18 Matching Annotations
  1. Jul 2019
  2. Feb 2019
  3. Jul 2017
    1. Those who thought he might use his enormous prestige to political effect, as Vietnam's communist leaders failed to deliver the economic benefits of peace, were disappointed
    2. Giap had his critics, too, most notably over his willingness to suffer casualties which would be politically unacceptable in anything other than a war for national liberation.“In the final analysis, victory in any war is determined by the willingness of the masses to shed blood on the battlefield,” Giap once wrote.
    3. In a biography, Peter MacDonald, a retired British brigadier, argues that Giap combined a strategic depth of vision with a mastery of guerrilla warfare and an outstanding grasp of logistics, seen most dramatically in the creation of the Ho Chi Minh trail to supply the south during the American War.
    4. But poised for what? The initial plan, endorsed by Giap’s Chinese military advisers, called for an early mass assault before the French could further strengthen their positions. On January 26, with six hours to go before the first attack was to be launched, Giap called it off, causing a near mutiny among his staff.“We chose to strike and advance surely,” he wrote later, “and to strike to win only when success is certain.” Giap redeployed his artillery to higher ground, ordering his men to begin steadily digging an extensive trench network towards the French positions where they could pick off the French forts one by one. At the same time, he continued diversionary movements into Laos and in the Mekong Delta, aimed at preventing Navarre from concentrating more of his forces on Dien Bien Phu.
    1. In March 1972, the North Vietnamese carried out the Easter offensive on three fronts, expanding their holdings in Cambodia and Laos and bringing temporary gains in South Vietnam. But it ended in defeat, and General Giap again bore the brunt of criticism for the heavy losses. In summer 1972, he was replaced by Gen. Van Tien Dung, possibly because he had fallen from favor but possibly because, as was rumored, he had Hodgkin’s disease.Although he was removed from direct command in 1973, General Giap remained minister of defense, overseeing North Vietnam’s final victory over South Vietnam and the United States when Saigon, the South’s capital, fell on April 30, 1975. He also guided the invasion of Cambodia in January 1979, which ousted the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge. The next month, after Hanoi had established a new government in Phnom Penh, Chinese troops attacked along the North Vietnamese border to drive home the point that China remained the paramount regional power.
    2. General Westmoreland relied on superior weaponry to wage a war of attrition, in which he measured success by the number of enemy dead. Though the Communists lost in any comparative “body count” of casualties, General Giap was quick to see that the indiscriminate bombing and massed firepower of the Americans caused heavy civilian casualties and alienated many Vietnamese from the government the Americans supported.With the war in stalemate and Americans becoming less tolerant of accepting casualties, General Giap told a European interviewer, South Vietnam “is for the Americans a bottomless pit.”
    3. “Every minute, hundreds of thousands of people die on this earth,” General Giap is said to have remarked after the war with France. “The life or death of a hundred, a thousand, tens of thousands of human beings, even our compatriots, means little.”
    4. “He learned from his mistakes and did not repeat them,” Gen. Marcel Bigeard, who as a young colonel of French paratroops surrendered at Dien Bien Phu, told Peter G. Macdonald, one of General Giap’s biographers. But “to Giap,” he said, “a man’s life was nothing.”
    5. But his critics said that his victories had been rooted in a profligate disregard for the lives of his soldiers. Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who commanded American forces in Vietnam from 1964 until 1968, said, “Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would not have lasted three weeks.”
    1. Giap's political timidity came as a crushing disappointment to many. His last years were spent polishing his image as the "red Napoleon". He adored giving interviews, charming his hagiographers and fawning journalists with the same gestures and stories told in a fluent but outdated French of which he was immensely proud. He was always careful to avoid the real questions that hung over his increasingly contested career. He could not, however, stop many people from reconsidering his versions of history and heroism. Many Vietnamese also began to question whether the sacrifices of war had been worth it. Others saw too many moments in Giap's career where he had refused to stand up to hardliners or had failed to capitalise on his popular support to force through political and economic changes.
    2. In 1986, in the runup to a Communist party congress, a group of officers urged Giap to take control and launch sweeping changes to the economy and political system. Giap refused, terrified of what might happen if he failed. Bui Tin, an army colonel who had been a protege, urged him again in 1990 to take over and provide a new direction for Vietnam. Giap demurred, preferring a comfortable retirement. Tin later condemned him bitterly, quoting an old Chinese saying that "the reputations of generals are built on the bodies of 10,000 men".
    3. General William Westmoreland, commander of the American forces, once remarked that any US general that suffered Giap's losses would have been sacked instantly. His skills lay less in military tactics and more in managing the logistics and politics that were so vital to sustain the war in the south. His diplomatic skills kept open supply lines from China and the Soviet Union, while at home he organised the movement of troops and material down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a vast web of tracks stretching into Laos and Cambodia. "People should not be overawed by the power of modern weapons," Giap wrote. "It is the value of human beings that in the end will decide victory."
    1. Dien Bien Phu "was the first time that a non-European colonial independence movement had evolved through all the stages from guerrilla bands to a conventionally organized and equipped army able to defeat a modern Western occupier in a pitched battle," wrote British historian Martin Windrow, the author of “The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam.”
    2. For the French, however, the Viet Minh victory marked not just the end of their dominance in Indochina but the beginning of their decline as a colonial power. Inspired by the Viet Minh, many Algerians, a few of whom had even fought next to the French in Vietnam, began demanding their own independence. About six months later, Algerians would begin their own successful independence movement, through a bloody war that lasted over seven years. Julian Jackson, a historian, wrote for the BBC: "The French army held so desperately on to Algeria partly to redeem the honor it felt had been lost at Dien Bien Phu. So obsessed did the army become by this idea that in 1958 it backed a putsch against the government, which it believed was preparing what the generals condemned as a 'diplomatic Dien Bien Phu.'"