General Vo Nguyen Giap, a hero of the Vietnamese revolution and considered one of history’s greatest military strategists, quietly marked his 100th birthday yesterday in a Hanoi military hospital.
Giap shocked the world with his peasant army’s victory over French colonial forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a success critical in Vietnam’s emergence as an independent nation, which ended French rule in Indochina.
“He’s a mythic, heroic figure for Vietnam,” said Carl Thayer, an Australia-based academic of the country.
Giap is second only to late founding father Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s most revered figure, in the nation’s affections.
Thayer called Giap the country’s “last legitimate hero,” whose victories the ruling party sees as providing a nationalist foundation for their rule.
“They cannot rubbish General Giap,” Thayer said, explaining that he is revered “because he is part of their narrative.”
Born on Aug. 25, 1911, in central Quang Binh Province, Giap was not formally trained as a soldier, but studied law and political economy before joining Ho in the liberation fight.
Giap’s Maoist-inspired guerrilla tactics stressed the need for popular support, the value of hit-and-run attacks and the will to fight a drawn-out war — methods that were to prove crucial in the war against US and South Vietnamese forces.
His greatest triumph will always be the Dien Bien Phu victory, based on an astounding logistical feat by his Viet Minh fighters, who surprised the French by hauling their artillery into surrounding jungle hills from where they pounded enemy positions below.
“It was the first great defeat for the West,” Giap said.
For two decades after Dien Bien Phu, Giap continued to command his forces as they battled US troops and their surrogate regime in South Vietnam until final victory on April 30, 1975.
His guerrilla tactics inspired fighters worldwide, but others have pointed to the tremendous human toll Giap was willing to incur in the liberation struggle, which left millions of Vietnamese dead.
He was pushed to the political sidelines in postwar Vietnam and was eased out of the Politburo in 1982, but he continued to raise his voice on issues of concern.
In 2006, he wrote that the Communist Party of Vietnam had “become a shield for corrupt officials” and an open letter he issued two years ago added to widespread public criticism of government plans for bauxite mining.
His fighting spirit also continues to motivate Vietnamese people.
When nationalist demonstrators took to the streets of Hanoi in recent weeks for rare protests against China’s actions in disputed South China Sea waters, they carried pictures of Giap, his fist raised.
The country’s top leaders visited Giap on Wednesday, bringing flowers and “the affection and reverence of the whole nation,” official media reported, without mentioning that Giap is in hospital, where he has been for a number of months. Giap’s visitors included party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Truong Tan Sang.