Vietnam’s great war hero: General Vo Nguyen Giap
This is Part II of an 8 part series on great generals during the industrial warfare era. Part I covers Omar Bradley.
General Vo Nguyen Giap was forced into exile in 1939, fleeing to southern China where he met and learned guerrilla warfare from Mao Tse-Tung. Giap would later tailor Mao’s maxims on war to fit the conflicts and terrain of Vietnam. There he would defeat two of the world’s great powers: Overwhelming the French at Dien Bien Phu, pushing them to retreat past the 17th parallel (dividing Vietnam into Northern and Southern halves). Then after nearly a decade of conflict with American forces, Giap would break American containment and lead the reunification of North and South Vietnam under communist rule in 1975.
Giap is well-regarded for countering superior technology and firepower from the French and American side with his effective combination of conventional and guerrilla tactics. His doctrine for the use of force fell into three stages: 1) guerrilla insurgency and unconventional assaults during the initial stage of contention; 2) mix of guerrilla and mobile-conventional warfare during equilibrium stage/protracted war; and 3) increase mobile warfare with conventional forces in order to exploit the loss of the will to fight by opposing forces. Using these three principles, Giap orchestrated the French defeat by isolating then overpowering French forces. Against the U.S., he effectively supplied and augmented the Vietminh insurgency while holding key positional ground in the northern border regions of South Vietnam.
But lastly the reason Giap makes our list of top 8 industrial war era generals is because he understood, perhaps more than anybody, the connections between political goals and military strategy. Giap practiced grand strategic political warfare. On war, Giap has written “not only did we fight in the military field but in the political, economic and cultural fields.” In this regard, he timed the siege of Dien Bien Phu to coincide with rising French disillusionment in Indochina and their growing willingness to have conciliatory talks with Ho Chi Minh. And he countered America’s strategy of attrition with an ability to harness local disenfranchisement and prolong the battle beyond the American public’s will to fight.