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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Giap obituary: winner of three small wars

    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.
    Link:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obit...uyen-Giap.html

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

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    Le Monde’s obituary: http://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/a...0198_3382.html

    Last winter I read Peter Macdonald’s biography, which I recall attributing much of the victory at Dien Bien Phu to Giap’s grasp of logistics.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SWJED View Post
    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:

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/milita...guyen-giap.htm

    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).

    http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a141243.pdf

    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.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/peoplescentu...ranscript.html

    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.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 10-05-2013 at 11:41 PM. Reason: Fix quotes, grammar errors (what's new, I went to a public school)

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    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.

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    Default God is All Merciful;

    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.

    Regards

    Mike

    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" - October 16, 1967.
    Last edited by jmm99; 10-05-2013 at 10:00 PM.

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    Council Member BayonetBrant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    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.
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    Default Giap

    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.

    JohnT

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    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    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.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Default Dien Bien Phu and the Easter Offensive

    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.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    JohnT:

    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.
    Last edited by carl; 10-07-2013 at 12:35 AM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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