Saturday, 5 October 2013

The 20th Century's greatest military leader...


People should not be overawed by the power of modern weapons ... It is the value of human beings that in the end will decide victory.

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap

I have an academic interest in South East Asia (and the degree to prove it) plus a fascination with the strategy and tactics of warfare. Vo Nguyen Giap was, without question, the finest military leader of the 20th century.

...on Christmas Eve 1944 he and a band of 33 partisans armed with knives and flintlock rifles attacked two isolated French outposts. Thirty years later, with the French gone and the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese forces now near collapse, his army was the world's third largest, numbering 800,000. Through three decades of war, he was his nation's supreme military commander, a service record with few, if any, parallels in modern times.

It's also fair to say that Giap didn't merely liberate Vietnam but, by that act, he changed the politics of America. Some would say that popular disapproval combined with military defeat changed the USA's very culture.

However, in all the remembering of Vietnam, in all the discussion of the great victory at Dien Bien Phu, we miss the other service Giap did for us - he (and the Vietnamese army) finally ended the ambitions of China to control Indo-China. For all the bungling and ineptitude of the People's Liberation Army, Giap yet again demonstrated his brilliance and his army's willingness to take sacrifice.

I'm not sure the great powers have quite shaken off their arrogance and dismissal of troops and military leadership in other places. I would advise reading Giap's biography and understanding that what drove him wasn't hatred or ideology but a simple desire to be free. Free from French colonial rule, free from US occupation and free from Chinese invasion.

In the end liberty does tend to triumph.



Anonymous said...

The "freedom" you mention involved a communist regime that sent 1 million Vietnamese to re-education camps from which 165,000 never returned, executed between 100,000 and 200,000 more and killed another 50,000 in "New economic zones" through hard labour.

That's why millions risked over-crowded boats to flee the country. Hundreds of thousands died.

Curmudgeon said...

No doubt Giap was a good general, as were Zhukov and Rokossovsky, but to say he was fighting for any meaningful form of freedom is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I don't think liberate is quite the right word.
Jon T

Anonymous said...

The controversial opinions of his cause is due to different worldviews. To Vietnamese and through Vietnamese pieces of literary during the wars, fighting for freedom was the greatest mission. Don't perceive him as a dictator just based on one-sided information.