[News] The Life of Vo Nguyen Giap

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 4 13:14:48 EDT 2013

  Vo Nguyen Giap

Vo Nguyen Giap : Biography


Vo Nguyen Giap was born in Quang-binh Province, Vietnam 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWvietnam.htm>, in 1912. He was 
educated at the University of Hanoi where he gained a doctorate in 
economics. After leaving university he taught history in Hanoi. He later 
joined the Communist Party and took part in several demonstrations 
against French rule in Vietnam.

Vo Nguyen Giap was arrested in 1939 but escaped to China 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWchina.htm> where he joined up 
with Ho Chi Minh <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNhochiminh.htm>, 
the leader of the Vietnam Revolutionary League 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNrevolutionaryL.htm> (Vietminh). 
While in exile his sister was captured and executed. His wife was also 
sent to prison where she died.

Between 1942 to 1945 Vo Nguyen Giap helped organize resistance to the 
occupying Japanese Army 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWjapanA.htm>. When the Japanese 
surrendered to the Allies after the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWhiroshima.htm> and Nagasaki 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWnagasaki.htm> in August, 1945, 
the Vietminh <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNrevolutionaryL.htm> 
was in a good position to take over the control of the country and Vo 
Nguyen Giap served under Ho Chi Minh 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNhochiminh.htm> in the 
provisional government.

In September, 1945, Ho Chi Minh 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNhochiminh.htm> announced the 
formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unknown to the Vietminh 
Franklin D. Roosevelt 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USArooseveltF.htm>, Winston 
Churchill <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRchurchill.htm> and 
Joseph Stalin <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSstalin.htm> had 
already decided what would happen to post-war Vietnam at a 
summit-meeting at Potsdam 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWpotsdam.htm>. They had agreed 
that the country would be divided into two, the northern half under the 
control of the Chinese and the southern half under the British.

After the Second World War 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WW.htm> France attempted to 
re-establish control over Vietnam 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWvietnam.htm>. In January 1946, 
Britain agreed to remove her troops and later that year, China 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWchina.htm> left Vietnam in 
exchange for a promise from France 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/France.htm> that she would give up 
her rights to territory in China.

France refused to recognise the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and 
fighting soon broke out between the Vietminh and the French troops. At 
first, the Vietminh under General Vo Nguyen Giap, had great difficulty 
in coping with the better trained and equipped French forces. The 
situation improved in 1949 after Mao Zedong 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/COLDmao.htm> and his communist 
army defeated Chaing Kai-Shek 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWchaing.htm> in China. The 
Vietminh now had a safe-base where they could take their wounded and 
train new soldiers.

By 1953, the Vietminh 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNrevolutionaryL.htm> controlled 
large areas of North Vietnam. The French, however, had a firm hold on 
the south. When it became clear that France was becoming involved in a 
long-drawn out war, the French government tried to negotiate a deal with 
the Vietminh. They offered to help set-up a national government and 
promised they would eventually grant Vietnam its independence. Ho Chi 
Minh <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNhochiminh.htm> and the 
other leaders of the Vietminh did not trust the word of the French and 
continued the war.

French public opinion continued to move against the war. There were four 
main reasons for this: (1) Between 1946 and 1952 90,000 French troops 
had been killed, wounded or captured; (2) France was attempting to build 
up her economy after the devastation of the Second World War 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WW.htm>. The cost of the war had 
so far been twice what they had received from the United States 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USA.htm> under the Marshall Plan 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmarshallP.htm>; (3) The war had 
lasted seven years and there was still no sign of an outright French 
victory; (4) A growing number of people in France had reached the 
conclusion that their country did not have any moral justification for 
being in Vietnam.

General Navarre, the French commander in Vietnam, realised that time was 
running out and that he needed to obtain a quick victory over the 
Vietminh. He was convinced that if he could manoeuvre Vo Nguyen Giap 
into engaging in a large scale battle, France was bound to win. In 
December, 1953, General Navarre setup a defensive complex at Dien Bien 
Phu <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNdienbein.htm>, which would 
block the route of the Vietminh forces trying to return to camps in 
neighbouring Laos. Navarre surmised that in an attempt to reestablish 
the route to Laos, General Giap would be forced to organise a 
mass-attack on the French forces at Dien Bien Phu.

Navarre's plan worked and General Giap took up the French challenge. 
However, instead of making a massive frontal assault, Giap choose to 
surround Dien Bien Phu and ordered his men to dig a trench that 
encircled the French troops. From the outer trench, other trenches and 
tunnels were dug inwards towards the centre. The Vietminh 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNrevolutionaryL.htm> were now 
able to move in close on the French troops defending Dien Bien Phu.

While these preparations were going on, Giap brought up members of the 
Vietminh from all over Vietnam. By the time the battle was ready to 
start, Giap had 70,000 soldiers surrounding Dien Bien Phu, five times 
the number of French troops enclosed within.

Employing recently obtained anti-aircraft guns and howitzers from China 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWchina.htm>, Giap was able to 
restrict severely the ability of the French to supply their forces in 
Dien Bien Phu. When Navarre realised that he was trapped, he appealed 
for help. The United States was approached and some advisers suggested 
the use of tactical nuclear weapons 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWatom.htm> against the Vietminh. 
Another suggestion was that conventional air-raids would be enough to 
scatter Giap's troops.

The United States President, Dwight Eisenhower 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAeisenhower.htm>, however, 
refused to intervene unless he could persuade Britain and his other 
western allies to participate. Winston Churchill 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRchurchill.htm>, the British 
Prime Minister, declined claiming that he wanted to wait for the outcome 
of the peace negotiations taking place in Geneva before becoming 
involved in escalating the war.

On March 13, 1954, Vo Nguyen Giap 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNgiap.htm> launched his 
offensive. For fifty-six days the Vietminh pushed the French forces back 
until they only occupied a small area of Dien Bien Phu. Colonel Piroth, 
the artillery commander, blamed himself for the tactics that had been 
employed and after telling his fellow officers that he had been 
"completely dishonoured" committed suicide by pulling the safety pin out 
of a grenade.

The French surrendered on May 7th. French casualties totalled over 7,000 
and a further 11,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. The following day the 
French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam.

Vo Nguyen Giap remained commander-in-chief of the Vietminh 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNrevolutionaryL.htm> throughout 
the Vietnam War. Peace talks between representatives from United States, 
South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the NLF had been taking place in Paris 
since January, 1969. By 1972, Richard Nixon 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAnixon.htm>, like Lyndon B. 
Johnson <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAjohnsonLB.htm> before 
him, had been gradually convinced that a victory in Vietnam was 

In October, 1972, the negotiators came close to agreeing to a formula to 
end the war. The plan was that US troops would withdraw from Vietnam in 
exchange for a cease-fire and the return of 566 American prisoners held 
in Hanoi. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South 
Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to 
unite the whole country.

The main problem with this formula was that whereas the US troops would 
leave the country, the North Vietnamese troops could remain in their 
positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on North Vietnam to 
withdraw its troops. President Richard Nixon 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAnixon.htm> ordered a new series 
of air-raids on Hanoi and Haiphong. It was the most intense bombing 
attack in world history. In eleven days, 100,000 bombs were dropped on 
the two cities. The destructive power was equivalent to five times that 
of the atom bomb used on Hiroshima 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWhiroshima.htm>. This bombing 
campaign was condemned throughout the world. Newspaper headlines 
included: "Genocide", "Stone-Age Barbarism" and "Savage and Senseless".

The North Vietnamese refused to change the terms of the agreement and so 
in January, 1973, Nixon agreed to sign the peace plan that had been 
proposed in October. However, the bombing had proved to be popular with 
many of the American public as they had the impression that North 
Vietnam had been "bombed into submission."

The last US combat troops left in March, 1973. It was an uneasy peace 
and by 1974, serious fighting had broken out between the NLF and the 
AVRN. Although the US continued to supply the South Vietnamese 
government with military equipment, their army had great difficulty 
using it effectively.

President Nguyen Van Thieu 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNthieu.htm> of South Vietnam 
appealed to President Richard Nixon 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAnixon.htm> for more financial 
aid. Nixon was sympathetic but the United States Congress was not and 
the move was blocked. At its peak US aid to South Vietnam had reached 30 
billion dollars a year. By 1974 it had fallen to 1 billion. Starved of 
funds, Thieu had difficulty paying the wages of his large army and 
desertion became a major problem.

The spring of 1975 saw a series of National Liberation Front 
<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNnlf.htm> victories. After 
important areas such as Danang and Hue were lost in March, panic swept 
through the AVRN. Senior officers, fearing what would happen after the 
establishment of an NLF government, abandoned their men and went into 

The NLF arrived in Saigon on April 30, 1975. Soon afterwards the 
Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established. In the new government Vo 
Nguyen Giap was minister of defence and deputy premier.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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