Võ Nguyên Giáp: 100 years old today.


It's newsworthy. Not many other veterans from the Việt Nam conflict got to score a century. So what would I like to say about him? I'd like to avoid the twin perils of hagiography and defamation. Let's go with a small bullet point history.

On the downside, he probably isn't a particularly nice man. That's not generally a drawback for a general, although people like Slim and Monash were decent people as far as I gather. Even Hồ Chí Minh was wary of Giáp's temper. But then he had a lot to be angry about. He lost his wife, sister, father, sister-in-law and daughter when they were imprisoned by the French, with most of them being tortured first.

His great achievement was, is, and will be Điện Biên Phủ. It was one battle - Việt Minh against the French - and the Vietnamese won. Giáp adroitly set up the legwork - enticing the French into defending an airfield in the centre of a valley, get the artillery around it, and then bombs away. Then when the going got tough (because the French had artillery of their own), the Việt Minh dug trenches to take the fight to the enemy. Giáp won, of course, and the French decided to be rid of Indochina the next day. Unfortunately, they didn't decide to get rid of the rest of their empire, which led them into strife in Algeria. But we're talking about Giáp here.

I'm not going to deal with the whole war in Nam here, because it's late. But from a military viewpoint, there was no battle which really stood out like Điện Biên Phủ in Giáp's favor. A lot of attrition, a lot of American tactical victories which never lead anywhere substantial, and quite a lot of deaths - about 3,000,000 to be imprecise. The Fall of Sài Gòn was bigger and better, but I reckon it's success was really due to Văn Tiến Dũng. Never the less, let's get any nonsense out of the way about "who won the war" - it was the North Vietnamese that won it, with Giáp as defense minister. It wasn't a nice victory, and the consequences were pretty grim for people who stayed in the country, but it was a victory. If you want to know more about him, use Google. If you're too lazy, you can read this Star Tribune article, which you learn that Giáp has spoken out against bauxite mining in the country (good!), not only for its environmental risks, but also the security risks of the company being owned by China. You also read that there "were no photos or any mention in state-run media about Giap's ill health or that he has long been hospitalized", which I find surprising. Most 100 year old men are not expected to be in great health - even 100 year old war heros. Censorship is often dumb, but here it is imbecilic beyond belief. 

Happy birthday, Võ Nguyên Giáp.

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