And for those who complain that Gaip got a lot of people killed, you have to remember that he was fighting an enemy that stopped at almost nothing short of attacking his foreign strategic supply lines.

    And he won, didn’t he?

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    South-Vietnam was the first example of the democratic USA with it’s high principles supporting a cruel dictature in the name of the fight against communism.

    Evidently you haven’t read up much on the history of 20th-century Latin America.

    Not to mention Korea, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Iran…

    But all that went into overdrive during/after the war on Vietnam.

  10. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Russia recovered pretty well from the WW2. The current decline is due to the social disruption in the 1990’s after Soviet Union collapsed.

    The Vietnamese have been aware of the Chinese threat for more than a thousand years. In late 1940’s they even had a brief war against Chinese intruders. And the first “boat people” to escape after 1975 were from the Chinese minority.

  11. colnago80 says

    Wrong, the decline of the Soviet Union began long before the 1990s. By the way, after the Vietnam War finally ended, there was a Chinese invasion of Vietnam to force the Vietnamese Government to pay back some of the funds that had been loaned to it by China.

  12. Nick Gotts says

    By “his country”, I think Mano Singham meant Vietnam. After the French withdrawal, the plan according to the Geneva Accords was for all-Vietnam elections followed by reunification in 1956. The USA supported the coup in the south by Ngo Dinh Diem, which aborted this plan, because it feared the Communists would win the elections. Both North and South Vietnamese regimes were brutal tyrannies, but American interference cost millions of lives, not only in Vietnam but in Laos and Cambodia.

  13. Nick Gotts says

    Trite nonsense. The Allies had to kill a lot of people to defeat the Nazis. I’m glad they were prepared to do so.

  14. colnago80 says

    As bad as the South Korean regime was in the 1950s, the regime in North Korea was far, far, worse.

  15. AsqJames says

    The USA never invaded North-Vietnam. No American ground soldier ever crossed the so called Demilitarized Zone at the 17th Parallel North.

    Really? I guess Operation Ivory Coast never happened then.

  16. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Not in the 1950s. Or the 1960s- both were murderous impoverished dictatorships. South Korea had the long-term advantage of being a less efficient dictatorship. Also the enormous amount of money supplied to South Korea by the USA in the Vietnam war helped Korean industrial development.

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