Tuesday, April 15, 2008


As a master of modern guerrilla warfare, Vo Nguyen Giap achieved the independence and unification of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam despite the efforts of the Japanese, the French, the Americans and his own countrymen. Giap's military operations remain influential in developing nations as methods and models for combating far more powerful opponents.
Many "facts" about Giap's life, especially his early years, are clouded in shadows, myths, and deliberate fabrications. Most reliable sources fix his birth date as sometime in 1912 in Quang Binh Province in the then French Indochina area known as Annam. Although Giap later claimed to be from a peasant family, apparently his father was actually a low-ranking mandarin scholar. Giap studied at both Hue and Hanoi before becoming a history teacher. There is also evidence that Giap briefly studied to be a lawyer, but there is no substantiation so the claims that he earned doctorates in political science and law.
During most of the 1930s, Giap remained a schoolteacher while actively participating in various revolutionary movements. He joined the Communist Party in 1934 and assisted in founding the Democratic Front two years later. All the while, Giap was a dedicated reader of military history and philosophy, revering Napoleon I and Sun Tzu.
When France outlawed communism in 1939, Giap fled to China, where he studied guerrilla warfare under Mao Zedong with fellow Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh. In 1941, Giap joined Ho and other Nationalists to form the Vietminh Front and in 1944 returned to Vietnam to resist the Japanese and Vichy French occupation. When Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, Giap became minister of defense and army commander in chief under Ho, who took advantage of the situation to seize the Hanoi government. But Giap and Ho had to flee when the French colonial officials returned and continued their Vietminh guerilla war in the jungle. Giap's zeal for independence may also have come from his hatred of the French, who had imprisoned and/or executed his first wife, his child, his father, two sisters, and other family members.
During the next eight years, Giap developed the strategy that would eventually defeat the French and later the Americans and South Vietnamese. Giap, with Ho's support, formed a three-phase plan for gaining independence. In Phase I, Giap's forces would conduct guerrilla and terrorist operations to control as much of the population as possible. In Phase II, guerrilla forces would consolidate into regular units to attack isolated government outposts. In the climactic Phase III, large units would form to establish full military control over an area, allowing and encouraging the civilian population to rise up in support of the revolution.
For the rest of his military career Giap would be consistently successful in conducting Phases I and II of his strategy but would succeed only once in executing Phase III. Against the French, Giap and his Vietminh triumphed in small-scale operations. As long as they did not allow the French to engage them in a set-piece battle, the Vietminh prevailed. In 1950 Giap overzealously tried to implement Phase III and conduct conventional warfare against the French in the Red River Valley, near Hanoi. When the French decisively defeated him, Giap again withdrew to the jungles and mountains, reverting back to Phase I and II operations.
After the loss in the Red River Valley, Giap adopted the philosophy that the Communist forces could afford to lose longer than the French, and later the Americans and South Vietnamese, could afford to win. Giap was able to convince his troops that they might have to fight and sustain heavy casualties for two or more decades to achieve victory.
For three years the French attempted to lure Giap into another major battle. In November 1953 they finally presented a target that even the patient Giap could not refuse when they established a series of outposts in the Dien Binh Phu Valley, two hundred miles west of Hanoi. Believing that the surrounding mountains protected their remote defensive bases - so isolated the only way to resupply was by air - the French hoped to tempt Giap into massing his forces for a showdown on the valley floor.
The French got their decisive battle, but not the way they planned. Giap proved his brilliance as a logistician when he had his troops disassemble artillery pieces and antiair weapons, mostly supplied by China and the Soviet Union, and packed them over the mountains onto the high ground overlooking the French garrison. Thousands of men with no more than bicycles for transportation delivered the tons of supplies and munitions necessary for a long siege.
Giap concentrated seventy thousand to eight thousand soldiers, along with two hundred heavy guns, against the French garrison, which totaled fifteen thousand men. Since weather and Vietminh gunners prevented all but a few deliveries of resupplies, the French retreated to the interior posts, while the Vietminh advanced through tunnels and trenches and under support of superior artillery. On May 7, 1954, the French surrendered. Of the original force, five thousand were dead. Of the ten thousand who surrendered, half were wounded. Estimates of Communist casualties exceeded twenty-five thousand, but Giap had won his Phase III battle. In leaving Indochina, the French negotiated a partition that separated the Communist North from the democratic South.
In 1959 Giap and the North Vietnamese began supporting Communist guerrillas in the south known as Vietcong. Giap continued his three phases of warfare, remaining reasonable successful with I and II in fighting the superior arms and numbers of the South Vietnamese and their American allies. As long as he remained patient, Giap fared well. In 1965, however, he challenged the first American combat divisions with North Vietnamese divisions across the border into neighboring sanctuaries.
Giap again attempted Phase III in the Tet Offensive of 1968 and in the Dien Bien Phu-like siege of Khe Sanh. In less than six weeks the Americans and the South Vietnamese virtually annihilated the Vietcong and seriously depleted the North Vietnamese. Reverting back to the first two phases, Giap and the North Vietnamese eroded American support for involvement in the war until the United States withdrew most of its troops. In 1972 Giap again revived Phase III in the Easter Offensive. South Vietnamese troops, supported by American air power, once again shredded the Communist offensive. The Losses were so great that the Communists removed Giap from command and returned him to Hanoi as minister of defense. When the Communists finally defeated South Vietnam and reunited the country into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1975, the tactics were Giap's, but he was not in command.
Giap, who never trained as a military leader, nonetheless proved himself as a master at accomplishing victory against tremendous odds. His tactics were simple, and he allowed his subordinate commanders much latitude. In the end, his willingness to fight as long as necessary and sustain as many casualties as required gained him victory and unification of his country. Within Vietnam today he is a "national treasure," while around the world he is the master of guerrilla warfare. Giap's career and successes continue to have a significant impact on military and political decisions, particularly in the United States. The United States compares every military deployment to its possibilities of becoming "another Vietnam."

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Four-star General Vo Nguyen Giap led Vietnam's armies from their inception, in the 1940s, up to the moment of their triumphant entrance into Saigon in 1975.
Possessing one of the finest military minds of this century, his strategy for vanquishing superior opponents was not to simply outmaneuver them in the field but to undermine their resolve by inflicting demoralizing political defeats with his bold tactics.
This was evidenced as early as 1944, when Giap sent his minuscule force against French outpost in Indochina. The moment he chose to attack was Christmas Eve. More devastatingly, in 1954 at a place called Dien Bien Phu, Giap lured the overconfident French into a turning point battle and won a stunning victory with brilliant deployments. Always he showed a great talent for approaching his enemy's strengths as if they were exploitable weaknesses.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, in 1968, the General launched a major surprise offensive against American and South Vietnamese forces on the eve of the lunar New Year celebrations. Province capitals throughout the country were seized, garrisons simultaneously attacked and, perhaps most shockingly, in Saigon the U.S. Embassy was invaded. The cost in North Vietnamese casualties was tremendous but the gambit produced a pivotal media disaster for the White House and the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Giap's strategy toppled the American commander in chief. It turned the tide of the war and sealed the General's fame as the dominant military genius of the 20th Century's second half.
John Colvin author of "Giap Volcano Under Snow"
This article appeared in the Vietnam ExperienceBoston Publishing Company
Giap was prepared to take a gamble. His divisions had been battered whenever they met the American forces in conventional combat and the VC -- if not exactly on the retreat -- were at least being pushed backwards. Hanoi was perfectly aware of the growing US peace movement and of the deep divisions the war was causing in American society. What Giap needed was a body-blow that would break Washington's will to carry on and at the same time would undermine the growing legitimacy of the Saigon Government once and for all. In one sense, time was not on Giap's side. While Hanoi was sure that the Americans would tire of the war as the French had before them, the longer it took, the stronger the Saigon Government might become. Another year or so of American involvement could seriously damage the NLF and leave the ARVN capable of dealing with its enemies on its own. Giap opted for a quick and decisive victory that would be well in time for the 1968 US Presidential campaign.
Giap prepared a bold thrust on two fronts. With memories of the victory at Dien Bien Phu still in his mind, he planned an attack on the US Marines' firebase at Khe Sanh. At the same time the NVA and the NLF planned coordinated attacks on virtually all South Vietnam's major cities and provincial capitals. If the Americans opted to defend Khe Sanh, they would find themselves stretched to the limit when battles erupted elsewhere throughout the South. Forced to defend themselves everywhere at once, the US/ARVN forces would suffer a multitude of small to major defeats which would add up to an overall disaster. Khe Sanh would distract the attention of the US commanders while the NVA/VC was preparing for D-day in South Vietnam's cities but, when this full offensive was at its height, it was unlikely that the over-stretched American forces would be able to keep the base from being overrun and Giap would have repeated his triumph of fourteen years before.
It's highly doubtful that the NVA/VC expected to hold all or even some of the cities and towns they attacked, but the NLF apparently did expect large sections of the urban populace to rise up in revolt. With a few exceptions, this didn't happen. South Vietnam's city dwellers were generally indifferent to both the NLF and the Saigon Government but the VC clearly expected more support than it actually got. The object of attacking the cities was not so much to win in a single blow as it was to inflict a series of humiliating defeats on the Americans and to destroy the authority of the Saigon Government. When the US/ARVN forces finally drove the NVA/VC back into the jungle, there would be left behind a wasteland of rubble, refugees, and simmering discontent. Stung by their defeats, the Americans would lose heart for the war and what was left of the Saigon Government would be forced to reach an agreement with the NLF and Hanoi which -- after a time -- would simply take over in the South. This offensive would begin in January 1968 at the time of the Vietnamese Tet (New Year) holidays.
The village of Khe Sanh lay in the northwest corner of South Vietnam just below the DMZ and close to the Laotian border. Khe Sanh had been garrisoned by the French during the first Indochina war and became an important US Special Forces base early on during the second. Its importance lay in its proximity to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. From Khe Sanh, US artillery could shell the trail and observers could keep an eye on NVA traffic moving southwards. If necessary they could call in air-strikes or alert CIA/Meo raiding parties across the border in Laos. Special Forces working with local Montagnard tribesmen also harried NVA traffic in the area and were a definite nuisance to Hanoi. In 1967, the Marines took over Khe Sanh and converted it into a large fire base. The Special Forces moved their base to the Montagnard village of Lang Vei.
Towards the end of 1967, it was obvious that Giap was planning something. Broadcasts from Hanoi were speaking of great victories and of taking the war into the cities of South Vietnam. Two NVA divisions -- the 325th and the 304th -- were spotted moving into the Khe Sanh area and a third was positioning itself along Route 9 where it would be able to intercept reinforcements coming in from Quang Tri[?]. The two NVA divisions near Khe Sanh had fought at Dien Bien Phu and the warning was clear. Westmoreland picked up the gauntlet and began to reinforce the base despite predictions of upcoming bad weather which could hinder air support and interfere with vital supply planes. Appearances to the contrary, Westmoreland had no intention of duplicating the French mistakes at Dien Bien Phu. American airpower was capable of delivering devastating attacks on concentrations of enemy troops and -- apart from anti-aircraft guns -- was unopposed. Helicopters and parachute drops by low-flying cargo planes reduced the dependence on re-supply by road.
By late January, some 6,000 Marines had been flown in to reinforce the Khe Sanh garrison and thousands of reinforcements had been moved north of Hue. The NVA build-up also continued; at least 20,000 North Vietnamese were ultimately moved in around Khe Sanh but some estimates put the number at twice that. Initially, Giap would position his artillery in the DMZ, and then send his assault troops against the fortified hills surrounding Khe Sanh, which the Marines had captured in the dogged fighting in 1967. Having captured the hill positions, Giap reasoned, the NVA artillery could be moved onto the heights above the beleaguered base. Then -- as happened at Dien Bien Phu -- waves of determined infantry would steadily grind away until the defenders were pushed into a corner and finally over-run. The White House and the US media became convinced that the decisive battle of the war had begun. TV news reports were so obsessed with Giap's threatened replay of Dien Bien Phu that day-to-day life at Khe Sanh became lead-story material even when it showed nothing other than anxious Marines waiting for something to happen.
The first attack began shortly before dawn on January 21st, when the NVA attempted to cross the river running past the base. It was beaten back but followed by an artillery barrage which damaged the runway, blew up the main ammunition stores, and damaged a few aircraft. Secondary attacks were launched against the Special Forces' defenses at Lang Vel and against the Marines dug-in on the hills surrounding Khe Sanh, but these attacks were aimed more at testing the defenses than anything else. The next day, helicopters and light cargo aircraft flew in virtually every few minutes replacing lost ammunition, but the weather began turning worse.
The NVA began a concentrated artillery barrage and moved their troops forward to begin building a network of entrenched positions in which they could prepare for further assaults on Khe Sanh's outer defenses. Anti-aircraft guns and the worsening weather made incoming supply flights difficult. [running skirmishes designed to break through on Route 9]. Air and supporting US forces moved up to engage the NVA in running skirmishes around Khe Sanh. [?]were intensified and despite the weather, pounded the North Vietnamese hour after hour. Electronic sensors of the types running along the McNamara Line surrounded Khe Sanh. Seismic and highly sensitive listening devices enabled the Americans to monitor everything from normal conversations to radio communications. Overhead, high-flying signal-intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft intercepted communications traffic over the entire front, and to and from command centers in North Vietnam.
While the world was watching the drama unfolding at Khe Sanh, however, NVA and VC regulars were also drifting into Saigon, Hue, and most of South Vietnam's cities. They came in twos and threes, disguised as refugees, peasants, workers, and ARVN soldiers on holiday leave. In Saigon, roughly the equivalent of five battalions of NVA/VC gradually infiltrated the city without anyone informing or any of the countless security police taking undue notice. Weapons came separately in flower carts, jury-rigged coffins, and trucks apparently filled with vegetables and rice. There was also a VC network in Saigon and the other major cities, which had long stockpiled stores of arms and ammunition drawn from hit-and-run raids or bought openly on the black-market. It was also no secret that VC drifted in and out of the cities to see relatives and on general leave from their units. Viet Cong who were captured during the pre Tet build up were mistaken for regular holiday-makers or deserters. In the general pattern of the New Year merry-makers, the VC's secret army of infiltrators went completely unnoticed.
Tet had traditionally been a time of truce in the long war and both Hanoi and Saigon had made announcements that this year would be no different -- although they disagreed about the duration. US Intelligence had gotten wind that something was brewing through captured documents and an overall analysis of recent events, but Westmoreland's staff tended to disregard these generally vague reports. At the request of General Frederick Weyand, the US commander of the Saigon area, however, several battalions were pulled back from their positions near the Cambodian border. General Weyand put his troops on full alert but -- due to a standing US policy of leaving the security of major cities to the ARVN -- there were only a few hundred American troops on duty in Saigon itself the night before the attack began. Westmoreland later claimed to have anticipated Tet but the evidence suggests that he was not prepared for anything approaching the intensity of the attack that came and that he was still concentrating his attentions on the developing battle at Khe Sanh where he thought Giap would make his chief effort.

In the early morning hours of January 31st, the first day of the Vietnamese New Year, NLF/NVA troops and commandos attacked virtually every major town and city in South Vietnam as well as most of the important American bases and airfields. There were some earlier attacks around Pleiku, Quang Nam, and Darlac but these were largely misinterpreted as the enemy's main thrust by those who were expecting some activity during Tet. Almost everywhere the attacks came as a total surprise. Vast areas of Saigon and Hue suddenly found themselves "liberated" and parades of gun-waving NVA/VC marched through the streets proclaiming the revolution while their grimmer-minded comrades rounded up prepared lists of collaborators and government sympathizers for show trials and quick executions.
In Saigon, nineteen VC commandos blew their way through the outer walls of the US Embassy and overran the five MP's on duty in the early hours of that morning. Two MP's were killed immediately as the action-team tried to blast their way through the main Embassy doors with anti-tank rockets. They failed and found themselves pinned-down by the Marine guards, who kept the VC in an intense firefight until a relief force of US lO1st Airborne landed by helicopter. By mid-morning, the battle had turned. All nineteen VC were killed, their bodies scattered around the Embassy courtyard. Five Americans and two Vietnamese civilians were among the other dead. The commandos had been dressed in civilian clothing and had rolled-up to the Embassy in an ancient truck. The security of the Embassy was not in serious danger after the first few minutes and the damage was slight but this attack on "American soil" captured the imagination of the media and the battle became symbolic of the Tet Offensive throughout the world. Other NVA/VC squads attacked Saigon's Presidential Palace, the radio station, the headquarters of the ARVN Chiefs of Staff, and Westmoreland's own MACV compound as part of a 7O0 man raid on the Tan Son Nhut air-base. During the heavy fighting that followed, things became sufficiently worrying for Westmoreland to order his staff to find weapons and join in the defense of the compound. When the fighting at Tan Son Nhut was over, twenty-three Americans were dead, eighty-five were wounded and up to fifteen aircraft had suffered serious damage. Two NVA/VC battalions attacked the US air-base at Bien Hoa and crippled over twenty aircraft at a cost of nearly 170 casualties. Further fighting at Bien Hoa during the Tet offensive would take the NVA/VC death total in Saigon to nearly 1200. Other VC units made stands in the French cemetery and the Pho Tho race track. The mainly Chinese suburb of Cholon became virtually a NVA/VC operations base and, as it later turned out, had been the main staging area for the attacks in Saigon and its immediate area. President Thieu declared Marshal law on January 31st but it would take over a week of intense fighting to clear-up the various pockets of resistance scattered around Saigon. Sections of the city were reduced to rubble in heavy street-by-street fighting. Tanks, helicopter gunships, and strike aircraft blasted parts of the city as entrenched guerrillas fought and then slipped off to fight somewhere else. The radio station, various industrial buildings, and a large block of low-cost public housing were leveled along with the homes of countless civilians who were forced to flee. The city dissolved into a chaos which took weeks to begin to put right.

The fighting within Saigon itself was pretty much over by February 5th but it carried on in Cholon until the last week of the month. Cholon was strafed, bombed, and shelled but the NVA/VC held on and even mounted sporadic counter-offensives against US/ARVN positions within the city and against Tan Son Nhut airport. B-52 strikes against communist positions outside Saigon came within a few miles of the city. When the NVA/VC were finally driven out of Saigon's suburbs, they retreated into the surrounding government villages and fought there. US and ARVN artillery and strike-aircraft bombed and shelled these supposedly pacified villages before troops moved in to reoccupy them. The NVA/VC repeated this tactic again and again in a clear effort to make the Saigon Government destroy their own fortified villages and, by doing so, further alienate the rural population. A month after the offensive began, US estimates put the number of civilian dead at some 15,000 and the number of new refugees at anything up to two million and still the battles went on.
Elsewhere in South Vietnam, the success of the Tet offensive was erratic. Many of the attacks on the provincial cities and US bases were easily beaten back within the first minutes or hours, but others involved bitter fighting. In the resort city of Dalat, the ARVN put up a spirited defense of the Vietnamese Military Academy against a determined VC battalion. Fighting raged over the Pasteur Institute -- which changed hands several times -- and the VC dug themselves in [at?] the central market. Fighting in Dalat went on until mid-February and left over 200 VC dead. In cities like Ban Me Thuot, My Tho, Can Tho, Ben Tre, and Kontum, the VC entrenched themselves in the poorer sections and held out against repeated efforts to push them out. The biggest battle, however, occurred at Hue.
The Buddhist crisis had left bitter feelings towards the Saigon Government in the ancient Vietnamese capital and, within a few hours of their attack, the disguised insurgents supported by some ten NVA/VC battalions had overrun all of the city except for the headquarters of the ARVN 3rd Division and the garrison of US advisors. The main NVA/VC goal was the Citadel, an ancient imperial palace covering some two square miles with high walls several feet thick. NVA troops assaulted the Citadel and ran up the VC flag on the early morning of January 31st but were unable to displace ARVN holding out in the northeast section. Having overrun the city and found considerable support among sections of Hue's populace, the NVA/VC began an immediate revolutionary "liberation" program. Thousands of prisoners were set free and thousands of "enemies of the state" -- government officials, sympathizers, and Catholics -- were rounded up and many were shot out of hand on orders from the security section of the NLF which had sent in its action squad with a prepared hit-list. Most of the others simply vanished.
After Hue was finally recaptured at the end of February South Vietnamese officials sifting through the rubble found mass graves with over 1200 corpses and-sometime later-other mass burials in the provincial area. The total number of bodies unearthed came to around 2500 but the number of civilians estimated as missing after the Hue battle was nearly 6000. Many of the victims found were Catholics who sought sanctuary in a church but were taken out and later shot Others were apparently being marched off for political "re-education" but were shot when American or ARVN units came too close.
The mass graves within Hue itself were largely of those who had been picked up and executed for various "enemy of the people" offenses. There is some doubt that the NVA/VC had planned all these executions beforehand but unquestionably it was the largest communist purge of the war.
US Marines and ARVN drove into the city and, after nearly two days of heavy fighting, secured the bank of the Perfume river opposite the Citadel. Hue was a sacred city to the Vietnamese and apart from the ancient Citadel held many other precious historical buildings. After much deliberation, it was reluctantly decided to shell and bomb NVA/VC positions. Resistance was heavy and sending the Marines into the city without air and artillery support would have meant an unacceptable cost in lives. To many, the battle for Hue reminded them of the bitter street-by-street fighting that occurred during World War lI. The NVA had blown the main bridge across the Perfume River. US forces crossed in a fleet of assault craft under air and artillery cover which blasted away at the enemy-held Citadel. Its walls were so thick that few were killed but the covering fire made the enemy keep their heads down while the Marines and soldiers hit the bank below.While the ARVN, with US support, fought its way through the streets of Hue block by block, the Marines prepared to assault the Citadel. On February 2Oth American assault teams went in through clouds of tear gas and the burning debris left over from air and artillery attacks. The NVA/VC were pushed into the southwestern corner of the Citadel and finally overwhelmed on February 23rd. Enemy resistance in Hue was finally reduced to isolated pockets and sniper teams. As the Citadel fell, NVA/VC units began retreating -- some of them marching groups of soon to be massacred prisoners before them -- into the suburbs while their rear guards fought holding actions with the advancing ARVN. The fight for Hue ended by February 25th at a cost of 119 Americans and 363 ARVN dead compared to about sixteen times that number of NVA/VC dead.
The dramatic difference in fatalities makes the battle look a one sided affair. But it wasn't! The difference in casuaity figures came largely from the heavy use of artillery and aircraft back-up to devastate NVA/VC positions throughout Hue which reduced large sections of the city to body-laden piles of rubble. Had the commanders decided to preserve the ancient and revered city US/ARVN casualties would have been much higher. American wounded during the battle for Hue came to just under a thousand, compared to slightly over 1,200 ARVN. Nearly 120,000 citizens of Hue were homeless and, of the close to 6,000 civilian dead, many died in the bombing and shell-fire.

Contrary to many reports, large sections of Hue escaped relatively undamaged, but after the battle they were forced to suffer days of looting by soldiers from the original ARVN garrison, who had spent the previous weeks keeping their heads low. Their commander -- who had also sat out the city's Buddhist rebellion against Ky -- was later accused of having known about the coming attack for days beforehand. His defense was that he had allowed the NVA/VC battalions into Hue in order to spring a trap! In the villages outside Hue, the battle went on for another week or so as the retreating NVA/VC took over the villages just long enough for them to be destroyed by bombing and concentrated artillery shelling. Civilian deaths and refugees increased.
On February 5th, the fighting died out in Saigon, and the Marines prepared for their river assault on the Citadel in Hue. The electronic sensors around the besieged fire-base at Khe Sanh warned of enemy preparations to assault the entrenched positions on Hill 881, which was outside the main camp. Intensive artillery fire broke up the assembling NVA troops, but a second planned attack on Hill 881 had gone unnoticed until the Marines found themselves fighting off waves of oncoming North Vietnamese regulars. For half an hour the beleaguered Marines battled the NVA in hand-to-hand fighting -- even trusting their flak jackets enough to use grenades at close quarters -- until the artillery could be brought to bear on the hill and the attackers forced to withdraw.
Two days later, the Green Beret's camp at Lang Vei was attacked by an NVA assault force led by ten Soviet-built, FT-76 light, amphibious tanks. Despite a shortage of anti-tank ammunition, three of the armored vehicles were put out of action before the NVA swarmed over the wire. Because of the very real likelihood of an ambush, no relief force was sent and the Lang Vei commander, Captain Frank Willoughby, ordered his men into the jungle, and called down air and artillery strikes directly onto the camp. Of the original force of twenty four Special Forces and 900 Montagnard, only Willoughby and seventy-three others managed to struggle into Khe Sanh. The next day NVA troops overran nearly half of an outer Marine position at Khe Sanh before being blasted back by artillery, aircraft, and armor.
Giap's ambition to win a massive victory against the Americans was thwarted by massive aerial bombardments of NVA positions. B-52's and strike aircraft dropped their loads, with pin-point accuracy, within a few hundred feet of Khe Sanh's perimeter. During the course of the battle, tons of bombs and napalm were dropped around Khe Sanh. Bad weather and increasing anti-aircraft fire inhibited the steady flow of incoming supplies, but the vital cargo planes and helicopters kept coming despite losses. The fortified hills around Khe Sanh were supplied by Sea Knight Helicopters, frequently accompanied by fighter escorts. The battle settled down into a siege. The NVA concentrated on shelling the base and trying to stop the supply planes with anti-aircraft fire, while digging in around the camp. Both sides employed teams of snipers to harass each other's movements.
The NVA launched further attacks on February 17th, 18th, and [1?]9th. Massed artillery and air-strikes broke the first up fairly easily, while the second involved heavy fighting [third?]. In early April, relief forces reached the base. A 1st Cavalry helicopter assault force landed near Khe Sanh as American and ARVN forces hit NVA positions along Route 9. Khe Sanh was relieved on April 6th and, four days later, Lang Vei was re-occupied. Fighting continued around Khe Sanh for a time but Giap had long since given up any hope of overrunning the base. The drive to relieve Khe Sanh had gone smoothly and without heavy resistance. From this, many inferred that the whole siege of Khe Sanh had been a feint to cover preparations for the Tet Offensive in the South. And to an extent, this was true, but the evidence suggests that Giap's moves on Khe Sanh had a more deadly purpose than simply drawing American attentions away from the South at the critical time. By the middle of February it was obvious that the battle for South Vietnam's cities was failing and that US airpower would deny the NVA another Dien Bien Phu. Seeing the inevitable, Giap seems to have begun a slow wind-down of the siege before the US counter-attack began.

The After-Effects of Tet
The Tet Offensive and Khe Sanh may well have reminded Johnson and Westmoreland of the Duke of Wellington's dictum:"If there's anything more melancholy than a battle lost, it's a battle won". Giap had been frustrated at Khe Sanh and defeated in South Vietnam's cities. NVA/VC dead totaled some 45,000 and the number of prisoners nearly 7000. But the shockwave of the battle finished Johnson's willingness to carry on. Westmoreland was pressuring Washington for 206,000 troops to carry on the campaign in the South and to make a limited invasion of North Vietnam just above the DMZ. As the battle for Hue died out, Johnson asked Clark Clifford (who had recently replaced a disillusioned McNamara as Secretary of Defense) to find ways and means of meeting Westmoreland's request.Clifford and an advisor group looked at the war to date, and among others, consulted CIA Director Richard Helms who presented the Agency's gloomy forecasts in great detail. On March 4th Clifford told Johnson that the war was far from won and that more men would make little difference. Johnson then turned to his chief group of informal advisors (which included among others, Generals Omar Bradley, Matthew Ridgway, and Maxwell Taylor; Cyrus Vance, Dean Acheson, and Henry Cabot Lodge). Johnson soon found that they too, like Clifford, had turned against the war. According to Thomas Powers, Johnson's "wise old men" had been told that recent CIA studies showed that the pacification programme was failing in forty of South Vietnam's forty-four provinces and that the NLF's manpower was actually twice the number that had been estimated previously. Not only had Tet shown that the optimism of the previous year had been an illusion, but it now seemed that the enemy was far stronger than anybody had thought, and that the long efforts to win Vietnamese "hearts and minds" had largely been a disaster.
If Tet wasn't a full-scale shock to the American public, it was at the very least, an awakening. The enemy that Johnson and the generals had described as moribund had shown itself to be very alive and, as yet, unbeaten. America and its ARVN ally had suffered over 4,300 killed in action, some 16,000 wounded and over 1,000 missing in action. The fact that the enemy suffered far more and had lost a major gamble mattered little, because the war looked like a never ending conflict without any definite, realistic objective. The scenes of desolation in Saigon, Hue, and other cities looked to be war without purpose or end. Perhaps the most quoted US officer of the time was the one who explained the destruction of about one-third of the provincial capital of Ben Tre with unintended black humor: "It became necessary to destroy it," he said, "in order to save it". For many, this oft-quoted statement was not just a classic example of Pentagon double-think but also a symbol of the war's futility. Westmoreland became the parody "General Waste-mor-land" of the anti-war movement.
Being against the war became more-or-less politically respectable for liberal elements. Robert Kennedy spoke of giving up the illusion of victory, and Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy challenged Johnson for the Presidential nomination on a peace platform. He was supported by thousands of students and young Americans opposed to the war. Vocal elements of the extreme right largely supported the war, but condemned the Administration for not going all out for victory. The JCS backed Westmoreland but convinced him to settle for half of the over 200,000 additional troops he wanted to take the initiative. The JCS then reported to the White House that the extra men were needed to get things back to normal following the battles of the Tet Offensive.
Johnson's dilemma was complete. He couldn't meet the generals' manpower requests without either depleting Europe of American troops -- which was unacceptable -- or calling up the active reserves -- which would have been a political disaster. His most senior advisors had turned against the war and Johnson took another briefing from the CIA analyst whose gloomy reports had soured some of his most hawkish counselors. A few days after this briefing, Johnson went on TV to announce a bombing halt of the North and America's willingness to meet with the North Vietnamese to seek a peace settlement. Johnson then said that he was not a candidate for reelection under any circumstances and would spend the rest of his term in a search for peace in Indochina.
One of those present at the special CIA briefing which convinced Johnson that a change of course was inevitable was General Creighton Abrams, Westmoreland's deputy commander. Shortly after Johnson's turnabout, Abrams replaced Westmoreland as head of US forces in Vietnam. Westmoreland came home to become Army Chief of Staff -- a move many saw as a kick upstairs -- but, whatever the reasons behind the changeover, Abrams went to Saigon with a mission. He was to institute a program of "Vietnamization". In other words, to take all necessary measures to enable the ARVN to bear the main burden of the fighting, and gradually return the chief role of American troops to that of advisors. Vietnamization had always been a feature of America's role in Vietnam, but it had been on a back-burner since 1965 when it seemed that Saigon was incapable of doing the job. Now things were to be returned to what they were supposed to have been from the beginning. Vietnamization is usually credited to Nixon, but it began in the wake of the Tet Offensive and Johnson's turnabout.
Giap's gamble had another side effect. When the Tet Offensive began, many US officials believed that the NLF had offered the Americans a golden opportunity by fighting a pitched battle where it could be defeated in open combat. In effect, the NLF was "leading with its chin" and the massive losses it suffered bear this out. The VC was not broken by the Tet Offensive but it was severely crippled by it and, from then on, the North took on the main burden of the war. Further fighting in 1968 and the increasing activity of the Phoenix Program further decimated the NLF's ranks and the role of the North grew even larger. The northern and southern parts of Vietnam had ancient cultural and social differences, and while the communist cadres at the center of the NLF had managed largely to suppress these natural antagonisms, there still were basic differences in goals and approach. The NLF had gone into the Tet Offensive in the hope of giving a death-blow to the Saigon Government and, if it couldn't capture power directly, it could at least gain a coalition leading to ultimate authority. The NLF's dream vanished in the rubble of South Vietnam's cities, and it would be Hanoi that conquered Saigon.

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25 August 1912
Place of birth
Quảng Bình Province, Vietnam
Vietnam People's Army
Years of service
Senior General
Viet MinhVietnam People's Army
First Indochina WarSecond Indochina War
Gold Star[1]Ho Chi Minh OrderResolution for Victory Order
General Võ Nguyên Giáp (born c. 1912)[2] is a Vietnamese general and statesman. Principal wars: First Indochina War (1946-1954) and Second Indochina War (1960-1975). Principal battles: Lang Son (1950); Hoa Binh (1951-1952); Dien Bien Phu (1954); the Tet Offensive (1968); the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive) (1972); and the final Ho Chi Minh Campaign (1975). Giap was also a journalist; served as interior minister in President Hồ Chí Minh's Viet Minh government; was military commander of the Viet Minh, commander of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), and defense minister; and also served as Politburo member of the Lao Dong Party.
He was the most prominent military commander besides
Ho Chi Minh during the war and was responsible for major operations and leadership until the war ended.
Early life
Võ Nguyên Giáp was born in the village of An Xa,
Quảng Bình province. His father and mother, Vo Quang Nghiem and Nguyen Thi Kien, worked the land, rented some to neighbors, and lived a relatively comfortable lifestyle. At 14, Giáp became a messenger for the Haiphong Power Company and shortly thereafter joined the Tân Việt Cách Mạng Đảng, a romantically styled revolutionary youth group. Two years later he entered Quốc Học, a French-run lycée in Huế, from which two years later, according to his own account, he was expelled for organizing a student strike. In 1933, at the age of 21, Giáp enrolled in Hà Nội University.
Giáp was educated at the
University of Hanoi where he gained a bachelor's degree in political economy and a law degree. After graduation, he taught history for one year at the Thang Long School in Hanoi. During most of 1930s, Giáp remained a schoolteacher and journalist, writing articles for Tien Dang while actively participating in various revolutionary movements. He joined the Communist Party in 1931 and took part in several demonstrations against French rule in Indochina as well as assisting in founding the Democratic Front in 1933. All the while, Giap was a dedicated reader of military history and philosophy, revering Napoleon I and Sun Tzu.
Võ Nguyên Giáp was arrested in 1930 and served 13 months of a two-year sentence at Lao Bao Prison. During the
Popular Front years in France, he founded Hon Tre Tap Moi, an underground socialist newspaper. He also founded the French language paper Le Travail (on which Pham Van Dong also worked). He married Nguyen Thi Quang Thi, another socialist, in 1939. When France outlawed communism during the same year, Giáp fled to China together with Phạm Văn Đồng where he joined up with Hồ Chí Minh, the leader of the Vietnam Independence League (Việt Minh). While he was in exile, his wife, sister, father & sister-in-law were arrested, tortured and later executed by the French colonial authorities.
He returned to Vietnam in 1944, and between then and 1945 he helped organize resistance to the
Japanese occupation forces. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, the Japanese decided to allow nationalist groups to take over public buildings while keeping the French in prison as a way of causing additional trouble to the Allies in the postwar period. The Việt Minh and other groups took over various towns and formed a provisional government in which Giap was named Minister of the Interior.
In September 1945, Hồ Chí Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unknown to the Việt Minh, President
Harry S. Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin had already decided the future of postwar Vietnam at a summit meeting at Potsdam. They agreed that the country would be occupied temporarily to get the Japanese out; the northern half would be under the control of the Nationalist Chinese and the southern half under the British.
After the Second World War, France attempted to reestablish control over Vietnam. In January 1946, Great Britain agreed to remove her troops, and, later that year, the Chinese left Vietnam in exchange for a promise from France that she would give up her rights to territory in China.
The First Indochina War
The Việt Minh at first negotiated with the French and played them off against the Chinese, preferring the return of the French to Chinese control of the country, as Vietnam had a long history of Chinese occupation. Sporadic fighting, which had begun in some areas late in 1945, became a general war between the Việt Minh and the French on December 19, 1946. The well armed and professionally trained French forces inflicted heavy defeats on the Việt Minh, but they did not have the manpower to spread out over all of Vietnam, or even all of the densely populated lowlands of Vietnam. General Giáp was able to regroup, and rebuild shattered units, in the highlands and in those sections of the lowlands (the most important being in Thanh Hoa, south of the Red River Delta) that remained under Việt Minh control. A period of stalemate followed.
This stalemate was broken after
Mao Zedong and his communist army defeated Chiang Kai-shek in China. Mao's army reached the Vietnamese border early in 1950 The Việt Minh began to get substantial quantities of weapons and other military supplies. Also, Việt Minh troops got military training at bases in China, and some Chinese advisers arrived in Vietnam to work with Giáp's forces. The Việt Minh acquired a conventional warfare capability.
The newly strengthened Việt Minh forces defeated the French at Lang Son and Cao Bang late in 1950, clearing French forces from the area along the Chinese border and thus making the flow of aid across the border from China much easier. Following this Giáp launched over-optimistic attacks on the French perimeter around the Red River Delta. These attacks were expensive failures. But over the next several years, the Việt Minh gained strength and skill at conventional warfare, while also making very effective use of guerrilla tactics. Giáp, having failed to take the Red River Delta by big conventional attacks in the first half of 1951, was able to take much of it a village at a time over the next three years.
When it became clear that France was becoming involved in a long drawn-out and so far not very successful war, the French government tried to negotiate an agreement with the Việt Minh. They offered to help set up a national government and promised that they would eventually grant Vietnam its independence. Hồ Chí Minh and the other leaders of the Việt Minh did not trust the word of the French and continued the war.
French public opinion continued to move against the war. There were five main reasons for this:
Between 1946 and 1952 many French troops had been killed, wounded, or captured
France was attempting to build up her economy after the devastation of the
Second World War. The cost of the war had so far been twice what they had received from the United States under the Marshall Plan
The war had lasted seven years and there was still no sign of an outright French victory
A growing number of people in France had reached the conclusion that their country did not have any moral justification for being in Vietnam
Parts of the French left supported the goals of the Việt Minh to form a socialist state
While growing stronger in Vietnam, the Việt Minh also expanded the war and forced the French into battles on unfavorable terms by attacking remote areas such as Laos. General
Henri Navarre, the French commander in Indochina, was forced to redeploy large numbers of forces from their safe zones in order to protect Laos. In December 1953, Navarre set up a defensive complex at Ðiện Biên Phủ, which attempted to block the route of the Việt Minh forces trying to attack neighboring Laos. He surmised that in an attempt to reestablish the route to Laos, Giáp would be forced to organize a mass attack on the French forces at Ðiện Biên Phủ, where they would be crushed in a conventional battle.
Navarre's plan worked and Giáp took up the French challenge. While the French dug in at their outpost, the Viet Minh were also preparing the battlefield. Giáp brought up members of the troops from all over Vietnam. By the time the battle was ready to begin, Giáp had 70,000 troops surrounding the French positions, five times the number of French troops enclosed within.
Employing recently obtained antiaircraft guns and 105 mm howitzers from China, Giáp was able to restrict severely the ability of the French to supply their forces. The antiaircraft and artillery fire neutralized the French artillery, denied them the use of the airstrip, and forced them to inaccurately drop supplies from high altitude to the besieged troops. Instead of launching a frontal assault on the French, Giap chose to surround the outpost and ordered his men to dig a trench system that encircled the French. From the outer trench, other trenches and tunnels were dug inward towards the center. The Viet Minh were now able to move in close to the French troops defending Ðiện Biên Phủ.
When Navarre realized that he was trapped, he appealed for help. The United States was approached and some advisers suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons against the Việt Minh, but this was never seriously considered. Another suggestion was that conventional air raids would be enough to scatter Giáp's troops. U.S. President
Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, refused to intervene unless the British and other Western allies agreed. Churchill declined, claiming that he wanted to wait for the outcome of the peace negotiations taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, before becoming involved in escalating the war.
On 13 March 1954, Giáp launched his offensive. For 56 days the Việt Minh seized position after position, pushing the French until they occupied only a small area of Ðiện Biên Phủ. Colonel Piroth, the artillery commander, blamed himself for the destruction of French artillery superiority. He told his fellow officers that he had been "completely dishonoured" and committed suicide with a hand grenade. The French surrendered on 7 May. Their casualties totaled over 7,000 men, and a further 11,000 were taken prisoner. The following day the French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam.
The Second Indochina War
Giáp remained commander in chief of the People's Army of Vietnam throughout the Second Indochina War. During the conflict he oversaw the expansion of the PAVN from a small self-defense force into a large conventional army, equipped by its communist allies with considerable amounts of relatively sophisticated weaponry, although this did not in general match the weaponry of the Americans. Giap has often been blamed for the massive casualties incurred by NLF and PAVN troops during the Tet Offensive of 1968, and certainly he bore a significant responsibility. Although this attempt to spark a general uprising against the southern government failed militarily, it turned into a significant political victory by convincing the American politicians and public that their commitment to South Vietnam could no longer be open-ended.
Peace talks between representatives from the United States, the
Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the NLF began in Paris in January 1969. President Richard M. Nixon, like President Lyndon B. Johnson before him, was convinced that a U.S. withdrawal was necessary, but five years would pass before the last American troops left South Vietnam.
In October 1972, the negotiators came close to agreeing to a formula to end the conflict. The plan was that the last U.S. troops would withdraw from Vietnam in exchange for a cease-fire and the return of American prisoners held by Hànội. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to unite the whole country. Although the Nguyen Hue Offensive during the spring of 1972 was another costly failure, PAVN was able to gain a foothold in territorial South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives.
Although U.S. troops would leave the country, PAVN troops could remain in their positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on both North and South Vietnam during the negotiations, President Nixon ordered a new series of air raids on Hà Nội and
Hải Phòng. The DRV accepted the terms of the agreement and, on 27 January 1973, Nixon agreed to sign the Paris Peace Accords that had been proposed in October.
After U.S. Departure from Vietnam
The last U.S. combat troops left in March 1973. It was an uneasy peace. Owing to the forthcoming unification elections, both sides began to grab territory that would have either benefited themselves or deny areas to the enemy. By 1974, serious fighting had broken out between PAVN occupation forces in South Vietnam and the
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The ARVN held its own successfully during this stage of the fighting.
South Vietnamese President
Nguyễn Văn Thiệu appealed to Nixon for continued financial aid. Nixon was sympathetic but the U.S. Congress was not, and the move was blocked. At its peak, U.S. aid to South Vietnam had reached $30 billion a year. By 1974 it had fallen to $1 billion. Starved of funds, Thiệu's government had difficulty even paying the wages of its army, and desertions became a problem. On the other side, the PAVN received billions of dollars in new equipment from the Soviet Union.
The spring of 1975 saw the launching of a series of limited PAVN offensives under the command of General
Van Tien Dung, who had replaced Giap at commander in chief of the NVA and PAVN armies in early 1974. The success of these drives (launched on a limited scale to test whether the U.S. would once again come to the aid of the Thieu regime) prompted Hanoi to attempt to seize all of South Vietnam before the onset of the monsoon season. The Ho Chi Minh Campaign was a massive conventional operation that utilized armor and heavy artillery. After important areas such as Da Nang and Hue were lost in March, panic swept through the ARVN and its high command. President Thieu attempted to abandon the northern half of the nation while pulling his troops back to defensive positions in the south. It did not work.
PAVN forces captured the capital of
Saigon on 30 April 1975. Soon afterward the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established. In the new government Giáp maintained his position as Defense Minister and was made Deputy Prime Minister in July 1976. He was removed from this post at the Defense Ministry in 1980 and was also removed from his position in the Politburo in 1982 and has since retired.
General Giáp has also written extensively on military theory and strategy. His works include Big Victory, Great Task; People's Army, People's War; "Ðiện Biên Phủ; and We Will Win. The historian
Stanley Karnow described him as ranking with "Wellington, Grant, Lee, Rommel, and MacArthur in the pantheon of great military leaders," though according to General Westmoreland—his American counterpart—when commenting on Giap's costly tactics, "such a disregard for human life [i.e. Giap's own men] may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius."
In 1995, former U.S. Secretary of Defense
Robert McNamara met Giáp to ask what happened on 4 August, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin. "Absolutely nothing," Giáp replied. The incident, that served President Johnson as a pretext to step up U.S. involvement in the Second Indochina War, perhaps was fabricated.[3]
^ NVA and/or VC Awards
^ There is debate as to what his birthdate is. Most Vietnamese sources give his birthdate as August 25, 1911. This is, however, disputed. Most western sources give circa 1912.
^ McNamara asks Giap: What happened in Tonkin Gulf?, Associated Press, 1995

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Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap is perhaps the most important figure in the early history of communist Vietnam -- with the exception of Ho Chi Minh. At the end of World War II, Ho named Giap commander in chief of the Viet Minh forces fighting French colonial rule. Giap orchestrated the defeat of the French at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 and remained minister of defense of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He was the chief North Vietnamese military leader in the subsequent war against U.S. forces. This interview, which was conducted in May 1996, has been translated from Vietnamese.
On the battle of Dien Bien Phu:
The Dien Bien Phu campaign is a great and first victory of a feudal colonial nation, whose agricultural economy is backward, against the great imperialist capitalist which has a modern industry and a great army. Thus, it means a lot to us, to people all over the world, and to other countries. This is also how Ho Chi Minh saw it.
We see the Dien Bien Phu victory as the victory [over] the French army and [over] the intervention of the Americans --because in the Dien Bien Phu campaign, 80 percent of the war expenditures were spent by the Americans. The Americans had their hands in it. So the Dien Bien Phu defeat was a defeat for both the French and the Americans. But whether the Americans had drawn the lessons from that, I don't think so. That's why the Americans continued in South Vietnam. ...
When we received news of the Dien Bien Phu victory, everyone practically jumped up in the air, they were so happy about it. But Ho Chi Minh said that this is only victory of the first step: we have yet to fight the Americans. It was very clear then.
On the United States' involvement in Vietnam:
In 1945, some Americans parachuted into our war zone [for a] meeting [with] our late President Ho Chi Minh. ... Back then, President Roosevelt's attitude was that the U.S. did not want to see events like the war with France coming back to Indochina, but later this attitude was changed. After the August Revolution in 1945, the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. could have been good, and we wished that it had been good.
Then only the intelligent people or those with vision and wisdom, such as Eisenhower, ... saw the impracticality of the [domino] theory. And any mistakes were due to following the domino theory. They thought that if the theory was put into practice here, it would become the pivotal location for [preventing] the spread of communism to the whole Southeast Asia. So Vietnam was made the central location to check the expansion of communism, and this was what President Kennedy believed, and it was mistake. ...
The Americans sent advisers to each and every division in the South Vietnamese [army] before 1965. In 1965, they started to commit big forces. We discussed among ourselves in the Politburo whether at that point it was ... a limited war. We decided that it was already a limited war. We discussed it in the Politburo that with America bringing in gigantic forces was to carry out a new campaign, with the American forces committed, it was not good for America but it would be very hard for us to fight. The struggle would be very fierce but we already concluded that we would win the war. ...
On fighting technologically superior U.S. forces:
When American combat forces were committed, it was a myth that we could not fight and win because they were so powerful. ... [We survived] because of our courage and determination, together with wisdom, tactics and intelligence. During the attacks of B-52s, we shot down a few B-52s and captured documents. One of them was a order by the [U.S.] air command about the targets to be bombed in and around Hanoi and the positions of [our] forces. Some [of the figures] were correct, [but] some were wrong because of our deception [measures]. And our conclusion was that with such anti-air-power measures, the B-52 is not an effective way to fight. ...
We had to resort to different measures, some of which are quite simple, like hiding in man-holes and evacuating to the countryside. And we fought back with all our forces and with every kind of weapon. We fought with anti-aircraft artilleries and with small guns, even though [it was] sometimes solely with the strength of our local force. An 18-year-old girl once said that she followed routes every day and studied the patterns of American flights and when they would attack. I told her that she is a philosopher to understand that, because only philosophers talk about principles. Later she used small gun to shoot down an aircraft from a mountainside. That is an example of the military force of the common people. ... We had ingenuity and the determination to fight to the end.
I appreciated the fact that they had sophisticated weapon systems but I must say that it was the people who made the difference, not the weapons. There was also a human factor involved. [As to] whether they were tempted to use nuclear weapons during the war: there was a time during the Dien Bien Phu campaign in which the Americans were going to use nuclear weapons, and this is back in 1954 during the Eisenhower era. We were also aware of possible use of nuclear weapons and we were prepared for it. But whether the Americans could really use nuclear weapons was a question of international politics, and it also depended on the American allies. But looking at the intertwined forces, as the situation was, the result [of a nuclear blast] would not be good, and the Americans had to think hard. If nuclear weapons were used on locations where the Vietnamese troops were concentrated, it [would] also [affect] American troops.
On the Ho Chi Minh Trail:
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a very extensive system; it started with a trail but later became a road. Many roads, actually: the Western road system and the Eastern road systems, criss-crossing here and there. And also there were the extensive systems of gas pipelines and communications lines, and routes on rivers and across the sea. We did everything possible to keep the whole system going. I visited many important points which were subjected to many B-52 bombings 23 out of 24 hours a day; we had many teams working toward maintaining the operation, including a team made up of women who had to use iron rings to defuse the [unexploded] bombs. ...
We made big sacrifices. I visited a dozen girls who maintained the route in Dong Lap of Nghe An Province; they showed me how they invented camouflage to cover the lamps so that those in vehicles can see, but the planes could not see. They urged us to move fast; and they all died during the bombing. There was danger of the trail being cut off, but it never really was cut off. With a long procession of vehicles, and with the bombing from the B-52s, it was very difficult, but we had to use both courage and wisdom. There are some routes that the Americans did not know about, but if they had used a telescope they would have seen the routes quite clearly. But we did not use those routes. We used some secret smaller trails as a detour and we went during the day.
On the Tet Offensive:
The Tet Offensive is a long story. ... It was our policy, drawn up by Ho Chi Minh, to make the Americans quit. Not to exterminate all Americans in Vietnam, [but] to defeat them.
It could be said [Tet] was a surprise attack which brought us a big victory. For a big battle we always figured out the objectives, the targets, so it was the main objective to destroy the forces and to obstruct the Americans from making war. But what was more important was to de-escalate the war -- because at that time the American were escalating the war -- and to start negotiations. So that was the key goal of that campaign. But of course, if we had gained more than that it would be better.
And [after Tet] the Americans had to back down and come to the negotiating table, because the war was not only moving into the cities, to dozens of cities and towns in South Vietnam, but also to the living rooms of Americans back home for some time. And that's why we could claim the achievement of the objective.
On the U.S. leadership during the war:
In general, I must say they were the most intelligent people, with certain talents such as military, political and diplomacy skills. They were intelligent people. That was the first point that I want to say. The second point I want to say is that they knew little about Vietnam and her people. They didn't understand our will to maintain independence and equality between nations even though these are stated in President Jefferson's manifestation. And so they made mistakes. They did not know the limits of power. ... No matter how powerful you are there are certain limits, and they did not understand it well. ...
The people in the White House believed that Americans would definitely win and there is not chance of defeat. There is a saying which goes, "If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you would win every single battle." However, the Americans fought the Vietnamese, but they did not know much about Vietnam or anything at all about the Vietnamese people. Vietnam is an old nation founded in a long history before the birth of Christ. ... The Americans knew nothing about our nation and her people. American generals knew little about our war theories, tactics and patterns of operation. ...
During the war everyone in the country would fight and they [would] do so following the Vietnamese war theory. We have a theory that is different from that of the Russians and that of the Americans. The Americans did not understand that. They did not know or understand our nation; they did not know our war strategies. They could not win. How could they win? As our president said, there was nothing more precious than independence and freedom. We had the spirit that we would govern our own nation; we would rather sacrifice than be slaves.
Now that the normalization between our two countries have been established, we hope for better relations, but it should be based on equality. Otherwise, if America is at advantage simply because she is richer, it will be unacceptable for us. Now we hope that American leaders can understand Vietnam and her people better.

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