General Giap Reaches 100
Image Credit: Tom Fawthrop

General Giap Reaches 100

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In 1954, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap masterminded the crushing defeat of the French empire in Indochina at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. It was a victory that changed history. For a start, it destroyed the assumption of Western invincibility. But it also inspired anti-colonial struggles across the globe.

After the Geneva Conference, war broke out again. This time, Giap faced apparently impossible odds with his poorly-equipped North Vietnamese army and Vietcong guerrillas pitted against the technologically superior United States, with its mastery of the skies. Still, US forces were humiliated and eventually defeated by 1975.

But tomorrow, the General, widely considered to be one of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century, will reach a more personal milestone – his 100th birthday.

His military career may be over, but he showed in 2009 that he still had plenty of fight left in him as he vocally opposed environmentally devastating open-cast bauxite mining in the country.

Such opposition would presumably have surprised Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who appears to have believed this old soldier died years ago – in her address to Australian war veterans, Gillard suggested that Vietnam’s greatest war hero had been killed.

Although he is now physically frail, suffers from respiratory problems and currently resides in a Hanoi military hospital, Giap’s mind remains surprisingly lucid.

The former right-hand man to revered President Ho Chi Minh was surprisingly ejected from the Politburo in 1982, a demotion of the popular hero that shocked the nation.

Why? In the post-war period, hard-liners in control of the Vietnamese Communist Party had become jealous of his international stature and intellectual prowess.He was appointed as one of several deputy prime ministers, but his humble portfolio was limited to family planning, science and technology.

For several years, Giap almost disappeared from public view. But even after officially retiring from government in 1991, Giap was never inactive, and was always in demand. Visiting world leaders lined up to meet him, including Lula Da Silva from Brazil, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and South African leader Thabo Mbeki. Giap also delivered numerous lectures, and wrote about the history of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

Over the past decade, Giap has indicated that he believes Vietnamese society is still far from achieving the ideals that inspired his heroic struggles to secure the nation’s independence.

In 2006, he complained that ‘the prevailing bureaucracy, corruption and red tape reduce the party’s reputation and threaten its very existence.’ But for many war veterans, his criticism didn’t go far enough.

Lobbying at the 1986 Party Congress for him to become prime minister was nipped in the bud by senior party leaders, who feared the charismatic Giap might take Vietnam in a very different socialist direction. But more than two decades later, Giap showed he still had a role to play in the country’s future.

By 2009, the Vietnamese government had signed a joint venture deal to exploit bauxite in the Central Highlands. But Giap was angry over the potential environmental impact and fired off an open letter to the Vietnamese prime minister warning that open-cut mining would destroy vast areas of forest and crops, leaving huge deposits of toxic sludge.

‘Giap was our first leader after the war to focus on environmental problems,’ says Nguyen Huu Ninh, who was part of a UN team awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change.

Upset that there was no response from the Vietnamese government to a second open letter, Giap made sure that his fiery salvo was published by the media. In the letter, he recalled that as deputy prime minister, he had blocked the same bauxite project in the Central Highlands from being developed by the Soviet Union, and noted the same environmental problems remained.

The campaign snowballed, with 135 intellectuals, scientists and communist cadres signing a petition to the Vietnamese National Assembly, a rare act of protest in this one party state.

Of all the leading Vietnamese figures over the past 30 years, Giap – who listened to French radio news  every morning and insisted on briefings throughout the day – was probably the best-informed, an intellectual with an impressive breadth of reading both in politics and literature.

Sadly, he was never given the opportunity to match in civilian life what he achieved on the battlefield.

Tom Fawthrop is a Thailand-based journalist and producer.

Comments
8
Nizar Visram (Tanzania)
August 28, 2012 at 09:53

Happy Birthday General Giap on your 100th birthday. You have inspired global generations.
Giap is a hero and legend that will remain in our hearts long after he is gone.  Thank you so much Comrade General. We salute you

Tom Fawthrop
September 1, 2011 at 18:28

Absolutely right Nirvana.Giap always attributed the great victories
to the people, rather than his leadership as film director Francis Ford Coppola once said ‘the director is nothing without a good script,and fine actors.”

Giap’s achievement was to develop the concept of ‘Peoples War’to the point where for first time in history, a backward peasant country could defeat a western imperial army, not once but twice.

Tom Fawthrop
September 1, 2011 at 18:27

Absolutely right Nirvana.Giap always attributed the great victories
to the people, rather than his leadership as film director Francis Ford Coppola once said ‘the director is nothing without a good script,and fine actors.”

Giap’s achievement was to develop the concept of ‘Peoples War’to the point where for first time in history, a backward peasant country to defeat a western imperial army not once but twice.

Bill
August 25, 2011 at 22:10

- Dear GeneraL! You will remain a True Hero forever in the Heart of Vietnamese and people around the world who love peace and freedom!Congratulations Great General on reaching 100 years!

Luis Lazaro Tijerina
August 25, 2011 at 21:21

BIRTHDAY GREETINGS TO GENERAL
VO NGUYEN GIAP

The great son of Vietnam,
how you traveled through the long years
from your village of An Xa, in Quāng Bihn province,
where beautiful orchids and the great Gianh
River, and the Ron and Ly Hoa rivers, flow to the sea
and where the high mountain summits,
Peak Co Rilata and Peak Co Preu,
are covered with green…
Military history and philosophy were your guides,
hidden volcanoes under the swirling snows of the living.
How is it that you have remained so young?
Your mentor Ho Chi Minh, your victory at Dien Bien Phu,
Now memories of the ancient past.
You once said, “My spirit is still young, my heart still remains young.”
On your hundredth birthday,
passed in obscurity
in an Army Hospital in Hanoi,
I send you this bright flower
to go with your gem-stoned Thang Long Dragon.

Luis Lázaro Tijerina

nirvana
August 25, 2011 at 21:08

If you ask general Giap who won the second Indochina war, I am sure he would answer: Vietnamese, Americans and all the responsible citizens of the world.

xu
August 25, 2011 at 05:13

Double Wow! I just say a picture of him…. hate to say it but he has one foot in the grave. He looks like he’s embalmed. Check out the picture of him below…. ugh.

http://www.chron.com/news/article/Vietnam-marks-legendary-general-s-100th-birthday-2138689.php

xu
August 24, 2011 at 23:53

Wow, 100 is old especially for a male.

Congratulations General Giap on reaching 100 years of life. May the rest of your years be happy and fulfilling.

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