During the Vietnam War era, Vietnamese communist fighters were stereotyped by the Western press as thin and sneaky-looking peasants in black pajamas and sandals holding in their hands Soviet or Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifles. One could never be too wrong as to regard Vietnamese a vulnerable people. For the past one hundred years, Vietnamese were the only people in this world who had stood up and fought four top world-class military powers: China, Japan, France, and the United States and won the final victory. In their armed struggle for freedom and independence, General Vo Nguyen Giap (武元甲將軍) was the mastermind who drafted the battle plans and commanded the troops to carry them out.
Graduated in Hanoi University with a law degree and working as a history teacher when he was young, General Giap had never received any formal military education before he took command of Vietnamese People’s Army. Interested in reading about biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte and works by Mao Zedong, he absorbed the essence of the world military genius and the leading revolutionary and developed a series of successful guerrilla warfare tactics in the struggles against the French and the Americans.
He first built his name in commanding the Viet Minh troops to beat the French in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a decisive battle which saw the end of the French colonization of Indochina. The 16,000-strong French garrison, constituted majorly by elite paratroop battalions and the French Foreign Legion, despite their air superiority and most their officers trained at the famous St Cyr Military Academy, surrendered to Giap after a 54-day siege.
Giap’s next challenge was leading the North Vietnamese in the resistance war against the joint forces of South Vietnam and the United States from late 1950s to early 1970s. His opponent then was General William Westmoreland (1914-2005), the US commander of South Vietnam, whose previous post was the superintendent of West Point, the world renowned military academy to train army officers. Giap’s guerrilla tactics worked again making the most modern-equipped half million American troops face the most humiliating defeat in their military history.
Giap’s book, Military Art of People's War, has been a must read for the cadets of military institutions worldwide.
Aged 102, Giap died last week in a military hospital in Hanoi. According to a Reuter report, his name was honored and ranked by historians with giants such as Montgomery, Rommel and MacArthur.