During his lifetime and military career, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who is universally considered one of the great men of history and whose death has triggered overwhelming grief and mourning all over the country in the past few days, leaves behind a number of immortal utterances.
In late 1946, as the war with the French was imminent, President Ho Chi Minh asked Giap, the newly-appointed Minister of National Defense and the then Commander-in-chief of the Vietnam army, how long Hanoi could stand firm if the French brought the war to the north. Giap replied confidently: “One month”.
With the aid of the capital army and people, the young Vietnam army was able to pin the enemy down at the capital for two months before stealthily retreating from the city to launch the nine-year resistance war.
In the Dien Bien Phu campaign, which ended successfully on May 7, 1954, Commander-in-chief Giap made a historically significant decision that led to victory for the Vietnam army. He decided to switch tactics from “speedy fight and victory” to “steady fight and advance”.
After several sleepless nights and with the support of a key Chinese military advisor, General Giap made a historic decision on Jan 26, 1954, the day the campaign was expected to open: “I now command that the strike be suspended and all soldiers retreat to the gathering site.”
In his memoirs “Dien Bien Phu, the Historic Rendez-vous” published later, General Giap shared that this decision was the toughest in all his commanding career.
“But without Gen. Giap’s decision, most of us wouldn’t have been able to fight in the resistance war against the US years later,” said General Le Trong Tan. General Vuong Thua Vu also noted that if old combating strategies had been adopted, it’s highly likely that the resistance war against the French would have been 10 years longer.
Shortly after the victory over the French, General Giap and his army defended their country again in the resistance war against the US.
In 1972, Gen. Giap made a famous direction to Hanoi air defense units: “The entire country and the whole world are behind you every single minute. The nation’s destiny totally depends on the air defense soldiers ability to safeguard Hanoi.” This led to the nation’s resounding success in the so-called “aerial Dien Bien Phu campaign” in Hanoi.
After this triumph, the US was forced to sign the Paris Convention and withdraw its troops from Vietnam, laying the foundation for Giap’s later victories.
Within the final days of his second resistance war, Gen. Giap sent a historic telegram to the units taking part in the South Liberation campaign on Apr 7, 1975. His telegram read, “We must launch even more audacious fights at lightning speed. We must take advantage of every single minute and head to the frontlines to liberate the south and unify the country. We are determined to fight to our death and win the war.”
“Navarre is a talented general, and it wasn’t his fault the French lost the war; those who started the war in the first place were all to blame,” Gen. Giap told French journalist, director Daniel Roussel about General Navarre, his opponent in the resistance war against the French.
In his first meeting with his American opponent, former National Defense Minister McNamara in 1995, Gen. Giap spoke many memorable lines: “It was wrong of the US to invade Vietnam,” “The US lost the war because it didn’t understand Vietnam,” “We knew right from the outset that we would triumph,” and “The word ‘fear’ never exists in our military philosophies.”
The revered general elaborated, “the US missed many opportunities to end the war in Vietnam, while Vietnam always took advantage of them all.”
In answer to praises from Western media, Gen. Giap humbly said: “It wasn’t me, but the Vietnamese people who won the Vietnam war. You call me a legendary general, but I think I’m no different from my soldiers.”
“A commander’s greatest source of happiness is to stand by his soldiers on the battlefields,” he stressed.
“All the rest of my days and my entire life are dedicated to my country and people,” he shared on his 100th birthday.
The most notable of Gen. Giap’s fighting strategies is his insistence to “Strike to win, and only when success is certain; if it isn’t, then do not strike.” He never allowed careless victories: he only sent strike command when he was certain of the terrain and position of the enemy. Even then, he always employed strategies to minimize casualty. After crushing wins, the general would weep silently in his command headquarters over the loss of his soldiers.
Vo Nguyen Giap, the first four-star general and the former commander-in-chief of the Vietnam army, died on Oct 4 in Hanoi, more than a month after he celebrated his 103rd birthday.
Born in 1911 in Quang Binh Province in the central region of Vietnam, he started his career as a history teacher before joining the army to become the legendary general who led the Vietnam Army to defeat the French and US invaders in 1954 and 1975 respectively. He directly commanded major operations including Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and Ho Chi Minh in 1975.
General Giap served as Deputy Prime Minister and National Defense Minister since national reunification in 1975 until 1980. From 1981-1991, he was Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers.