[Marxism] Legendary Vietnamese general offers warning to U.S
M. Junaid Alam
junaidalam at msalam.net
Sat May 1 09:28:30 MDT 2004
Legendary Vietnamese general offers warning to U.S.
Hanoi — The frail and tiny man who defeated two superpowers returned to
the spotlight Friday to talk of triumphs past and deliver words of
warning to the Americans at war in Iraq.
“Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly
face defeat,” said Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary general whose
strategies wore out the French colonial regime and then the U.S. army.
General Giap is 92 now, the last of Vietnam's giants in a 30-year war to
shake off colonial rule and unite the country under communism. What
brought him to a rare meeting with journalists was two landmark
anniversaries: The fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, and the defeat of
French colonial forces at the epic siege of Dien Bien Phu, 50 years ago
With critics of the Iraq war likening it to America's Vietnam
experience, Gen. Giap's opinion was eagerly sought, but the man
considered one of history's foremost military strategists prefaced his
reply with caution, saying he didn't know the specifics of the Iraqi
He offered this: “All nations fighting for their legitimate interests
and sovereignty will surely win.”
Gen. Giap emphasized that the major powers of today shouldn't
underestimate weaker countries' desire for independence.
Vietnam “proves that if a nation is determined to stand up, it is very
strong,” he said. “We are very proud that Vietnam was the first colony
that could stand up and gain independence on its own with the victory of
Dien Bien Phu.”
Gen. Giap lives a reclusive life in a gardened French colonial villa
near the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, his schoolmate and later the
president of the country. The white-haired soldier came to the news
conference at the government guesthouse in central Hanoi wearing an
eggshell-white uniform with no medals attached.
Speaking Vietnamese and French, he was relaxed and animated during a
two-hour session, pumping his fist, wagging his finger, cracking jokes,
thanking Americans who opposed the Vietnam War, and reminiscing about
his days as a fighting revolutionary.
Gen. Giap had no military background or training when Ho Chi Minh chose
him to command the Viet Minh army. A history professor and one-time
journalist, he had joined the struggle against French colonial rule at
age 14. His wife had died in a French prison.
But his gut instincts and natural talent were proven during the pivotal
battle at the border outpost of Dien Bien Phu.
Gen. Giap's Chinese advisers told him to strike hard and fast, but he
opted for slow, steady ambushes and the unexpected, like having his
troops drag heavy artillery, piece by piece, over steep mountain passes
to surround the French.
The 56-day siege ended with the French surrender on May 7, 1954,
ultimately ending France's rule in Indochina and inspiring anti-colonial
fighters around the world. But peace would remain elusive.
The day after Gen. Giap's victory at Dien Bien Phu, a telegram arrived
from Ho Chi Minh that said: “The victory is really great, but it's just
The country had been partitioned, and American troops began arriving to
defend Washington's South Vietnamese ally against communist-ruled North
Vietnam. That war lasted until April 30, 1975, when Saigon, capital of
South Vietnam, fell to communist forces.
As revolutionaries fighting in the jungle, Gen. Giap said that he and Ho
Chi Minh simply dreamed of a country free of foreign domination.
Back then, “Vietnam was an enslaved country. The only free place was in
the jungles and behind our enemy's back. Modern Vietnam is much
different. Vietnam today is a country of freedom, unity, independence,
democracy and peace,” he said.
The country is still under the one-party communist system inherited from
Ho, who died in 1969, but the trappings of capitalism are everywhere as
the country of 80 million strives to mesh into the global economy.
The changes were evident from the ornate French colonial guesthouse
where Gen. Giap used to meet Ho Chi Minh, and to which he returned to
bask briefly in his former glory.
Across Ngo Quyen Street stands the elegant, restored Metropole Hotel,
now filled with American and other foreign tourists. A store nearby
sells French wines.
Roads once filled with bicycles are now clogged with cellphone-wielding
youths on motorbikes. Neon signs and flashy billboards, Internet cafes
and trendy restaurants dot the capital.
Dien Bien Phu has also grown and modernized, as Gen. Giap saw when he
recently visited there and met a few surviving veterans of the battle.
“I am more than 90 years old. I never thought I'd have another
opportunity to visit Dien Bien Phu,” he said. “I had very strong
emotions — memories of those who had fallen.”
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