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Anti-Imperialist Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013)


General Vo Nguyen Giap, anti-imperialist hero and commander of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the struggle against French colonialism and America’s decade long war against his country died on October 4. He was 102.

Giap was a self-taught military strategist who masterminded the sensational victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. His legendary exploits on the battlefield earned him the status of hero not just in his native Vietnam but amongst all Third World revolutionaries from Cuba to South Africa fighting for liberation from colonialism and oppression. Dien Bien Phu ushered in the end of the French empire, costing them Indochina and indirectly leading to their retreat from Algeria eight years later.

The United States, which declared a full-scale war in Vietnam in 1964 under false pretenses following the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, tried to smear Giap as a face of evil in his country; he was twice featured on the cover of Time Magazine looking overly caliginous set against the dreaded communist red background.

The general, much like Ho Chi Minh, only embraced communism as a way of expediting the demise of French colonialism which the Vietnamese had not incorrectly assumed to have been interdicted after the powers had signed the Atlantic Charter. But after the secretive meetings between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin at Potsdam in 1945 adduced to give control of Vietnam back to the French, Giap and his fellow revolutionaries decided to escape north and study the ways of the Chinese communists.

An eloquent writer, Giap published several essays in the early days of the newly proclaimed Democratic Republic of Vietnam which earned him an occasional rebuke from Ho Chi Minh for being to discursive for the country’s peasants to comprehend. Additionally, he published several books on guerrilla tactics and is credited by war reporter Bernard Fall with molding Vietnam’s “fearsome military apparatus” into the “strongest native military force in Southeast Asia.”

He served as the Interior Minister and later Defense Minister and was effectively in charge during the period of time when Ho Chi Minh was in France for peace talks in 1946.

Upon reunification, Vietnam remains one of the last communist-run countries in the world. And while there are many criticisms to lay at Hanoi’s feet, it is perhaps a testament to the revolutionary energy of Giap and his comrades that their regime — which defeated not one but two great powers — still remains standing today.

Photo: Claro Cortes IV/Reuters



Tim LaRocco

Tim LaRocco is an adjunct professor of political science at St. Joseph's College in New York. He was previously a Southeast Asia based journalist and his articles have appeared in a variety of political affairs publications. He is also the author of "Hegemony 101: Great Power Behavior in the Regional Domain" (Lambert, 2013). Tim splits his time between Long Island, New York and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Twitter: @TheRealMrTim.