View Full Version : Giap obituary: winner of three small wars

10-05-2013, 01:33 PM
Yesterday General Giap passed away, aged 102, he was the brilliant Vietnamese general who led communist forces in the wars that forced two powerful adversaries – France and America – out of his homeland. The third being Japan, according to one obituary; which few will agree with.

One passage illustrates the controversy around him:
But he was far more than just an able coordinator of the small-scale jungle skirmish. Major set-piece battles and broad offensives were well within his compass too, though often at high cost. At home, only Ho Chi Minh was better loved. Abroad, even Giap’s opponents – perhaps particularly his opponents – suggested that he merited a place in the pantheon of great military leaders of modern times, alongside such figures as Wellington and Rommel.


A shorter BBC obituary:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-13561646

10-05-2013, 02:27 PM
Le Monde’s obituary: http://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2013/10/04/le-general-giap-heros-de-l-independance-vietnamienne-est-mort_3490198_3382.html

Last winter I read Peter Macdonald’s biography (http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/25367613), which I recall attributing much of the victory at Dien Bien Phu to Giap’s grasp of logistics.

10-05-2013, 03:58 PM
Sometimes it takes some time for the real historical account to surface (especially those associated with a Communist regime and a sympathetic Western news-press). That said, there are those who maintain now, as more records and accounts are surfacing, that Giap was on the outs with the North Vietnam government through much of the US involvement. Any sources or comments on this? Remember that Communist regimes are quick to lionize and slow to discredit. Tet '68 is a good place to start in this type of research and work back from there.

John T. Fishel
10-05-2013, 04:01 PM
Giap was, indeed, a great military leader. Generally he used his resources wisely and the one he had the most of was manpower; therefore he expended it, mostly with success. His high point was Dien Bien Phu which was truly a triumph of logistics (manpower based) bringing his artillery up mountains that his French adversary believed could not be done. From there, Giap could pound the French forts and not be touched by French artillery which resulted in the suicide of the French artillery commander.

While there is apparently some controversy about Giap's role in the Tet Offensive, he was the architect of the 1972 Easter Offensive. Its failure cost him command of the NVA. Nevertheless, the final offensive in 1975 followed essentially the same campaing plan as the one three years before.

That Giap was a patriot is impossible to argue and it is hard to argue with his success as a military leader. He was a worthy adversary.


Bill Moore
10-05-2013, 06:47 PM
Sometimes it takes some time for the real historical account to surface (especially those associated with a Communist regime and a sympathetic Western news-press). That said, there are those who maintain now, as more records and accounts are surfacing, that Giap was on the outs with the North Vietnam government through much of the US involvement. Any sources or comments on this? Remember that Communist regimes are quick to lionize and slow to discredit. Tet '68 is a good place to start in this type of research and work back from there.

Through the years the biggest criticism I heard about Giap was his disregard for his people's lives. His unconventional campaigns may have been skillfully executed (not sure how much influence he had those tactics), but the human wave attacks on fortified positions (repeatedly) were called into question. I suppose doing that a couple of times would demonstrate their will to the world which is important, but if (this is a big if) we continued to fight it would have eventually depleted his conventional capacity to wage major combat operations. However it didn't get to that point, so whether through deliberate strategy based on sound analysis or sheer luck he prevailed.

Some thoughts from various authors on Giap follow:


Giap's nearly fatal mistake in the anti-French war was the too-early challenge of French forces in open battles during the first half of 1951. In three battles, the Viet-minh were defeated each time and Giap almost lost his position as Viet-minh commander in chief. The Viet-minh immediately went back to stage II - smaller battles on their own terms in scattered areas.

The basis of this fame is Giap's leadership of the Viet Minh in their victory over the French in the Indochina War. Giap's fame as a tactician and strategist were exaggerated, that neither his tactics nor his strategies were new or imaginative. Giap's greatest ability was an organizer of the masses in a total effort behind the war. Giap successfully combined the roles of civil organizer, politician and battlefield leader in achieving his victory over the French.

I have seen several comments like the one above, and it illustrates that those who conduct this type of analysis don't understand that as a strategist in this type of war his ability to mobilize the masses, sustain their will to fight, and remaining focused on the political objective was decisive (not the tactics).


This particular paper claims Giap offered nothing new as a strategist or tactician, which in my view demonstrates the flawed understanding of war that many U.S. Army officers have due to their education and training beingfocused on tactics and campaigning. While this paper in many ways praises Giap's achievements, I think the author misses that Giap designed a holistic strategy (not simply a military strategy) to achieve their strategic political objectives. Winning battles was not his focus, so perhaps his brilliance was his ability to keep his focus on the desired strategic aim, while his Western adversaries on the other handwere very much focused on winning battles, which may imply no one in the U.S. sidewas looking at the larger picture. I'll go a step further and argue that our COIN doctrine as practiced simply reinforces this approach.

ABSTRACT (Continued) drawn from the research are that Giap's fame as a tactician and strategist were exaggerated, that neither his tactics nor his strategies were new or imaginative. Giap's greatest ability was as an organizer of the masses in a total effort behind the war. Giap successfully combined the roles of civil organizer, politician and battlefield leader in achieving his victory over the French.

Break, jump to the summary:

Although Giap does not rank with Napoleon or Rommel as either a strategist or tactician, he should be remembered for his ability to simultaneously combine the roles of organizer, politician, and military leader while creating and leading his army. Few other generals have played such all encompassing roles in the history of warfare, especially modern warfare.

This is the key in my view, and unfortunately I have little hope in the U.S.'s ability to transform its approach to where it can truly combine the political and military into one coherent strategy.


This PBS interview with Giap is interesting.

Q: What was new about the idea of the "People's War"?

Giap: It was a war for the people by the people. FOR the people because the war's goals are the people's goals -- goals such as independence, a unified country, and the happiness of its people.... And BY the people -- well that means ordinary people -- not just the army but all people.

We know it's the human factor, and not material resources, which decide the outcome of war. That's why our people's war, led by Ho Chi Minh, was on such a large scale. It took in the whole population.

Q: Was Dien Bin Phu an easy victory because the French made so many mistakes?

For us, the problem was that Navarre wanted to retain the initiative whereas we wanted to seize it. There is a contradiction that exists in a war of aggression whereby you have to disperse your forces to occupy a territory but rally your mobile forces for offensive action. We took advantage of this contradiction and forced Navarre to disperse his forces.

Q: Was your Tet offensive in 1968 a failure?

Giap: As far as we're concerned, there's no such thing as a purely military strategy. So it would be wrong to speak of Tet in purely military terms. The offensive was three things at the same time: military, political, and diplomatic. The goal of the war was de-escalation. We were looking to de-escalate the war. Thus, it would have been impossible to separate our political strategy from our military strategy. The truth is that we saw things in their entirety and knew that in the end, we had to de-escalate the war. At that point, the goal of the offensive was to try to de-escalate the war.

10-05-2013, 07:29 PM
One should not forget Vietnam's war against Cambodia and China. During that
time (1979) Vo was still Minister of Defense. If you judge the outcome of this
war by China's objectives, it was another Vietnamese victory.

10-05-2013, 09:00 PM
so, may Giap rest in peace - wherever that may be (to an athiest).

Based on what I've read (not having been in Hanoi with Jane or anyone else :(), Giap will not be ranked among the great tacticians or strategists; but will find a place among the great military planners and logisticians.

A lesser known aspect of Giap's life is that he was educated in law, history and economics (licensed in law, the colonial authorities never allowed him to practice - probably for good reasons). It's not surprising then that he played a dominant role in purges against counter-revolutionaries from 1945-1956. In that role he was absolutely ruthless and effective.

Giap's role in "targeted killings" (ranging from individual to large-scale) went with the role carved-out for the Propaganda Unit for National Liberation. That armed unit was set up on 27 Dec 1944; and initially consisted of a picked group of some 34 officers and soldiers. It was commanded by one Vo Nguyen Giap. Starting as an armed propaganda unit, its purpose in life was to train and educate local cadres and guerrilla units in both the political and military struggles; and to further both struggles by non-violent agitprop and targeted killings.

Giap was very much focused on the importance of the Rear Area in war, and preserving its security and integrity. The Rear Area was North Vietnam, which had been rebuilt with so much cost and effort between 1955-1964. He wrote about that well before we jumped into an Asian ground war in 1965 centered on South Vietnam (the Front Area). Without laying out the full rant, McNamara-Johnson were ignorant of (or disregarded) Giap; and they did not effectively target the Rear Area from 1964 on - ignorance, fear of risks, etc., etc.

Giap's focus on preserving the North (and being a reluctant warrior in attacking the South) caused him to fall out of favor with those (e.g., Le Duan) who wanted to attack the South regardless of the risks. They were right in the long run.



PS: Giap's Front Area - Rear Area construct was initially laid out in Vo Nguyen Giap, People's War, People's Army. New York: Praeger, 1962; and then in 1967 (when he told us how they'd win), Article by DRV Defense Minister Giap "The Big Victory; The Great Task" (http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2130805016) - October 16, 1967.

10-05-2013, 09:48 PM
It is a while since I read Peter McDonald's biography of Giap. What I do remember is that Giap, along with "Uncle Ho" and others were able to politically mobilise the Vietnamese - a skill that is very hard, even if you eliminate the opposition ruthlessly. North Vietnamese effectively became the "Prussians" of Indo-China.

10-05-2013, 11:06 PM
In the sanitized North Vietnamese version, the Propaganda Unit for National Liberation was the ancestor of the regular NVA (PAVN). In part, this is true. But, the PUNL's more "irregular" activities, such as purges and targeted killings, are ignored - as in this July 2013 article, Meeting a fighter of the Armed Propaganda Unit for National Liberation (http://www.qdnd.vn/qdndsite/en-us/75/72/184/207/207/246669/Default.aspx):

PANO – Under the instruction of General Phung Quang Thanh, Minister of National Defence, a delegation of the Military History Institute of Vietnam, led by its director, Lieu. Gen. Vu Quang Dao, visited To Van Cam, one among 34 fighters of the Armed Propaganda Unit for National Liberation, the predecessor of the Vietnam People’s Army. ...

The "irregular" role is more accurately depicted in this article, The Armed Propaganda Teams of Vietnam (http://www.psywarrior.com/VNArmedPropTeams.html):

This article will discuss the Armed Propaganda Teams of the Government of Vietnam in depth. Curiously, the terms “Armed Propaganda Team” or “APT” was first used by the Communist Government of North Vietnam, and later borrowed by the anti-Communist South who saw that it was a concept that worked.

Long before the Americans came upon the scene in Vietnam, the Indochinese Communist Party formed Armed Propaganda Teams called Doi Tuyen truyen Vo trang. General Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who would later become the hero of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 served as a Team Leader at one point in his career. Although both Uncle Ho and General Giap are given credit for the teams, it appears that Ho wrote the idea down on the back of a pack of cigarettes during the First Revolutionary Party Military Conference in September 1944 and General Giap brought the idea to fruitition. The units had the ability to fight if threatened by the enemy. Otherwise, they would do recruitment, propaganda plays and skits, and organize and mobilize the villages in the Communist cause. On 22 December 1944 Giap formed the First Armed Propaganda Brigade consisting of three teams with a total of 34 people called the Tran Hung Doa Platoon. The unit was armed with one machine gun, 31 rifles and 2 revolvers. That same month Ho Chi Minh created the “Vietnamese People's Propaganda Unit for National Liberation,” which became the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in September 1945. After the Japanese conceded defeat on 16 August 1945, Armed Propaganda Teams spread the news across the country.


According to Forrest E. Morgan in Big Eagle, Little Dragon: Propaganda and the Coercive use of Airpower against North Vietnam:

Nearly all Communist military plans and directives for South Vietnam included lengthy instructions for producing and disseminating propaganda materials to reorient liberated citizens.


Robert Munshower served with 95th Military Police Battalion in Bien Hoa during 1967 to 1968. He told me:

The armed propaganda teams traveled from hamlet to hamlet presenting dramatized plays usually based on historical events but altered in theme to reflect the communist line and to legitimize the invasion of the South. These drama teams also entertained North Vietnamese Army units in the areas that they performed in. Propaganda, Proselytizing, and Drama teams brought the latest news, albeit distorted, invented and modified to fit the official party line emanating from Hanoi. The photos of a North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team in the Field are originals that I purchased from an employee of The Museum of The Revolution in Hanoi.

He adds:

A former Government of Vietnam Army Captain told me that when many of the drama and music teams were captured, the groups usually had a very high number of homosexual males, which just goes to show how committed the communists were to winning the war. They used every resource, including gays, to the maximum.


It is probably correct to say that almost any nighttime visitation of Viet Cong into a village was preceded by an armed propaganda team that explained the Communist cause and prepared the people to meet the needs of the combat forces. The enemy Armed Propaganda Team could move about within the village and pass as farmers or tradesmen. For instance, David Hunt mentions the APTs in an article entitled Villagers at War: The National Liberation Front In My Tho Province, 1965-1967 (http://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/Vietnam/hunt/hunt1.html). Some of his comments are:

Government of Vietnam cadres only came into the hamlets when it was convenient for them to do so, while (Communist) Front cadres who operated openly - that is, who possess legal papers, whose National Liberation Front affiliation is secret - seem to live within the community. The situation in the villages is relatively favorable to the Saigon regime in that the local Front organization cannot function above ground during the day, and Saigon’s “Armed Propaganda Teams" (the idea for such teams, including the name itself, is borrowed directly from the NLF) and regular troops can move around without fear of being hit hard by guerrillas or other NLF units.

There is much, much more in the article - on both the PAVN teams and the ARVN counter-teams.

The last quoted David Hunt article is still linked on the Vietnam webpage of Grover Furr (http://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/vietnam.html) of Montclair State Univ. (who still defends Stalin), as reviewed by Furr:

Villagers at War: The National Liberation Front In My Tho Province, 1965-1967, by David Hunt. One of the two or three foremost American experts on Vietnam, Hunt published this book as a special issue of Radical America in 1974. It has been long out of print and unavailable.

Ever since I read it some years ago, I've found this work very inspiring -- in fact, matched by few if any other works I can think of. It's based upon RAND Corp. interrogations of Vietnamese peasants -- POWs (i.e. members of the NLF), Communist Party members, 'deserters' who fled to the US/South Vietnamese side, and just plain villagers. The quotations from these interrogations are wonderful! They show how the Communist movement won tremendous respect from the Vietnamese peasants, by standing up for the poor and middle peasants; opposing the landlords and their murderous government; fought sexism; and organized young and old, male and female, to build communist relations while in the midst of a horrendously murderous military assault by American forces.

Hunt's BLUF (http://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/Vietnam/hunt/hunt1.html) is less polemical:


Our knowledge of a generation of war in Vietnam is strikingly uneven. On the one hand, eye-witness accounts from veterans, books and newspaper reports, Watergate related disclosures and the Pentagon Papers, have given us a picture of American involvement in Indochina all the way back to 1946. But at the same time, we still know very little about the other side, the Viet Minh and the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam. This is an essay about the NLF in My Tho Province. It deals with the years 1965 to 1967 when the United States tried and failed through large-scale military action to crush the insurgents in the South.

By concentrating on this Mekong Delta Province, I hope [p.4 ] to show what U. S. escalation meant in a specific locale, and how Front cadres (1) resisted the ambitious American campaign to destroy the movement they had built. ...

NLF leaders have always stressed the interdependence of military and political activity within the guerrilla movement. Still, in practice these two facets of the insurgency are clearly distinguishable. There is a great deal of information available on NLF military units, on the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare, on problems of supply, fortification, recruitment and training of soldiers. At the same time, many of our informants are peasants who had served the Front in hamlets and villages, and their recollections provide us with a unique opportunity to observe the "civilian" side of the movement at this grassroots level. In the following pages, I am concerned with the work of local cadres who supported the war effort from their posts in the rural communities of My Tho. In other words, our subject is the political aspects of NLF resistance to U. S. intervention.

My analysis rests on material drawn from the RAND Corporation's "Viet Cong Motivation and Morale'" project, conducted in Vietnam from 1964 to 1969. Designed under Pentagon sponsorship to explore strengths and weaknesses of the NLF, the project consisted of interviews with prisoners of war and with defectors from guerrilla ranks who sought refuge in the Chieu Hoi ("Open Arms") program of the Saigon Government. The interviews are organized by topic, one of which is : "Activities of the Viet Cong Within Dinh Tuong Province." Covering the period from 1965 to January 1968, the "DT" sequence of interviews is the only [p.5] series in the RAND project to focus on a single province.

IMO: All of this reinforces some (perhaps, all) of Bill Moore's points.



10-06-2013, 03:18 PM
A lesser known aspect of Giap's life is that he was educated in law, history and economics (licensed in law, the colonial authorities never allowed him to practice - probably for good reasons). It's not surprising then that he played a dominant role in purges against counter-revolutionaries from 1945-1956. In that role he was absolutely ruthless and effective.

I haven't read much in the way of biographical information on Giap, same some stuff in a History course on Vietnam in college (I have however read a lot on Vietnam).

It doesn't seem to matter that Giap wasn't an exceptional strategist, theorist, tactician, or anything else that folks are inclined to measure him on.

If the wikipedia entry is sufficiently accurate, what is important to remember about Giap was that he was a fairly classically-trained young man (by Western standards), who went to China and spent time with the Communists. He didn't go to West Point, or Anapolis, didn't have the benefit of Command and Staff College or NDU education.

He was Vietnamese-good-enough, and he beat the US because he held a longer view of war. For me at least, that's what comes to mind when I consider his legacy.

10-06-2013, 04:36 PM
Giap was, indeed, a great military leader. Generally he used his resources wisely and the one he had the most of was manpower; therefore he expended it, mostly with success. His high point was Dien Bien Phu which was truly a triumph of logistics (manpower based) bringing his artillery up mountains that his French adversary believed could not be done. From there, Giap could pound the French forts and not be touched by French artillery which resulted in the suicide of the French artillery commander.

While there is apparently some controversy about Giap's role in the Tet Offensive, he was the architect of the 1972 Easter Offensive. Its failure cost him command of the NVA. Nevertheless, the final offensive in 1975 followed essentially the same campaing plan as the one three years before.

The Red Chinese had an awful lot to do with the success at Dien Bien Phu. Giap did well but without Red China it couldn't not have happened.

Are you sure about the 1972 offensive? If I remember correctly, all those offensives were Le Duan's babies. At least that is what I remember reading in Nguyen's Hanoi's War.

John T. Fishel
10-06-2013, 10:47 PM
After 1949 the PRC was the channel to supply the Viet Minh and later the PAVN (NVA). Much of what they funneled was Soviet made along with stuff from other East Bloc countries. As I recall, the PRC did man some NVA air defense sites near the China VN border. But it is well to remember that the Vietnamese never liked the Chinese and fairly soon after the war ended fought a war with them. They also backed competing factions in Cambodia. From what I have read, the PRC did not design the campaign or advise Giap on Dien Bien Phu.

Le Duan was the Viet Minh leader among the stay behinds in the South after the Geneva accords. By the late 50s the Diem regime was crushing the Viet Minh and all Le Duan's pleading from the South to Ho and Giap had no effect. As a result Le Duan went to hanoi and personally convinced the Politburo to support a real effort in the South. So Le Duan and Giap were not always on the same side in the internal politics of the DRVN and the Party. In fact, I recall recently reading that Le Duan saved Giap from being cashiered for cause putting Giap both in his debt and in fear of Le Duan. In any case, Giap was both commander of the NVA and Defense Minister in 1972 which made him the responsible officer for the Easter offensive.

As to Giap as a strategist: I like Ralph Peters' comment put in the words of Meade in Hell or Richmond that Grant did not know how to win battles but he did know how to win the war. I think that applies to Giap overall (although he did know how to win the battle of Dien Bien Phu). The way I understand Giap as a strategist is as a national strategist, not simply or even primarily as a military strategist. Whether he had read CvC or not, he was a Clausewitzian.



10-07-2013, 12:25 AM

I don't have the book with me, it's in the library; but if I remember right, in Valley of Death by Ted Morgan, the Red Chinese had a whole lot to do with the victory at Dien Bien Phu.

It doesn't matter what the relations between the North and Red China were after the war. During the war, the support provided by the ChiComs was critical to the victory of the North Vietnamese Communists.

You must read Hanoi's War. The two Le's, Duan and Duc Tho, ran the outfit according to that book. Giap's influence and power waxed and waned but he never had the ability to seriously contest the Le's. That book also states that Le Duan was recalled to the North in order help straighten things out in the North after all the problems associated with the collectivization campaign, among other things. The increased focused on the South was because of Duan's preoccupation and, as or more importantly, to distract the attention the North's people from the problems in the North.

You gotta read that book.

John T. Fishel
10-07-2013, 02:39 AM
I just looked up Hanoi's War on Amazon and read the acknowledgements, extended excerpts of the intro, and the Nota Bene. The author is obviously a solid historian. I'm not at all sure that her understanding of the military side of the war is as good as her understanding of the the broader history and narrow focus on decision-making in Hanoi. Need to read the book for that. To her credit (although it is perhaps inadvertent) she expresses her basic biases in her Nota Bene.

So, I will shortly be ordering it for my Kindle. Thanks.


PS have you read Rufus Phillips' Why Vietnam matters? Worth it in every way.

10-07-2013, 02:56 AM
Vo Nguyen Giap, People's War, People's Army (http://www.nelsonmandela.org/omalley/index.php/site/q/03lv03445/04lv04015/05lv04154/06lv04158.htm) (New York: Praeger, 1962, 1965; original, Hanoi, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), pp.144-149 (in hardcopy 2001 Pacific reprint):

One cannot speak of the armed struggle and the building of the revolutionary armed forces without mentioning the problem of the rear. This is an important problem of strategic significance and a decisive factor to the outcome of armed struggle and in the building of the armed forces.

At the beginning of World War Two, when our Party set the task of preparing for the armed insurrection, we had no armed forces and not a single inch of free land as a springboard for our activities. ...
[Giap recounts the long process in 1940-1954, so costly in blood and effort, to build "resistance bases" in North and South and create rear areas to support the frontlines]
...Thanks to that, our resistance bases were continually strengthened, and constantly furthered their great effect on the development of the army as well as on the work of serving the frontline. Therefore, we could carry on our long Resistance War and win glorious victory in the end.

At present [ca.1960], north Viet Nam is entirely liberated; it is the vast rear of our army. We know that in modern warfare the rear is all the more important. Strengthening of the rear ranks first among the permanent factors which determine the victory of the war. Modern warfare requires the highest development of all the economic, political and military potentialities. Marxism-Leninism has shown that "at present, war is an overall test of the material and spiritual forces for each country".

Having seen the importance of the problem of the rear, the resolution taken by the 12th Session of the Central Committee in 1957 pointed out:

"We must have a plan for building and consolidating the rear in every aspect. We must enable our rear to have full material and spiritual abilities to ensure all the needs for the building of an army in peace time, as well as for the requirements of life and fighting in time of war. In every aspect of State work, in the State's general plan as well as in the plan of each branch, it is necessary to take into consideration the building and consolidation of the rear, and to combine economic and cultural needs with those of national defence and the needs in peace time with those in war. While carrying on the task of building the army, it is necessary for the army itself to pay due attention to and actively participate in the work of consolidating the rear, particularly the implementation of the economic and financial policies, and the work of production and economy."

Proceeding from the revolutionary task in the present stage, our rear is, on a national scale, the entirely liberated north Viet Nam which is advancing to socialism. It is the revolutionary base for the whole country. Therefore, we must fully realise the importance of this rear, in order to intensify and consolidate north Viet Nam in every aspect. Parallel with the intensification and consolidation of national defence, and the building of the armed forces, we must strive to strengthen the rear in the political and economic spheres. We must actively carry out socialist transformation, strengthen the social regime and the State regime, intensify dictatorship towards the anti revolutionaries, educate the masses in patriotism and love for socialism, and raise the people's vigilance and concern in national defence, thereby ensuring the stability of the rear against all emergencies. We must do our best to build economy, develop socialist industry and agriculture in order constantly to raise the people's livelihood, at the same time to cater for the material needs of the army.

At present, peace has been restored in our country. The world situation is developing to the advantage of peace. But our country is still partitioned. American imperialism is striving to turn south Viet Nam into a new type colony and a military base. They are intervening in Laos and threatening the security of north Viet Nam. In view of this situation, it is of utmost importance to keep the correct relation between the army and the rear, between national defence and economy. On the one hand, we continue to cut down military expenditure to concentrate on economic construction; only thus can the building of socialism, consolidation of the rear and improvement of our people's livelihood be pushed forward, and concurrently good bases created for the strengthening of national defence. On the other hand, we must do everything in our power to raise the quality of the army, develop the militia and the reserve, at the same time thoroughly realising the requirements of national defence in economic construction. If we succeed in doing so, the socialist construction in north Viet Nam will win greater victories and the North will become a more stable base for the struggle for national reunification.

Roger Hilsman's Preface (Praeger edition) is remarkable for its insularity:

This is a peculiar book, as the reader will see for himself. People's War, People's Army is not a well organized book but, rather, a collection of papers; and a lot of it is simply lies. Yet with all its obvious shortcomings, this book can help us to appraise our opponents more accurately.

The basic value of this book at this time is that it may aid us in appreciating the importance and the special nature of a battle that is difficult to define or describe. Thousands of men in Southeast Asia are now engaged in this shadowy conflict, which may yet rank as one of the decisive battles of world history. We may call it the battle for the villages.

Yes, we (the US) may have called it that (a "battle for the villages"), but Giap (as quoted above) was clearly calling for a national effort on the part of North Vietnam to conquer the South.

In Camelot, "American" solutions were bound to win. The predicate was to believe that Americans Can Do Anything (http://www.whitehouse.gov/video/President-Obama-Honors-the-Astronauts-of-Apollo-11#transcript) - "And I remember waving American flags and my grandfather telling me that the Apollo mission was an example of how Americans can do anything they put their minds to."). Here is Hilsman's "obit" for 1961-1965 Giap:

Who Is General Giap?

We cannot win the battle for freedom by adopting General Giap's methods, which include everything from brazen lies to cowardly assassinations. But we cannot win in the short run if we do not understand his methods. We cannot win in the long run if we do not understand the world in which he fights. Behind him lie many years of success. We must know why.

Vo Nguyen Giap is a general, schooled in formal military tactics and articularly in guerrilla warfare. He is also a Communist political leader and propagandist. In this collection of papers, we have at some points rather factual descriptions of military measures and at other points distortions or the expression of Communist fantasies. The reader must distinguish between what may be worthwhile as observations on military tactics and other passages that have value only as examples of beliefs Communists hold or statements Communists wish us to believe.

Though far less ambitious, the book can be compared with Hitler's Mein Kampf, which expressed a distorted view of history as seen by a fanatical personality. Nevertheless, Mein Kampf contained useful clues toward understanding prewar Germany and fascism. In another way, the Giap book may be approached like General de Gaulle's early writings, in which De Gaulle theorized, quite correctly, about the use of armor in future wars. Far more aptly, this book may be compared with the recent book by Che Guevera, the Cuban guerrilla leader, in which he has written out his conception of the realities and theories of guerrilla tactics. This is not to compare General Giap's book on its merits with any of these books, for it is far inferior to any of them in its scope and insight. This book was not, in fact, written as a book but was simply collected-presumably by Communist leaders or by the original publishing house, a Communist organ-to demonstrate how General Giap and his forces had achieved victory.

Despite its limitations, this book is important for Americans, because it presents the thinking of a successful Communist who displays insight into the dynamics of the battle for the villages. How much the Communist gains are due to the concepts enunciated in this book may be debated. It is unquestionable, however, that Giap's ideas are provocative enough to lead us to some rethinking about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses.

General Giap led the successful battle that humiliated the French at Dien Bien Phu. He has since built up the armed forces of Communist-held North Vietnam to an estimated quarter of a million men - the largest armed force in Southeast Asia. General Giap has fought against such well-known French generals as De Lattre de Tassigny, Raoul Salan (later leader of the OAS underground in Algeria), and Henri Navarre. Today, General Giap is a Vice-Premier and the Defense Minister of the North Vietnamese regime, a member of the Politburo of North Vietnam's Communist Party, and one of Asia's outstanding military tacticians.

In this book, General Giap is a propagandist as much as he is a guerrilla-warfare tactician. In his way, he is trying to teach. The American publisher has performed an unusual service in recognizing that in our way we can learn from General Giap.

What about a conventional-unconventional warfare planner and logistician on a national scale ?

- to be cont. -

10-07-2013, 04:10 AM
While a critique of Roger Hilsman's "Plan for Victory in the Villages" would be interesting, it would most likely give rise to conventional warfare types fighting unconventional warfare types as to the policy that should have been followed in Vietnam. The policy that should have been followed in Vietnam was the most parsimonious counter-policy against the policy set by the aggressor. That was North Vietnam; and its policy was that of conventional-unconventional warfare expressed by Giap and a number of other North Vietnamese leaders.

However, before going there, Bernard Fall has a good, short biography of Giap, following Hilsman's polemic. Here are some snips, showing Giap's background in state security, and his command of a very hardball political struggle (including targeted killings and large-scale massacres). Giap often went where Uncle Ho would not tread.

At twelve, young Giap was sent to the Lycee National at Hue -founded a few years earlier by Ngo Dinh Kha, a high court official who was the father of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Created precisely for the purpose of providing both a traditional and a modern education, instead of the solely modern schooling given by the French-run high schools, the Lycee National at Hue had counted among its students prior to Giap both Ngo Dinh Diem and his arch-enemy (and Giap's future chief), Ho Chi Minh. ...
In 1926, while still a student, Giap joined the Tan Viet Cach Menh Dang, an underground nationalist group.... The Depression year 1930, which brought rock-bottom prices for rice and rubber in Vietnam and near starvation to the already poor farmers of Giap's home area, also brought Giap his first taste of prison. After the rifles of French-led militia troops halted a march of 6,000 peasants on the chief city of Ngh-An, the province neighboring Quang-Binh, Giap led student demonstrations at Hue and was promptly arrested by the colonial authorities. Ironically, it was to be one of General Giap's own crack divisions, the 325th Infantry Division, that was to crush another peasant revolt in Nghe-An in November 1956, when the farmers of that unfortunate area refused to endure any longer the harsh land-reform measures imposed by the Hanoi regime. But this time, there was no anguished outcry from student leaders.

In 1956, the 325ID killed many "counter-revolutionaries". However, Giap had long before became the North's "Enforcer" - from Fall's bio:

Having passed the stiff examinations of the French baccalaurat (for a high-school diploma equivalent to two years of college in the U.S.), Giap now moved to Hanoi, then the seat of French Indochina's single full-fledged university, and began his undergraduate law studies after a last year of precollege studies at Hanoi's Lyce Alhert-Sarraut, named after one of Indochina's most progressive French governors. (The Lyce Albert-Sarraut retained its name even after the Communist takeover of Hanoi and is still maintained and staffed by a French Cultural Mission.) While at the university, Giap took lodgings with a Vietnamese professor, Dang Thai Mai, whose daughter he was to marry in 1938.
In 1937, Giap earned his LL.B. degree at Hanoi, with a poor grade in public law but very high marks in political economics, and decided to continue his studies toward a doctorate. But the meagre resources of his family were at an end and although his future father-in-law was willing to continue to house him, Giap had to find a way of earning a living. He found a post as a history teacher at Thang Long High School in Hanoi. Now a convinced Marxist in addition to being a Vietnamese nationalist, Giap turned his classroom lectures into political harangues, but he was well liked by the students as well as by his principal, Ton That Binh. Both Ton That Binh and his father-in-law, Pham Quynh, a leading Vietnamese scholar and nationalist, were executed by the Communist police during Giap's tenure as Minister of Interior, in 1945-46.

With his doctorate earned in 1938, Giap married the daughter of his landlord. ... [In 1939] Giap and his wife disappeared from Hanoi and returned to Central Vietnam. It was there, in Vinh, the chief city of Ngh-An Province, that the French authorities arrested Giap's wife. Both she and her sister were tried before a French military court for conspiracy against the security of France. Mme. Giap was sentenced to life imprisonment but died of illness - Giap himself says of ill-treatment - in prison in 1943; her sister was sentenced to death and guillotined. Giap himself escaped from Vietnam into neighboring South China, which, though theoretically Chinese Nationalist-controlled, was, in fact, a no man's land that sheltered revolutionaries and warlords of all kinds.

So, Giap had personal reasons to hate - and to kill.

... In October, 1944, Ho Chi Minh ordered him to set up an "Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Vietnam." According to Ho Chi Minh's directive, the Brigade was to base its efforts "more on political action than on military force, because it is an instrument of political propaganda. In order to be militarily effective, the essential principle of the concentration of forces
must be observed. ..."

On December 22, the Brigade's first platoon, consisting of 34 men, was organized by Giap at Dinh-Ca Valley pear Cao-Bang on the Chinese border, and on Christmas Eve, Giap and his men attacked the two small French border posts of Phy Khat and Na Ngan and massacred their garrison. December 22 is now the official birthday of the VPA and a holiday in North Vietnam. With deliberate cruelty, Giap set about liquidating village chiefs and other notables "guilty" of collaboration with the French.

Thus, Uncle Ho's concept of "political action" was a bit more hardball than that of Chicago ward politics.

But Giap was to reveal the full measure of his ability in the four months beginning in June, 1946, while Ho Chi Minh and other top government members were absent in France. Giap then, held the de facto interim Presidency of Vietnam, as well as running the key Ministry of Interior, which controlled all the police forces and the administrative apparatus of the regime. In a series of swift stabs, he destroyed the back-country strongholds of the nationalist parties; executed hundreds of Vietnamese nationalists and even such old comrades in arms as the Trotskyite leader Ta-Thu-Thau, a personal friend of Ho Chi Minh. Finally, on July 11, 1946, Giap launched a country-wide purge of nationalist leaders and closed down Viet-Nam, the last opposition newspaper. When it re-appeared, on July 18, it was fully in line with the rest of the Communist-controlled press.
... Although as late as 1947 Giap was described by Marcel Ner, one of his French professors in pre-war days, "as a sentimental and passionate man, deeply attached both to his country and to Communism," Giap remarked to another observer that "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 our own compatriots, represents really very little."
Now middle-aged, Giap has never remarried. The very tiny, sentimental college professor of the 1930's, the self-taught guerrilla leader of the early 1940's, and the brilliant strategist of the 1950's have been combined into a stocky and competent commander in chief who may well be among the first of a new breed of revolutionary-warfare generals for whom the West may find it difficult to produce a worthy match in the foreseeable future; for it is almost impossible within our military system to develop men with both brilliant tactical abilities and wide-ranging political training.

It is Giap who defined the role of the Vietnam People's Army as being "the instrument of the Party and the revolutionary state for the accomplishment, in armed form, of the tasks of the revolution." Or, to misquote Clausewitz: "War is the continuance of revolution in another form." And that is precisely what the little "Snow-Covered Volcano" - the man who could kill his onetime benefactor and could send thousands of his men into the jaws of French guns - is doing in South Vietnam in the 1960's.

So, let us not mistake Giap for what he was not; nor mistake his concept of conventional-unconventional warfare for what it was not.

- to be cont. -

10-07-2013, 06:07 AM
Admittedly, Giap's Solution for the Rear (the North from 1944-1961) involved more than mere killing, even on a grand scale. Recall that Giap's depth as a scholar was in political economy; and he and other Communist leaders in the North and South were also devoted to the national political economy where it could be achieved by non-violent means. The end justified whatever means.

Now, we turn to what Giap told us in 1967; Vo Nguyen Giap, "The Big Victory; The Great Task (http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2130805016)" (October 16, 1967). I'm just going to hit the highlights of its discussion of the "rear" (the North) and the "frontline" (the South), with respect to their interactions in the ongoing political and military struggles (mostly in the South, but some in the North).

[p.1] Our people are living the most glorious years and months in the history of our people's thousands-year-old struggle against foreign aggression and in the history of the decades-old revolutionary struggle under the leadership of our party. In the heroic south, with 170,000 square meters of land, our people are defeating more than a million troops of the U.S. imperialist aggressors and their lackeys, and winning increasingly big victories. In the north, our army and people are defeating the U.S. imperialists' war of destruction and thwarting their basic plots while pursuing socialist construction and economic development, consolidating national defense, and fulfilling the duties of the great rear toward the great frontline.
[p.2] After the Binh Gia victory, between February and June 1965, on the basis of combining armed struggle with political struggle, the southern army and people stepped up the guerrilla war; and, at the same time, developed large-scale attacks, completely annihilating puppet companies and battalions in each battle on all battlefields. They drove the puppet troops into a state of collapse, unable to resist the strong attacks of the Liberation Armed Forces.

Giap engages in counter-history (wishful thinking) for a bit.

... [p.3] On the basis of the 1965-1966 winter-spring victories, the southern army and people stepped up the combination of military struggle with political struggle and actively attacked the enemy, causing an unstable situation in which the puppet authorities and army encountered crises in all fields, and driving the U.S. imperialists into an embarrassed and defensive position. Thirty cities and municipalities throughout the south seethed with the struggle of city people rising up to struggle against the introduction of U. S. aggressive troops and against the Thieu-Ky clique. In Da Nang and Hue, the political struggle movement developed most widely and vigorously during this period.

It was obvious that contradictions between the U. S. imperialists and the traitors and the southern people were becoming very fierce. The fierce attacks of the southern army and people caused the Americans and puppets to sustain heavy military defeats and encounter grave political crises. This situation brought about quarrels, conflicts, and discord among the puppet authorities and army in the First Corps area. This crisis lasted over two months and led to a change in commanders five times. Six enemy battalions were dispersed as a result of their shooting at each other. Faced with this situation and especially with U.S. troop defeats, the decline of the puppet troops was accelerated. In some months, there were 20,000 deserters. At the same time, many military revolts broke out, such as at the first regiment in Thu Dau Mot and other puppet units.

The "revolt in the cities" became something of a reality during Tet 1968; and the breakup of the ARVN certainly took place in 1974-1975.

[p.5] While fighting fiercely, the southern army and people continued to step up the coordination between the military along with political struggles. The political struggle movement of the southern clty people continue to develop strongly. Its anti-U.S. character increased. The southern people's liberated areas continued to be firmly maintained, and some liberated areas were even enlarged.

The Communists never did achieve that much success in the cities - even in 1974-1975, when the city folk fled the Communists en masse.

[p.6] In the war, the north has developed the strength of the socialist regime and has fought well, along with achieving good production. The north has constantly insured good communications and transportation and has incessantly developed its economy and culture. Despite many difficulties created by' the enemy, the people's living conditions continue to be stabilized. The determination of our people to oppose the Americans for national salvation has been increasingly strengthened.

Meanwhile, in the south, with the spirit "The north calls, the south answers", the southern army and people have continuously attacked the U.S., puppet, and satellite troops everywhere and have striven to attack their airbases and logistical depots, thus causing them to suffer heavy losses and to be increasingly passive
[pp.7-8] On Our Side ... The military struggle has been stepped up in close coordination with the political struggle, which is developing increasingly deeply and widely. The resistance forces of the southern combatants and people have matured rapidly and are strong.

In North Vietnam, our armed forces and people have defeated and are defeatlng the U.S. imperialists' war of destruction, have continued building socialism, and at the same time have striven to fulfill the duty of a large rear toward a large frontline. North Vietnam has become increasingly strong and steady in all fields.

B. The victories achieved by the armed forces and people in tne entire country have been of great political and military strategic significance. Our people throughout the country are standing shoulder to shoulder in steadily advancing and pushing the anti-U.S, national salvation resistance war to final victory.

Giap then goes on to more than a bit of wishful thinking and counterfactual argument in pp.9-23, but then makes this important point:

[p.23] In our country at present, fighting against U.S. aggression and for national salvation is the great, sacred historic task of the Vietnamese people as a whole. Our people in the south and the north resolutely stand shoulder to shoulder in fighting until final victory in order to achieve independence and freedom of the entire country.

Waging a comprehensive resistance war is a very important strategic problem for developing our strength in all fields in order to vanquish the aggressor, an enemy with numerous troops and strong equipment, but with many contradictions and weaknesses in the neocolonialist war of aggression.

A striking characteristic of the people's war in our country at present is that even within the local war, the fight against the enemy on all fronts - military, political, cultural, diplomatic, and so forth - is waged at the same time, in which the military struggle and the political struggle are the most basic forms of struggle. The military struggle and political struggle are closely coordinated, assist each other, and encourage each other to develop. The coordination between the military struggle and the political struggle is a law of the revolutionary struggle in our country. It is also an initiative of our people in the process of the protracted revolutionary struggle.

Bernard Fall accurately assessed Giap, several years before Giap wrote this; but then Fall (unlike Hilsman) viewed Giap with open eyes and ears - and without imperial hubris. Fall was ruthless in exposing Giap's ruthlessness.

This is a good place to take a break until tomorrow (actually it is "tomorrow" vs. when I started writing this) or the next day. In pp.24-54, Giap explains the interactions of the rear and front, military and political struggles in terms of what he expects the U.S. to do - and what Vietnam (North and South) should do to counter the U.S. on all fronts (and rears :))



10-07-2013, 09:35 PM
quoting someone else - I think it was globalsecurity.org

Giap's nearly fatal mistake in the anti-French war was the too-early challenge of French forces in open battles during the first half of 1951. In three battles, the Viet-minh were defeated each time and Giap almost lost his position as Viet-minh commander in chief. The Viet-minh immediately went back to stage II - smaller battles on their own terms in scattered areas.

The basis of this fame is Giap's leadership of the Viet Minh in their victory over the French in the Indochina War. Giap's fame as a tactician and strategist were exaggerated, that neither his tactics nor his strategies were new or imaginative. Giap's greatest ability was an organizer of the masses in a total effort behind the war. Giap successfully combined the roles of civil organizer, politician and battlefield leader in achieving his victory over the French.

Some simple word replacement...

Washington's nearly fatal mistake in the anti-British war was the too-early challenge of British forces in open battles during the first half of 1777. In three battles, the Colonials were defeated each time and Washington almost lost his position as Colonials commander in chief. The Colonials immediately went back to stage II - smaller battles on their own terms in scattered areas.

The basis of this fame is Washington's leadership of the Colonials in their victory over the British in the AWI. Washington's fame as a tactician and strategist were exaggerated, that neither his tactics nor his strategies were new or imaginative. Washington's greatest ability was an organizer of the masses in a total effort behind the war. Washington successfully combined the roles of civil organizer, politician and battlefield leader in achieving his victory over the British.

OK, so it's not a perfect 1-for-1 swap. But it's not half-bad.

10-08-2013, 12:43 AM
PS have you read Rufus Phillips' Why Vietnam matters? Worth it in every way.

I have not and it is sitting on my shelf waiting for me. I guess I have to get on it.

John T. Fishel
10-08-2013, 12:58 PM
Hanoi's War is very good but, my initial reading is that she overstates the role of the 2 Le's. That they were important, even critical, players is without doubt. But downplaying the role of Ho, Giap, and Pham Van Dong strikes me as misreading the political reality among the leaders of the Lao dong party.

Regarding the Chinese role at Dien Bien Phu, I have been looking at some articles. One in Military History Online by Bob Seals makes the case for a major PRC role. My own reaction - based on a fairly extensive reading on the advisory experience and my own experience as a military advisor and civilian development advisor - is that it is a mistake to attribute the primary cause of anything to the advsory effort. CMAG was clearly helpful to Giap but far more important was China's role as a source and funnel for supplies.

One of the great things about Phillips' book is how effectively he delineates what an advisor can and cannot accomplish. while that varies with multiple circumstances, it is always limited by variables within and external to the advising relationship.



10-08-2013, 09:43 PM

Either way, or both ways, the North Vietnamese Communists needed the Red Chinese in the early 50s. They could not have won without them.

One of the things Hanoi's War shows is the masterful way the North Vietnamese Communists played the Red Chinese and the Soviets off one another in order to get maximum benefit. Very very shrewd.

They were equally good at public relations, getting the world and most importantly, an influential portion of the Americans, to view them as the good guys. George J. Veith, who wrote Black April ( http://www.amazon.com/Black-April-South-Vietnam-1973-75/dp/1594035725 ) is going to pay a lot of attention to that and how the Northern Communists worked closely with anti-war Americans in his next book. I thought Black April a very good book by the way.

Given the way they played the ChiComs, the Soviets and the world, the North Vietnamese Communists didn't have to be very bright militarily to win the war against South Vietnam. The big strategic picture was stacked entirely in their favor, Communist help would keep coming and the South would be cut off. All the Communists had to do was keep going and things would eventually fall their way.

One of the things we always forget is how critical outside support is to so many of the forces we have fought since WWII. The NVA could not have done it without the ChiComs and the Soviets. In Iraq, the Shiites could not have gained the influence they had without Iran. AQ in Iraq could not have done what they did without money from rich Saudis (my understanding anyway.) In Afghanistan, Taliban & Co would not even hardly exist without the Pak Army/ISI. AQ central maybe wouldn't exist at all without Pak Army/ISI forbearance. We seem to get preoccupied with the image of the plucky resistance fighter and forget who is feeding him and buying the ammunition.

John T. Fishel
10-09-2013, 12:44 PM
Carl, on this one we are in total agreement. I would only add that where we have supported insurgents, they have won when we were sufficiently steadfast. Two examples: Nicaragua - the contras (although it was very close in regard to our being sufficiently steadfast), and Afghanistan in ousting the Taliban.

I would note that one of the statistically significant Factors/dimensions in the studies Manwaring and I have done is External Support to the Insurgents. (It was however significant at the 0.1 level which is not the common cutoff point, that being 0.05.) Still, it is one of the more powerful explanatory dimensions of the SWORD Model.



10-09-2013, 02:21 PM
Not an obituary, more some remarks and this sentence by Giap explains why:
You and I should discuss a future where our countries are not enemies but friends.

Link:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304626104579119221395534220.html?m od=WSJ_article_comments#articleTabs%3Darticle

10-11-2013, 12:57 AM
( Manufactured quote commonly attributed to Winston Churchill. )

Reading anything attributed to Vo Nguyen Giap may provide insight into his thoughts, behaviour and supposed accomplishments and into what he wanted other people to believe. But he was more a doctrinaire communist than historian and hence very different to Churchill who managed to speak and write objectively on historical aspects including some in which he was directly involved.

Not sure just which small war victories can be attributed to Giap. But destruction of the Viet Cong in 1968 could be described as a victory for his latter-day Viet Minh.

A usefully objective study of Giap and his brutish part in the history of Indo-China might be completed by a British or better still by a Canadian historian. Anything authored, compiled or otherwise approved by a Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, Korean, Japanese, French, Chinese, Cambodian, Australasian or American is likely to be degraded by bias.

John T. Fishel
10-11-2013, 01:01 PM
Compost, your comment really is a nonsequitur. Just because a writer is biased does not mean that he or she cannot control the bias. There are at least two ways of doing this/ (1) State your bias openly - this is more or less what the author of Hanoi's War does. We know where she is coming from and can take it into account. (2) Accept your bias and do your best to find proof that you are wrong. If you can't prove your bias false, then it stands until someone does. Edward Miller does this pretty well in his history of the Diem regime.

Thus, while you are correct that certain nationalities are likely to have a particular bias, they actually may have a different one. Canadians, for one, are hardly monolithic about the Vietnam War and the Indochina War that preceded it. Some, of course, will see it from their perspective on the ICC but others will see it from other perspectives.


10-12-2013, 08:22 AM
Vo Nguyen Giap was a nasty piece of work. But he was apparently human enough to want a generally favourable reputation carried into the future. And during his later years he was probably clever enough to engage in more and more subtle manipulation.

Any historian from a country that ‘ warred or policed ’ unsuccessfully in Indo-China is prone to bias as for example supposing that North Vietnamese successes were generally gained by merit rather than conceded by ineptitude. The British were there only briefly and the Canadians not at all.

It is preferable to avoid predictable bias. Hence, my opinion regarding the period during which Giap was a major or minor or inactive participant is that a regional history authored, compiled or otherwise approved by a Canadian is least “ likely to be degraded by bias ”.

John T. Fishel
10-12-2013, 02:00 PM
Compost, there were 3 members of the ICC established by the 1954 Geneva conference ending the Indochina war: Canada, India, and Poland. Of the 3, only India was more or less neutral. Poland was defacto an ally of N VN (DRV) while Canada was an ally and supporter of the US and RVN. Poland was a conduit for intel to the DRV while Canada was the same for the US. The ICC - with all 3 members - was engaged throughout the Vietnam War and only dissolved by the 1973 Paris Accords.

I say again: You will not find an unbiased historian but you will find good ones who can and do discipline their biases on all sides.