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Vo Nguyen Giap - A strategic General and leader

Joining the revolution at 14, becoming a member of the Communist Party at 29 and General of the People’s Army of Vietnam at 37 and was member of the Politburo, Secretary of the Central Military Commission, Standing Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Commander-in-chief of the army and National Assembly Deputy, Vo Nguyen Giap devoted his entire life to the revolutionary cause of the Party and nation. He followed Ho Chi Minh’s national salvation path as well as his morality. He was public-spirited and talented yet modest. He mastered the art of war yet respected and loved every person and his or her fate. He was a famous general yet a simple, friendly and sympathetic person. His life, career and personality have gone down and will go down in the country’s history and have stayed and will stay in people’s hearts forever.

Vo Nguyen Giap was born on 25 August 1911 in An Xa hamlet, Loc Thuy village, Le Thuy district, Quang Binh province. The patriotism in his family and homeland had profound influences on his youth and his subsequent revolutionary cause. When a pupil at Hue National School, the patriotic Vo Nguyen Giap was inspired by Phan Boi Chau’s and Ho Chi Minh’s ideologies and strength of purpose. At the age of 16, he joined the Revolutionary Party of Tan Viet, one of the predecessors of the Communist Party of Vietnam. That was a time when his revolutionary path began to take shape. In the 1930s, he actively participated in the realization of the Party’s political platform and guidelines. Between 1936 and 1939 when the democracy campaign was at its height, he worked for the campaign semipublicly; by being a teacher and journalist, he spreaded patriotism and the Party’s revolutionary guidelines.

Vo Nguyen Giap’s meeting with Nguyen Ai Quoc in Yunnan, China in early 1940 marked a turning point in his revolutionary cause. After Nguyen Ai Quoc returned to Vietnam on 28 January 1941, he and the Party Central Committee entrusted Vo Nguyen Giap with the Party’s military work instead of comrade Phung Chi Kien, who was killed in action. Vo Nguyen Giap was to continue the national liberation path adopted by the 8th Plenum of the Party Central Committee in May 1941. On 22 December 1944, authorized by Ho Chi Minh, he organized a ceremony establishing the Vietnam Propaganda and Liberation Troops. In April 1945, he joined the Northern Revolutionary and Military Committee. In May 1945, the country’s different armed forces were united and he became Commander of the Liberation Army of Vietnam. At the Party’s national Plenum in Tan Trao in Tuyen Quang province, he was elected to the Party’s executive and standing committees and the National Uprising Committee. The National Congress on 16 August 1945 elected him to the National Liberation Committee.

After the August Revolution had succeeded, the newly-born Democratic Republic of Vietnam was faced with a life-and-death situation. Vo Nguyen Giap, together with the Party Central Committee and government and under Ho Chi Minh’s leadership, led the people and army to overcome serious challenges, preserve their forces and protect the revolutionary government. As French colonialists returned to invade Vietnam, the Party and Ho Chi Minh led both the resistance war and national construction. Vo Nguyen Giap was tasked with commanding the resistance. In
January 1948, Ho Chi Minh signed the order promoting Vo Nguyen Giap to General, the first general of the People’s Army of Vietnam. As member of the standing committee of the communist Party of Vietnam, Minister of Defense,Secretary of the Central Military Commission, and from the Party’s 2nd Congress in February 1951, member of the Politburo, General Vo Nguyen Giap contributed significantly to the successful implementation of the Party’s resistance guidelines, thereby defeating all French strategies and bringing about the historic Dien Bien Phu victory.

The resistance war against American imperialists was the greatest challenge to the Party, State and people of Vietnam. General, Minister of Defense, Commander-in-chief of the army and Secretary of the Central Military Commission Vo Nguyen Giap, under the leadership of the Party Central Committee, Politburo and President Ho Chi Minh and supported by the entire people and army, defeated American empire’s brutal warfare, winning the ultimate victory in the historic general uprising and Ho Chi Minh campaign in the spring of 1975.

During the socialist construction in the north and in the rest of the country as well as during the renovation process, as a prestigious leader, General Vo Nguyen Giap contributed his energy and intellect to the cause of national construction and safeguarding, promotion of the renovation cause, national industrialization and modernization and international integration. After completing the national liberation and unification cause, the General with more than 30 years’ experience in battle did not take rest but continued to engage in national protection and noble international duties. He devoted all his energy to accomplishing whatever post and task the Party, State or Government assigned him. His exemplariness, sense of discipline, modesty and public spirit, which allowed him to give top priority to the cause of the Party, country and people and take on whatever task was assigned to him, represented the noble qualities of a talented, world famous General. This won him great trust and respect from his colleagues, people and even from his enemies.

Since he was an intellect and teacher before becoming a famous general and talented leader, Vo Nguyen Giap paid special attention to the development of science and education and human resource training, which President Ho Chi Minh started. In the early 1940s, Nguyen Ai Quoc asked him to write lectures and opened courses in revolutionary knowledge for patriotic youths. Those lectures are printed in the book The Path to Liberation. Having experience in personnel training in secrecy and in resistance periods as well as in military personnel training, the General paid attention to the training and retraining of senior officials of the Party and the entire political system. He paid several working visits to Nguyen Ai Quoc Party School, now the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics. Most recently, on 17 May 2005, he gave a profound, heartfelt speech at the symposium commemorating Ho Chi Minh’s 115th birthday at the Academy. In his speech, the General called corruption, wastefulness and red tape “domestic invaders”. He wished the Party and State would “defeat these invaders” and “consider these sins as serious as spying, as Ho Chi Minh once said”.

General Vo Nguyen Giap is a special figure in the history of the Vietnamese nation and revolution as well as that of the world. Whether he was in office or retired, the respect, love and gratitude the entire Party, people and army extended to him never changed but only became more profound.

His life and career shone through, first of all, his mastery of war. His defeat of the mightiest armies of the 20th century turned him into a legendary general and military genius. He was also a great advocate of culture, an enthusiastic journalist and an exemplary teacher. His ideas were very much influenced by patriotism and humanitarianism. He worked for the public, peace and friendship among peoples. There have been and will be a lot of books from in and outside of Vietnam on Vo Nguyen Giap - a pride of the Communist Party, State and people of Vietnam.

General Vo Nguyen Giap was one of the eminent leaders of the Communist Party, State and Government of Vietnam. He was a leader of great strategic vision and a people’s leader. Though having intelligent nature, he never stopped to learn or teach himself in order to improve his intellect, knowledge, political mettle and outlook, ideology, theories, strategic thinking and scientific methodologies.

In his work, speeches, articles or books, General Vo Nguyen Giap always referred to Ho Chi Minh and the Party’s guidelines and leadership, which helped to attach strategic importance to his career. The political guidelines and strategic goals of Ho Chi Minh and the Party were to fight for national independence and unification and people’s freedom and happiness. Furthermore, he wanted to build a society free from oppression and injustice where people could live in peace, freedom and well-being. With his rich knowledge of the history and culture of the nation and the world, General Vo Nguyen Giap soon adopted Marxism - Leninism and learnt the way revolutions shaped and evolved, as well as dialectic method, thereby having a correct understanding of the development path of the Vietnamese revolution and people. Such theoretical knowledge helped him fully understand Ho Chi Minh’s thought and the Party’s platform and guidelines and applied them successfully to his entire revolutionary cause, particularly his command of the army in the country’s resistance wars.

The Party and Ho Chi Minh entrusted Vo Nguyen Giap with military commandment in 1941, when the Party further completed its national liberation guidelines at its 8th Plenum in May. Such guidelines resolved radical issues emerging from the fight for national independence and establishment of a government suitable for Vietnamese conditions and achieved national liberation. Under the leadership of the Party and Ho Chi Minh, General Vo Nguyen Giap realized those guidelines on the military front, built up the armed forces and revolutionary bases, thus contributing significantly to the success of the historic August Revolution, which gave birth to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the first people’s democratic state in Southeast Asia. He would always bear in mind Ho Chi Minh’s poetry, which also embodied his strategic leadership style, “Look far, think hard. Determined not to halt our attack”, as well as his teaching or strategic determination, “Whatever sacrifice we must make, even if we have to burn down the entire Truong Son range, we must gain independence”.

In the early stage of the French resistance, the Party and President Ho Chi Minh introduced guidelines for resistance and national construction on 25 November 1945 in order to continue the national liberation revolution. Instruction People’s Resistance (12 December 1946), appeal Nationwide Resistance by Ho Chi Minh (19 December 1946), work The Resistance Will Definitely Succeed by Party General Secretary Truong Chinh (August 1947) and the Party’s 2nd Congress Platform (February 1951) were among the documents which clearly reflected the guidelines and provided practical and theoretical knowledge of the Vietnamese revolution during the Ho Chi Minh era. General Vo Nguyen Giap and his people-based army remained absolutely loyal to the guidelines and leadership of the Party and President Ho Chi Minh. They created their own way of fighting, elevating it to a military science and art of Vietnam.

Guidelines for the revolution in the south were developed by the resolution of the 15th Resolution of the Party Central Committee in 1959 and the 3rd Party National Congress in September 1960. During the American resistance, those guidelines were constantly supplemented in order to respond to the developments of the war by means of such documents as the Politburo’s Resolutions in 1961 and 1962, Resolution of the 9th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (3rd tenure) in December 1963, Resolutions of the 11th and 12th Plenums of the Party Central Committee in 1965, Resolution of the 19th Plenum in 1971 and Resolution of the 21st Plenum in July 1973 of the Party Central Committee and especially the strategic call by the Politburo on the general uprising in the spring of 1975. President Ho Chi Minh’s strategic determination, accurate predictions and excellent leadership were of special significance and importance. Like in previous periods, during the American resistance, General Vo Nguyen Giap, under Ho Chi Minh’s direct leadership, worked with the Politburo and Central Military Commission to draw up and then successfully carried out guidelines for the resistance.

The General learned from the nation’s art of war, the world’s military knowledge, revolutionary military theories, Ho Chi Minh’s thought and the Party’s military guidelines, used them well and developed them into the Vietnamese military art. He many a times quoted Ho Chi Minh as saying in 1941 in Cao Bang, “People first, guns later. Once we have people’s support, we’ll have guns. People’s support means everything”.

The military and war follow politics by means of violence. This principle was fully grasped at the birth of the Vietnam Propaganda and Liberation Troops, which gave political activity higher priority than a military one. The troops belonged to the revolution that originated from people. They struggled for national independence and people’s freedom and happiness. They stayed in close touch with people, won their love and came to be called Uncle Ho’s soldiers. During the prolonged war, observing instructions by President Ho Chi Minh and the Party Central Committee, General Vo Nguyen Giap worked hard to build a heroic people’s army, which would sacrifice themselves for the country, be loyal to the Party, be respectful of the public, accomplish whatever assignment, overcome whatever difficulty and defeat whatever enemy.

Recognizing the importance of people’s political strength, General Vo Nguyen Giap devoted much of his energy to the development of three main armed forces, regular, local and guerrilla. He would combine guerrilla with regular warfare and fight enemy troops anywhere, any time and with any available weapon, thereby being able to wage the war on a large scale. He would combine development of political forces and that of armed forces, political struggle and military fighting, front lines and the rear and self-reliance and international support in order to create the aggregate strength of the Vietnamese revolutionary war. He summarized the country’s Ho Chi Minh-era military science and art in such books as Unforgettable Days, Fighting under Siege or Dien Bien Phu - A Rendezvous with History. He wrote, “The fundamental idea behind the country’s Ho Chi Minh-era military theory is based on its absolute determination to gain independence and freedom through a people-based resistance… [It] has inherited the nation’s established art of war characterized by the use of small and weak forces to fight larger and stronger ones and has elevated it to a new height, solving a paradox of the times where a small country defeated two mighty imperialist countries being France and the United States”.(1)[1] The Party has been working to expand this military theory and has used it as an important source of orientation for its national defence strategies.  

General Vo Nguyen Giap was also an example of revolutionary morality. As a general, he was intelligent, brave, humane, reliable, fair, and loyal. As a leader, he was hardworking, thrifty, straight forwarrd, righteous, public-spirited and selfless. He followed Ho Chi Minh’s morality for his whole life. Ho Chi Minh’s life and career had a profound influence on Vo Nguyen Giap, making him one of the President’s best and favourite disciples.

There was a perfect harmony of talent, morality and personality in Vo Nguyen Giap. With his exceptional talent and intelligence, he became a legendary general the entire Party, people and army admire, honor and thank, worldwide friends esteem and enemies respect. For his morality, lifestyle, personality and behavior, people and soldiers nationwide love him. He was close to people and soldiers and sympathetic to the poor. He led a life of virtue. It was such simplicity in his lifestyle that made him a great man. However, he was a modest man who always considered his contribution insignificant. He would be always respectfully referred to the leadership of the Party and President Ho Chi Minh, the Party’s leaders sincerely, and enormous sacrifices made by people and soldiers gratefully.

Besides Ho Chi Minh and other typical revolutionaries, General Vo Nguyen Giap set a good example for various generations of officials and party members. Paying the last tribute to him is an occasion for everyone to reflect and promote their strong points and correct their mistakes, so that they deserve previous generations’ sacrifices. This is also an occasion for everyone to join hands with the Party and army in combating “domestic enemies” - corruption, wastefulness, red tape and other malpractices, thereby contributing to successful realization of national industrialization, modernization and defense.

Rest in peace General Vo Nguyen Giap - a staunch communist, military genius and exemplary personality who will always live in the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people and nation.

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(1) The Great Victory of the 1975 Spring - Vietnamese Mettle and Intelligence, People’s Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006, pp. 77-78.

Prof., Dr. TA NGOC TAN

Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam,

Director of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of PoliticsGeneral

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