Vo Nguyen Giap

Vo Nguyen Giap

(b.1912)

Vo Nguyen Giap was born in An Xa vil¬ lage in Quanbinh Province, Vietnam.Coming from an impoverished Mandarin family, he studied at a French school and earned a law degree from Hanoi University.

He joined to the Communist-Nationalist group led by Ho Chi Minh around 1930 and became one of its “inner circle” members. Giap joined Ho Chi Minh in China during World War II.

He then returned to Vietnam and organ¬ ized a revolutionary army in the northern highlands. Determined to push out the French, he called for a massive insurrection.

The Vietnamese revolution succeeded in part. The Communists held the highland areas, but the French clung to at least half the country. As leader of the Vietnamese army, and later as defense minister from 1954 to 1980, Giap refined the guerrilla war princi¬ ples he had learned in China.

Giap directed major attacks against the French in 1950. The Communists gained considerable ground, but the French regained most of the lost areas in counterattacks in1951.

Giap then set a trap. It took three years for him to lure the French into committing the cream of their army to an exposed region, the fortress of Dien Bien Phu. Giap directed 100,000 peasants in movements that brought howitzers and mortars to the area. He assem¬ bled a massive Vietnamese army and com¬ menced the siege on March 12, 1954. When Dien Bien Phu surrendered, it broke the back of French resistance.

The hero of the revolution against the French, Giap soon had to confront the demo¬ cratic government in South Vietnam, one that was supported by the power of the United States. Giap directed the North Vietnamese troops during the long war from 1963 to 1975.

It is unclear whether the idea for the Tet offensive in 1968 was initially his own, but his reputation as a soldier stood behind it. Although the North Vietnamese lost thousands of lives throwing themselves against South Vietnamese and American installations, the overall effect was to lower the willingness of many Americans to contin¬ ue the war.

By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, with the American troops in flight, much of the direction of the war had passed to General Van Tien Dung. Giap remained the grand old man of the Vietnam military. He had good reason to be proud. His poorly equipped guerrilla warriors had defeated France, South Vietnam and the United States in a protracted struggle of more than 30 years.