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The Vietnamese military commander & national folk hero who organized the army that defeated the Japanese, the French và then the Americans in 30 years of Southeast Asian warfare died Oct. 4 at age 102.
Dec. 22, 1944 Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, right, reads the first military order to lớn the newly founded, 34-member Armed Propaganda Unit for National Liberation, which would later become the Vietnam People’s Army, in Vietnam’s Cao Bang province. At the beginning, its entire supply of weapons consisted of two revolvers, one light machine gun, 17 rifles và 14 flintlocks, some of them dating lớn the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, said Cecil B. Currey, Gen. Giap’s biographer. Vietnam News Agency via AP
Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese military commander and national folk hero who organized the army that defeated the French và then the Americans in 30 years of Southeast Asian warfare, is dead. That war ended in 1975 when the last remaining U.S. Military forces evacuated Saigon, leaving behind a war-torn and battle-scarred nation, united under Communist rule.
He died Oct. 4 in a hospital in Hanoi, a government official told the Associated Press. He was 102. No cause of death was immediately reported.
Gen. Giap was the last survivor in a triumvirate of revolutionary leaders who fought France’s colonial forces & then the United States to establish a Vietnam không tính phí of Western domination. With the Vietnamese Communist leader Ho chi Minh, who died in 1969, and former prime minister Pham Van Dong, who died in 2000, Gen. Giap was venerated in his homeland as one of the founding fathers of his country. To military scholars around the world, he was one of the 20th century’s leading practitioners of modern revolutionary guerrilla warfare.
From a ragtag band of 34 men assembled in a forest in northern Vietnam in December 1944, Gen. Giap built the fighting unit that became the Vietnam People’s Army. At the beginning, its entire supply of weapons consisted of two revolvers, one light machine gun, 17 rifles & 14 flintlocks, some of them dating to lớn the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, said Cecil B. Currey, Gen. Giap’s biographer.
But the original 34 men took a solemn oath khổng lồ fight lớn the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule, & they promised not khổng lồ help or cooperate with colonial or any other foreign authorities. By August 1945, when the surrender of nhật bản ended World War II, they had become an army of 5,000, equipped with American weapons supplied by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA, to use against the Japanese who had occupied Vietnam.
For almost three decades, Gen. Giap led his army in battle against better-supplied, better-equipped & better-fed enemies. In 1954, he effectively ended more than 70 years of French colonial rule in Indochina, dealing a humiliating defeat khổng lồ a French garrison in a 55-day siege of the mountain-ringed outpost at Dien Bien Phu. Khổng lồ millions of Vietnamese, this was more than a military victory. It was a moral và psychological triumph over a hated colonial oppressor, và it earned Gen. Giap the status of a national legend.
Twenty-one years later, on April 30, 1975, came the fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. This ended a prolonged and bitter war between Vietnamese communists, based in the north, and the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam, which was based in Saigon & backed by the military might of the world’s greatest superpower.
In an internal nguồn struggle three years earlier, Gen. Giap was replaced as field commander of the communist forces, & in 1975 he watched from the sidelines as the army he created và nurtured took the enemy capital. Nevertheless, 25 years later, he would recall the fall of Saigon as the “happiest moment in this short life of mine.”
With the capture of Saigon, Vietnam was united under a single governmental authority for the first time since its partition into North and South Vietnam after the 1954 French defeat. Gen. Giap was defense minister in the Communist government that ruled the new Vietnam and a member of the powerful politburo.
But it was as a military leader that he made his mark on history.
In the course of his career, Gen. Giap commanded millions of men in regular army units, supplemented by local militia and self-defense outfits in villages & hamlets throughout Vietnam. He journeyed lớn the remotest areas of his country on recruiting missions, và he learned the art of combat the old-fashioned way — by fighting.
He waged all manner of warfare: guerrilla raids, sabotage, espionage, terrorism & combat on the battlefield, & he involved as much of the civilian population in this effort as he could. Peasant women carried concealed arms, ammunition & supplies to lớn hiding guerrilla soldiers. Children passed along information about troop movements through their villages. Everyone was a lookout for enemy aircraft.
“All citizens are soldiers. All villages & wards are fortresses, and our entire country is a vast battlefield on which the enemy is besieged, attacked and defeated,” Gen. Giap was quoted as saying.
To survive, he had to lớn be flexible và adaptable, & he was. Facing an overpowering array of U.S. Bombs and artillery, he employed a tactic that was sometimes likened to lớn a boxer’s grabbing an opponent by the belt và drawing him too close for his punches to be effective. In close combat, the bombs và artillery shells of his enemy would be of limited use, but Gen. Giap’s men, operating in small units, could fight more effectively.
In the end, Gen. Giap would outlast his enemies. The French grew tired of paying the price of fighting him in Southeast Asia, and so did the United States, after 58,000 American deaths in a war that promised no more than a stalemate.
He said: “The United States imperialists want lớn fight quickly. To fight a protracted war is a big defeat for them. Their morale is lower than grass. . . . National liberation wars must allow some time — a long time. . . . The Americans didn’t understand that we had soldiers everywhere và that it was very hard to lớn surprise us.”
To at least one U.S. Military commander, this strategy was apparent even in the early years of American involvement in the hostilities. Marine Corps Gen. Victor Krulak, in a 1966 memorandum khổng lồ President Lyndon B. Johnson & Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, wrote that Gen. Giap “was sure that if the cost in casualties & francs was high enough, the French would defeat themselves in Paris. He was right. It is likely that he feels the same about the USA.”
A master of military logistics and administration, Gen. Giap directed construction, maintenance and operation of the Ho bỏ ra Minh Trail, down which a steady stream of men và arms flowed from North Vietnam to tư vấn the war in the South.
Under his command, a corps of 100,000 Vietnamese & Laotian laborers slogged under 70-pound packs through swamps và jungles, up and down mountains to lớn deliver the supplies, weapons và ammunition khổng lồ fuel the fight. From a network of mountain footpaths used by peasants & travelers for centuries, they built a 12,000-mile system of camouflaged roadways & spurs, much of it in the neutral territory of Laos. Some sections were two-lane paved roads, capable of handling tanks và heavy trucks. Others were primitive dirt roads. There were air raid shelters, rest stops and bridges. All of it demanded unremitting repair và upkeep.
Gen. Giap was a hard-line và tenacious Communist, và one of the early members of the Vietnamese Communist Party, which was founded by Ho in 1930. In the late 1940s, he led a program aimed at eradication of non-communist political organizations in Vietnam that is said khổng lồ have caused the death of thousands. One technique of this campaign was to tie opponents together in batches like cordwood, then throw them into the Red River and let them drown while floating out to sea. This was known as “crab fishing.”
From a manpower base of peasant farmers, Gen. Giap constructed a paramilitary guerrilla force, which he then transformed into an army of fully trained soldiers through a combination of rigorous training và political indoctrination.
In three decades of combat, he is said khổng lồ have had more than a million of his soldiers killed, a casualty màn chơi that would have cost any U.S. General his command. “Every minute hundreds of thousands of people die all over the world. The life or death of a hundred, a thousand or tens of thousands of human beings, even if they are our own compatriots, represents really very little,” the French writer Bernard B. Fall quoted him as saying.
Metaphorically, Gen. Giap was described in Vietnamese as “Nui Lua,” which means roughly “volcano beneath the snow.” On the surface, his personality was cold & arrogant, but he was seething on the inside & capable of fearsome explosions. Colleagues said he was impatient, dogmatic, energetic và loyal to his friends.
He was ambitious và not above personal vanity. Lớn several interviewers, he suggested that he could be considered an Asian Napoleon. Time magazine, in a 1968 article, described him as a “dangerous & wily foe . . . A tactician of such talents that U.S. Military experts have compared him with German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.”
Vo Nguyen Giap was born Aug. 25, 1911, in the province of quang quẻ Binh in an area of central Vietnam, which, with Laos & Cambodia, was then part of the French protectorate of Indochina. His native village of An Xa consisted primarily of straw và bamboo huts, alongside a few tile-roofed buildings. As a boy, he attended local public schools, where his teachers beat him with a thin bamboo stick whenever he faltered in his lessons.
At age 12, he failed the first examination that would have allowed him additional schooling. French colonial authorities discouraged advanced education throughout Indochina, knowing that an ignorant population would be easier khổng lồ control. But the young Vo Nguyen Giap spent the next year in intensive study, and on his second try, he passed the exam that allowed him lớn attend secondary school in Hue.
There, in 1926, the future general read a book that would change his life and influence the history of Southeast Asia. Its title was “Colonialism on Trial,” written by Ho đưa ra Minh. Gen. Giap would recall years later that Ho’s book triggered in him an abiding hatred of the French, và it launched him on the revolutionary journey that would become his life’s work.
He read other writings of Ho & studied the works of Karl Marx & Vladimir Lenin, organized an underground reading library và in 1927 was expelled from school for organizing a strike in support of a student who he was sure had been falsely accused of cheating. He wrote under pseudonyms for a reform-minded newspaper, became active with the Communist các buổi party and was jailed for revolutionary activities from 1930 khổng lồ 1932.
On his release, he won a scholarship for a school in Hanoi và received a baccalaureate degree in 1934. Later he taught history và French at a private school in Hanoi, and he was admitted khổng lồ the French-managed University of Hanoi’s law school, where he received a doctorate in 1938.
In 1939 he married quang đãng Thai, a fellow member of the Communist Party, whom he had met in prison years earlier. She gave birth to lớn their daughter, Hong Anh, in January 1940. Four months later, the central committee of the Communist các buổi tiệc nhỏ decided khổng lồ send him to lớn join Ho, who was then living in exile in China, where he was preparing plans for the revolution he intended khổng lồ launch.
Soon after Gen. Giap left for China, his wife was taken into custody by French authorities and held in a prison facility that would become known 30 years later in the United States as the “Hanoi Hilton,” where downed American fliers were held as prisoners of war. Quang Thai would die in prison, either by suicide or while being tortured. Since her arrest, their daughter had been cared for by Gen. Giap’s parents. But not until late in World War II did Gen. Giap learn of his wife’s death. In 1947, his father would also die while in French custody, refusing to publicly denounce his son, although he never agreed with his communist ideology.
“He carries in his soul wounds that even time cannot heal,” Hong Anh told Currey in a 1988 questionnaire, speaking of her father.
In the spring of 1941, Ho & Gen. Giap had returned khổng lồ Vietnam from China. At a remote hamlet called Pac Bo, Ho convened a meeting of the central committee of the Vietnamese Communist tiệc ngọt and created the organization that would become known as the “Viet Minh,” to lớn wage a war of independence against the French and the Japanese, who had occupied Vietnam after France fell lớn Nazi Germany early in World War II. Also lớn be eliminated were the Vietnamese “jackals” who collaborated with the enemy.
During the war years, Gen. Giap began traveling regularly to lớn the hamlets and settlements of the Vietnamese countryside, laying the recruiting groundwork for the army he intended to raise. In July 1944, after the collapse of the Nazi collaborationist government of Vichy France, he wanted to lớn launch an armed insurrection in Vietnam, but Ho vetoed the idea. The time was not ripe for xuất hiện rebellion, he said.
But with the over of World War II in 1945, it was possible lớn begin guerrilla operations against the French, who returned khổng lồ Vietnam expecting lớn reclaim their colony.
Throughout the late 1940s, Gen. Giap orchestrated hit-and-run operations against French forces. His plan was to entice the enemy to expend valuable energy in fruitless pursuit of an elusive quarry in remote areas or tie him down in an unproductive or static position. “Use the feint, the ambush, the diversionary outrage,” he wrote in a training manual adapted from the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. “The enemy may outnumber you ten lớn one strategically, but if you compel him to lớn disperse his forces widely, you may outnumber him ten khổng lồ one locally wherever you choose to attack him.”
His army suffered heavy casualties in the Red River offensive against the French in 1951, but the Viet Minh regrouped & vanquished the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Just a month before that siege ended, top French military officials traveled lớn Washington, hoping for a pledge of U.S. Assistance. There, on April 7, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared: “You have a row of dominoes mix up and you knock over the first one, & what will happen khổng lồ the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. . . . The loss of Indochina will cause the fall of Southeast Asia like a phối of dominoes.”
No U.S. Assistance was given lớn the French at Dien Bien Phu, but the domino theory that Eisenhower had articulated in response lớn the French request would influence U.S. Military policy in that part of the world for the next two decades.
At the Geneva Conference that followed the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was divided into two countries: north and south. In the north, the Communist các buổi party ruled under the leadership of Ho. With the French colonialists out of the picture, an ambitious land-reform program was undertaken, for which Gen. Giap would later apologize. “
In the south, the United States replaced France as the major foreign influence. CIA operatives worked lớn blunt communist initiatives, và by the early 1960s, U.S. Soldiers began arriving as “advisers” khổng lồ the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Men and supplies flowed southward from Hanoi, and indigenous guerrilla units throughout South Vietnam began raiding government troops và installations. The United States increased its cấp độ of support, which by 1968 had reached 500,000 military personnel.
Arguably, the turning point of the war came during the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was orchestrated by Gen. Giap. Lớn launch this campaign, he had directed the movement of 100,000 men & tons of supplies to strategic points throughout South Vietnam. On Jan. 30, communist forces attacked 40 provincial capitals and major cities, including an unsuccessful but widely publicized assault on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The offensive failed militarily, Gen. Giap’s forces suffered heavy casualties & a hoped-for civilian uprising against the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam did not happen.
But politically, the offensive was devastating in the United States, where it shattered public confidence in U.S. Policy and led Johnson to lớn decide against seeking reelection as president.
In the next four years, Gen. Giap orchestrated guerrilla raids by small units against South Vietnamese và U.S. Forces. In the spring of 1972, he was relieved of his command after his Easter offensive failed in the face of massive U.S. Attacks, which included the bombing of North Vietnam & the mining of Haiphong Harbor. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese losses were said khổng lồ have included more than 100,000 fatalities. Gen. Giap retained his position as defense minister, but command of the Vietnam People’s Army passed to lớn longtime disciple Van Tien Dung.
U.S. Involvement in the war officially ended in January 1973 with the signing of peace accords & the withdrawal of American military forces. Without U.S. Support, the South Vietnamese military collapsed in two years.
“American soldiers were just lượt thích any others,” Gen. Giap said years later in response khổng lồ a question from a former U.S. Service member. “When led well, they fought well.” Rarely, if ever, did the general phản hồi publicly on the millions of Vietnamese boat people who fled the country after the communist takeover or the stagnation of the economy under Communist các buổi tiệc nhỏ leadership.
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After 1975, Gen. Giap faded from the public scene. He resigned as defense minister in 1980 và was dropped from the politburo in 1982. He continued to lớn lead ceremonial functions and lived in comfort in a government-assigned villa in Hanoi. In 1992, he was awarded Vietnam’s highest honor, the Gold Star Order, for contributions khổng lồ “the revolutionary cause of party and nation.”
In 1946, after the death of his first wife, Gen. Giap married Dang Bich Hai, the daughter of a former professor and mentor. They had two daughters, Vo Hua Binh và Vo Hahn Phuc, and two sons, Vo Dien Bien and Vo Hoai Nam.