General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of Vietnam’s military victories over France and the United States, has died, family members and government officials said.
Giap, 102, died on Friday evening in a military hospital in the capital of Hanoi where he had spent close to four years growing weaker and suffering from long illnesses.
The son of a peasant scholar, he was considered the mastermind of the defeat of France in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu and the communist victory over US-backed South Vietnam two decades later.
In a 2004 interview, Giap preached peace and said Vietnam’s independence wars were a “victory for colonised countries all over the world”.
Born on August 25, 1911, in central Vietnam, Giap became a close friend of the late president, Ho Chi Minh, and was held in high regard alongside the former prime minister, Pham Van Dong.
The so-called ”red Napoleon” stood out as the leader of rebels who wore sandals made of car tires and lugged their artillery piece by piece over mountains to encircle and crush French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The unlikely victory, which is still studied at military schools, led to Vietnam’s independence and hastened the collapse of colonialism across Indochina and beyond.
Giap went on to defeat the US-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, reuniting a country that had been split into Communist and non-Communist states. He regularly accepted heavy combat losses to achieve his goals.
“No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or caused as many losses as this war,” Giap said in 2005.
Giap’s nemesis, the late US General William Westmoreland, said he was effective partly because he was willing to suffer such losses in pursuit of victory.
“Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would have been sacked overnight,” Westmoreland said in Stanley Karnow’s 1983 book, Vietnam: A History
More than a million of Giap’s troops died in what is known in Vietnam as the “American War”.
“We had to use the small against the big; backward weapons to defeat modern weapons,” Giap said. “At the end, it was the human factor that determined the victory.”
Giap is known to have opposed several important military decisions, including the costly move in 1968 to delay the withdrawal of forces from unsustainable positions in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.
In 1975 he held back again on a decision by Hanoi to commit all its forces – leaving the capital unprotected – to the Spring campaign which climaxed in late April with the fall of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.
Later, he opposed Hanoi’s decision to maintain an occupying force in Cambodia following Vietnam’s late-1978 invasion.
This, coupled with long-harboured resentment by some members of the establishment towards him, is said to have contributed to his declining political influence after the war years.