August 25, 1911 - October 4, 2013:
One of the Greatest Military Strategists that Ever Lived
Gen. Giap with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Gen. Giap with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
2. Interview with Vo Nguyen Giap, Viet Minh Commander
People's War, People's Army
excerpt from Giap, Vo Nguyen: People's War, People's Army. Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 1961.*
*Although the first English-language edition of General Giap's work was published by Foreign Languages Publishing House, the official publishing outlet of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (the full name of North Vietnam prior to national unification following the defeat of the United States in 1975), it was also published in the United States by Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, which had extensive CIA connections. For more background on this go to http://jfk.hood.edu/Collection/White Materials/CIA-Domestic Intelligence/CIA-D 0043.pdf.
[For more selections from this work go to http://www.nelsonmandela.org/omalley/index.php/site/q/03lv03445/04lv04015/05lv04154/06lv04158.htm.]
People's War, People's Army: The Vietnamese People's War of Liberation against the French Imperialists and the American Interventionists (1945-1954)
by Vo Nguyen Giap
Chapter 3: The Fundamental Problem of Our War of National Liberation
The Vietnamese people's war of liberation was, a just war, aiming to win back the independence and unity of the country, to bring land to our peasants and guarantee them the right to it, and to defend the achievements of the August Revolution. That is why it was first and foremost a people's war. To educate, mobilise, organise and arm the whole people in order that they might take part in the Resistance was a crucial question.
The enemy of the Vietnamese nation was aggressive imperialism, which had to be overthrown. But the latter having long since joined up with the feudal landlords, the anti-imperialist struggle could definitely not be separated from anti-feudal action. On the other hand, in a backward colonial country such as ours where the peasants make up the majority of the population, a people's war is essentially a peasant's war under the leadership of the working class. Owing to this fact, a general mobilisation of the whole people is neither more nor less than the mobilisation of the rural masses. The problem of land is of decisive importance. From an exháustive analysis, the Vietnamese people's war of liberation was essentially a people's national democratic revolution carried out under armed form and had twofold fundamental task: the overthrowing of imperialism and the defeat of the feudal landlord class, the anti-imperialist struggle being the primary task.
A backward colonial country which had only just risen up to proclaim its independence and install people's power, Viet Nam only recently possessed armed forces, equipped with still very mediocre arms and having no combat experience. Her enemy, on the other hand, was an imperialist power which has retained a fairly considerable economic and military potentiality despite the recent German occupation and benefited, furthermore, from the active support of the United States. The balance of forces decidedly showed up our weaknesses against the enemy's power. The Vietnamese people's war of liberation had, therefore, to be a hard and long-lasting war in order to succeed in creating conditions for victory. All the conceptions born of impatience and aimed at obtaining speedy victory could only be gross errors. It was necessary to firmly grasp the strategy of a long-term resistance, and to exalt the will to be self-supporting in order to maintain and gradually augment our forces, while nibbling at and progressively destroying those of the enemy; it was necessary to accumulate thousands of small victories to turn them into a great success, thus gradually altering the balance of forces, in transforming our weakness into power and carrying off final victory.
At an early stage, our Party was able to discern the characteristics of this war: a people's war and a long-lasting war, and it was by proceeding from these premises that, during the whole of hostilities and in particularly difficult conditions, the Party solved all the problems of the Resistance. This judicious leadership by the Party led us to victory.
From the point of view of directing operations, our strategy and tactics had to be those of a people's war and of a long-term resistance.
General Giap planning the Dien Bien Phu campaign, 1953-54, his brilliant victory against the French.
Our strategy was, as we have stressed, to wage a long-lasting battle. A war of this nature in general entails several phases; in principle, starting from a stage of contention, it goes through a period of equilibrium before arriving at a general counter-offensive. In effect, the way in which it is carried on can be more subtle and more complex, depending on the particular conditions obtaining on both sides during the course of operations. Only a long-term war could enable us to utilise to the maximum our political trump cards, to overcome our material handicap and to transform our weakness into strength. To maintain and increase our forces, was the principle to which we adhered, contenting ourselves with attacking when success was certain, refusing to give battle likely to incur losses to us or to engage in hazardous actions. We had to apply the slogan: to build up our strength during the actual course of fighting.
The forms of fighting had to be completely adapted that is, to raise the fighting spirit to the maximum and rely on heroism of our troops to overcome the enemy's material superiority. In the main, especially at the outset of the war, we had recourse to guerrilla fighting. In the Vietnamese theatre of operations, this method carried off great victories: it could be used in the mountains as well as in the delta, it could be waged with good or mediocre material and even without arms, and was to enable us eventually to equip ourselves at the cost of the enemy. Wherever the Expeditionary Corps came, the entire population took part in the fighting; every commune had its fortified village, every district had its regional troops fighting under the command of the local branches of the Party and the people's administration, in liaison with the regular forces in order to wear down and annihilate the enemy forces.
Thereafter, with the development of our forces, guerrilla warfare changed into a mobile warfare - a form of mobile warfare still strongly marked by guerrilla warfare --which would afterwards become the essential form of operations on the main front, the northern front. In this process of development of guerrilla warfare and of accentuation of the mobile warfare, our people's army constantly grew and passed from the stage of combats involving a section or company, to fairly large-scale campaigns bringing into action several divisions. Gradually, its equipment improved, mainly by the seizure of arms from the enemy - the material of the French and American imperialists.
From the military point of view, the Vietnamese people's war of liberation proved that an insufficiently equipped people's army, but an army fighting for a just cause, can, with appropriate strategy and tactics, combine the conditions needed to conquer a modern army of aggressive imperialism.
|Young Giap and Ho Chi Minh.|
In the building of rural bases and the reinforcement of the rear lines for giving an impulse to the resistance, the agrarian policy of the Party played a determining role. Therein lay the anti-feudal task of the revolution. In a colony where the national question is essentially the peasant question, the consolidation of the resistance forces was possible only by a solution to the agrarian problem.
The August Revolution overthrew the feudal State. The reduction of land rents and rates of interest decreed by people's power bestowed on the peasants their first material advantages. Land monopolised by the imperialists and the traitors was confiscated and shared out. Communal land and rice fields were more equitably distributed. From 1953, deeming it necessary to promote the accomplishment of anti-feudal tasks, the Party decided to achieve agrarian reform even during the course of the resistance war. Despite the errors which blemished its accomplishment, it was a correct line crowned with success; it resulted in real material advantages for the peasants and brought to the army and the people a new breath of enthusiasm in the war of resistance.
Thanks to this just agrarian policy, the life of the people, in the hardest conditions of the resistance war, in general improved, not only in the wast free zones of the North, but even in the guerrilla bases in South Viet Nam.
The Vietnamese people's war of liberation brought out the importance of building resistance bases in the country-side and the close and indissoluble relationships between the anti-imperialist revolution and the anti-feudal revolution.
From the political point of view, the question of unit among the people and the mobilisation of all energies in the war of resistance were of paramount importance. It wa at the same time a question of the national united fror against the imperialists and their lackeys, the Vietnamese traitors.
In Viet Nam, our Party carried off a great success in its policy of Front. As early as during the difficult days of the Second World War, it formed the League for the Independence of Viet Nam. At the time of and during the early years of the war of resistance, it postponed the application of its watchwords on the agrarian revolution, limiting its programme to the reduction of land rents and interest rates, which enabled us to neutralise part of the landlord class and to rally around us the most patriotic of them.
From the early days of the August Revolution, the policy of broad front adopted by the Party neutralised th( wavering elements among the landlord class and limited the acts of sabotage by the partisans of the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang.
Thereafter, in the course of development of the resistance war, when agrarian reform had become an urgent necessity, our Party applied itself to making a differentiation within the bosom of the landlord class by providing in its political line for different treatment for each type of landlord according to the latter's political attitude, on the principle of liquidation of the regime of feudal appropriation of land.
The policy of unity among nationalities adopted by the National United Front also achieved great successes and the programme of unity with the various religious circles attained good results.
The National United Front was to be a vast assembly of all the forces capable of being united, neutralising all those which could be neutralised, dividing all those it was possible to divide in order to direct the spearhead at the chief enemy of the revolution, invading imperialism. It was to be established on the basis of an alliance between workers and peasants and placed under the leadership of the working class. In Viet Nam, the question of an alliance between workers and peasants was backed by a dazzling history and firm traditions, the party of the working class having been the only political party to fight resolutely in all circumstances for national independence, and the first to put forward the watchword "land to the tillers "and to struggle determinedly for its realisation.
However, in the early years of the resistance a certain under-estimation of the importance of the peasant question hindered us from giving all the necessary attention to the worker-peasant alliance. This error war subsequently put right, especially from the moment when the Party decided, by means of accomplishing agrarian reform, to make the peasants the real masters of the countryside. At present, after the victory of the resistance and of agrarian reform, when the Party has restored independence to half the country and brought land to the peasants, the bases of the worker-peasant alliance will daily go from strength to strength.
The war of liberation of the Vietnamese people proves that, in the face of an enemy as powerful as he is cruel, victory is possible only by uniting the whole people within the bosom of a firm and wide national united front based on the worker-peasant alliance.
*** Interview with Vo Nguyen Giap, Viet Minh Commander
PBS.org broadcast June 28, 1999 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/peoplescentury/episodes/guerrillawars/giaptranscript.html
Q: Was Diên Bin Phû a conventional military victory or was it a victory for military warfare?
Giap: The victory at Diên Bin Phû was a victory for the people. But then, of course, while the concept of a people's war and guerrilla warfare are not entirely separate, they are separate nonetheless. In this case, it was the people's war that was victorious. And guerrilla warfare was one aspect of that people's war. It's all quite complicated.... What is the people's war? Well, in a word, it's a war fought for the people by the people, whereas guerrilla warfare is simply a combat method. The people's war is more global in concept. It's a synthesized concept. A war which is simultaneously military, economic and political, and is what we in France would call "synthesized." There's guerrilla warfare and there's large-scale tactical warfare, fought by large units.
Q: What was new about the idea of the "People's War"?
Giap: It was a war for the people by the people. FOR the people because the war's goals are the people's goals -- goals such as independence, a unified country, and the happiness of its people.... And BY the people -- well that means ordinary people -- not just the army but all people.
We know it's the human factor, and not material resources, which decide the outcome of war. That's why our people's war, led by Ho Chi Minh, was on such a large scale. It took in the whole population.
Q: What do you think about the significance of Diên Bin Phû for the world?
Giap: The history of the Vietnamese people goes back thousands of years. During that time we've repelled thousands of invaders. Only, in former times the countries that tried to invade us were on the same economic level as we were. Theirs, like ours, was a feudal society. That was the case, for example, when we fought the Chinese in the 13th century. But Diên Bin Phû was a victory in another era. What I mean is that in the latter half of the 19th century, when western imperialism divided the world into colonies, a new problem emerged. How could a weak, economically backwards people ever hope to regain its freedom? How could it hope to take on a modern western army, backed by the resources of a modern capitalist state? And that's why it took us 100 years to fight off the French and French imperialism. Diên Bin Phû was the first great decisive victory after 100 years of war against French imperialism and U.S. interventionism. That victory that put an end to the war and marked the end of French aggression. From an international point of view, it was the first great victory for a weak, colonized people struggling against the full strength of modern Western forces. This is why it was the first great defeat for the West. It shook the foundations of colonialism and called on people to fight for their freedom -- it was the beginning of international civilization.
Q: Was Diên Bin Phû an easy victory because the French made so many mistakes?
Giap: It's not as simple as that. We believed that in the French camp, French general staff and the military chiefs were well informed. They'd weighed up the pros and cons, and according to their forecasts, Diên Bin Phû was impregnable. It has to be said that at the beginning of the autumn of '53, for example, when our political headquarters were planning our autumn and winter campaigns, there was no mention of Diên Bin Phû. Why? Because, the Navarre plan didn't mention it either. They had a whole series of maneuvers planned.
For us, the problem was that Navarre wanted to retain the initiative whereas we wanted to seize it. There is a contradiction that exists in a war of aggression whereby you have to disperse your forces to occupy a territory but rally your mobile forces for offensive action. We took advantage of this contradiction and forced Navarre to disperse his forces. That's how it all started. We ordered our troops to advance in a number of directions, directions of key importance to the enemy although their presence wasn't significant. So the enemy had no choice but to disperse their troops. We sent divisions north, northwest, toward the center, towards Laos; other divisions went in other directions. So to safeguard Laos and the northwest, Navarre had to parachute troops into Diên Bin Phû, and that's what happened at Diên Bin Phû. Before then, no one had heard of Diên Bin Phû. But afterwards, well that's history, isn't it? French General Staff only planned to parachute in sufficient troops to stop us advancing on the northwest and Laos. Little by little, they planned to transform Diên Bin Phû into an enormous concentration camp, a fortified camp, the most powerful in Indochina. They planned to draw our forces, break us, crush us, but the opposite took place. They'd wanted a decisive battle and that's exactly what they got at Diên Bin Phû -- except that it was decisive for the Vietnamese and not for the French.
Q: Before Diên Bin Phû, do you think the French ever imagined you could defeat them?
Giap: Well, everyone at Diên Bin Phû, from the French generals and representatives of the French government to the American generals and the commanding admiral of the Pacific Fleet, agreed that Diên Bin Phû was impregnable. Everyone agreed that it was impossible to take. The French and then the Americans underestimated our strength. They had better weapons and enormous military and economic potential. They never doubted that victory would be theirs. And yet, just when the French believed themselves to be on the verge of victory, everything collapsed around them. The same happened to the Americans in the Spring of '65. Just when Washington was about to proclaim victory in the South, the Americans saw their expectations crumble. Why? Because it wasn't just an army they were up against but an entire people -- an entire people.
So the lesson is that however great the military and economic potential of your adversary, it will never be great enough to defeat a people united in the struggle for their fundamental rights. That's what we've learned from all this.
Q: Why was the National Liberation Front so successful in expanding the areas it controlled between 1960 and 1965?
Giap: Throughout our long history, whenever we've felt ourselves to be threatened by the enemy, our people have closed in the ranks. Millions of men, united, have called for "Unification above all," for "Victory above all".... The National Liberation Front was victorious because it managed to unite most of the people and because its politics were just.
Q: Did you change your tactics at all when the American troops began to arrive after 1965?
Giap: Of course, but even so, it was still a people's war. And, a people's war is characterized by a strategy that is more than simply military. There's always a synthesized aspect to the strategy, too. Our strategy was at once military, political, economic, and diplomatic, although it was the military component which was the most important one.
In a time of war, you have to take your lead from the enemy. You have to know your enemy well. When your enemy changes his strategy or tactics, you have to do the same. In every war, a strategy is always made up of a number of tactics that are considered to be of great strategic importance, so you have to try to smash those tactics. If we took on the cavalry, for example, we'd do everything we could to smash that particular tactic. It was the same when the enemy made use of strategic weapons.... And, when the Americans tried to apply their "seek and destroy" tactic, we responded with our own particular tactic that was to make their objective unattainable and destroy them instead. We had to...force the enemy to fight the way we wanted them to fight. We had to force the enemy to fight on unfamiliar territory.
Q: Was your Têt offensive in 1968 a failure?
Giap: As far as we're concerned, there's no such thing as a purely military strategy. So it would be wrong to speak of Têt in purely military terms. The offensive was three things at the same time: military, political, and diplomatic. The goal of the war was de-escalation. We were looking to de-escalate the war. Thus, it would have been impossible to separate our political strategy from our military strategy. The truth is that we saw things in their entirety and knew that in the end, we had to de-escalate the war. At that point, the goal of the offensive was to try to de-escalate the war.
Q: And did the de-escalation succeed?
Giap: Your objective in war can either be to wipe out the enemy altogether or to leave their forces partly intact but their will to fight destroyed. It was the American policy to try and escalate the war. Our goal in the '68 offensive was to force them to de-escalate, to break the American will to remain in the war....
We did this by confronting them with repeated military, as well as political and diplomatic victories. By bringing the war to practically all the occupied towns, we aimed to show the Americans and the American people that it would be impossible for them to continue with the war. Essentially, that's how we did it.
Q: You are familiar with those famous pictures of April 1975, of American helicopters flying away from the American Embassy. What do those pictures mean to you?
|Fidel Greeting Gen Giap in the 1960s.|
When I was young, I had a dream that one day I'd see my country free and united. That day, my dream came true. When the political bureau reunited Hanoi with Laos, there were first reports of evacuation. Then the Saigon government capitulated. It was like turning the page on a chapter of history. The streets in Hanoi were full of people.
The pictures of the helicopters were, in one way, a concrete symbol of the victory of the People's war against American aggression. But, looked at another way, it's proof that the Pentagon could not possibly predict what would happen. It revealed the sheer impossibility for the Americans to forecast the outcome. Otherwise, they would have planned things better, wouldn't they.
The reality of history teaches us that not even the most powerful economic and military force can overcome a resistance of a united people, a people united in their struggle for their international rights. There is a limit to power. I think the Americans and great superpowers would do well to remember that while their power may be great, it is inevitably limited.... Since the beginning of time, whether in a socialist or a capitalist country, the things you do in the interests of the people stand you in good stead, while those which go against the interest of the people will eventually turn against you. History bears out what I say.
We were the ones who won the war and the Americans were the ones who were defeated, but let's be precise about this. What constitutes victory? The Vietnamese people never wanted war; they wanted peace. Did the Americans want war? No, they wanted peace, too. So, the victory was a victory for those people in Vietnam and in the USA who wanted peace. Who, then, were the ones defeated? Those who were after aggression at any price. And that's why we're still friends with the people of France and why we've never felt any enmity for the people of America....
Q: Who invented the idea of People's war? Whose idea was it originally?
Giap: It was originally a product of the creative spirit of the people. Let me tell you the legend of Phu Dong...which everyone here knows well. It's a legend set in prehistoric times. The enemy was set to invade, and there was a three-year-old boy called Phu Dong who was growing visibly bigger by the minute. He climbed on to an iron horse and, brandishing bamboo canes as weapons, rallied the people. The peasants, the fisherman, everyone answered his call, and they won the war. It's just a legend and like popular literature, the content is legendary, but it still reflects the essence of the people's thinking. So, popular warfare existed even in legends, and it remained with us over the centuries.
Q: Why do you think Vietnam is almost the only country in the world that has defeated America? Why only Vietnam?
Giap: Speaking as a historian, I'd say that Vietnam is rare. As a nation, Vietnam was formed very early on. It is said that, in theory, a nation can only be formed after the arrival of Capitalism -- according to Stalin's theory of the formation of nations, for instance. But, our nation was formed very early, before the Christian era. Why? Because the risk of aggression from outside forces led all the various tribes to band together. And then there was the constant battle against the elements, against the harsh winter conditions that prevail here. In our legends, this struggle against the elements is seen as a unifying factor, a force for national cohesion. This, combined with the constant risk of invasion, made for greater cohesion and created a tradition -- a tradition that gave us strength.
The Vietnamese people in general tend to be optimistic. Why? Because they've been facing up to vicissitudes for thousands of years, and for thousands of years they've been overcoming them.
Q: What was the contribution of Marxism and Leninism to your theory of a People's War?
The People's War in Vietnam pre-dated the arrival of Marxism and Leninism, both of which contributed something when they did arrive, of course.
When the USSR collapsed, we predicted that 60 to 80 percent of our imports and exports budget would be eliminated because we depended upon aid from the USSR and other socialist countries. So people predicted the collapse of Vietnam. Well, we're still hanging on and slowly making progress. I was asked what I thought of Perestroika, so I answered that I agreed with the change and thought it was necessary in political relations. But Perestroika is a Russian word, made for the Russians. Here we do things the Vietnamese way. And we make the most of our hopes and the hopes of those in Russia, China, the USA, Japan, Great Britain -- but we try to assimilate them all.