Vietnam: A Television History

 
1982
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Vo Nguyen Giap is a former general in the Vietnamese People’s Army. He recalls why he became a nationalist and a revolutionary. He talks about following Ho Chi Minh and the love and patriotism he holds for his country. Vo Nguyen Giap recalls why he joined the military at fifteen, and that early on, before he joined the military, he was involved in illegal political activities. Vo Nguyen Giap also discusses the Vietnamese struggle for unification and complete independence and the differences between the struggle against the French versus the struggle against the Americans. He also talks about the French and the negative and positive aspects of their occupation.

Early years

General Giap: First time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, how and why did you become a nationalist and a revolutionary, too? Had there been personal events or circumstances which had motivated you?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Like most of the revolutionary fighters of my generation, we followed the path of President Ho Chi Minh. From patriotism we have gone on to socialism, to communism. I can still recall my earliest childhood deeply bathed with feelings of love for our country. Memories of the resistance against the occupation were still very fresh. In the evening, in the light of the oil lamp, my mother would often tell me of the grueling peregrinations she underwent during the Con Phuong campaign in which my grandfather had participated.
When I was fifteen, I actively participated in the student patriotic movement. Then came the decisive event, the call by our great leader Nguyen Ai Quoc for the establishment of the League of the Oppressed People. Then came the very well known Indictment of the French Colonization. And finally and especially that famous work, The unique correct way to national liberation is the way of the proletarian revolution. I would say that it was for the first communist of the time.
You want to know how I became a military person. It is quite straightforward. As a militant in the Party, when the Party raised the issue of armed insurrection and when President Ho Chi Minh charged me with the responsibility to set up the first brigade of the national liberation army, I accepted the task with pride, I mean with enthusiasm, and also with the conviction, the firm conviction that I could carry it through. Ever since, I have taken care of military questions.
Interviewer:
But you have a special talent. Didn’t you have an inclination, weren’t you interested before that in military questions?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Well, very early on I have engaged in illegal political activities. My training is rather essentially political and revolutionary. But...I do not see...that there is...I do not see any difficulty in going from political action to military action, to armed struggle. Maybe it is because armed struggle is only a prolongation of political struggle through different methods.
Interviewer:
How old were you when you joined the struggle?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Fifteen.
Interviewer:
Thank you. Do we stop?

Dien Bien Phu and conflict with the French at the end of their colonization of Vietnam

Clapstick. General Giap: Second Time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
General, why did the provisional government agree in 1946 to the return of French troops to Vietnam?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Yes, that happened in early 1946. With the Accords of March 6, 1945, the French government acknowledged the new democratic republic of Vietnam as a free sovereign state. An armistice was signed with plans for a later conference to resolve existing problems between us and France. Under those conditions we allowed a contingent of French troops to come and replace the roughly two hundred thousand men of the Chiang Kai-shek army who were still stationed in our land.
And they, the French troops, were to leave our country as soon as possible. Thus, we enjoyed some reprieve which allowed us to consolidate our forces in every way in order to meet all contingencies. However, whether in Da Lat or at Fontainebleau, we did everything, we did everything we could in order to reach a political solution to the problem of our relations with France.
One must say that we did not overlook any chance for peace, no matter how small, although we did not harbor any illusion. Well, the French colonialists forced war upon us. We were not taken by surprise. Everybody knows how the conflict went on afterward.
Clapstick. General Giap: Third time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, much has been written about Dien Bien Phu. Could you tell us something new, something which has not been published before about this battle?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
That is difficult. You journalists, you are always searching for something which has not been published before. Well, here is something which really has not been mentioned before. At the beginning we had made a plan of operations against the dug in camp, an over all rapid attack aimed at destroying the dug in camp within three nights and two days.
The attack was to be launched in the evening of January 25. But in the morning of January 25, we had a staff meeting. After a thorough analysis of the most recent informations, I came to the conclusion that a quick operation may be crowned with success, but that there was something in the situation, something...something... Let us start over.
[Interruption.]
Vo Nguyen Giap:
It is a little difficult to say it in French.
Interviewer:
Was there a risk? What was it?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
We changed our plan... Well, victory was not 100% certain.
[Interruption.]
Interviewer:
There was still some doubt? Some risk?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
There was still something...something... There was still something chancy, something... How do you say ... There wasn’t... Because for us, in principle, we want a 100% certainty of victory. There was not yet a certainty...
[Interruption.]
Interviewer:
Some doubt remained. During this staff meeting we realized that there was not an absolute guarantee of victory, an absolute certainty. One could say it like that.
Victory...
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Was not absolutely certain.
Was not 100% certain... Let us start over. I am starting over.
[Interruption.]
Vo Nguyen Giap:
In the morning of the 25th, at 10 in the morning I remember, during a staff meeting, after a thorough analysis of the latest informations, I realized that a rapid attack such as that one, was not assured, could not be 100% assured of success. It might be crowned with success, but there was not the certainty... There was still something... So I immediately decided to alter our plan of operation. The decision was approved by our Polit Bureau.
In the afternoon of the 25th, after having received the approval from our Pathet Lao friends, the very well known 308 Division was given the order to launch an offensive in the direction of Louangphrabang. That was just a diversion to draw the French air force and help us re arrange our forces. And in the evening of the 25th, with total safety, we withdrew most of our forces, infantry and artillery, which had already been in position in the vicinity of the dug in camp.
We withdrew and regrouped. It seemed that the French Command realized that something was happening. They thought that there would not be any more battle at Dien Bien Phu.
[Interruption.]
Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
It seemed that the French Command realized that something was happening. They thought that there would be no more battle at Dien Bien Phu. They said that the offensive tide of the Viet Minh had slackened. But we were developing a new plan of operation. We strenuously set to work on new preparations. And to the great surprise of our adversary, the attack on the dug in camp was launched in the evening of March 13, at 5 o’clock.
The battle lasted 55 nights and days and resulted in the total erasure of the dug in camp and in our final victory. Dien Bien Phu is the greatest victory by our people and our army during the long war of resistance against the French Expeditionary Forces. I want to say that it is also the greatest victory, a brilliant victory of the solidarity in struggle between our people, the people of Vietnam, and the people of sister countries, the people of Laos and the people of Cambodia. It means that this victory has a historical significance for our country. But it also has an international impact.
Interviewer:
Stop. Cut.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Are you satisfied? Is that something which has not been mentioned before?
General Giap: Fifth time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
That decision to change our plan of operation and to withdraw the bulk of the forces which had already been arranged in battle formation on the Dien Bien Phu front, was for me one of the most momentous decisions, one of the most difficult decisions in my life as commanding officer.
Interviewer:
After Geneva, in 1954, did you think that war had really come to an end?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
We had always thought of our struggle for national independence and unification as a revolutionary struggle, difficult and long lasting. And of Geneva and the American intervention, it became quite clear that war had not ended. We set ourselves to work hard to build socialism in the liberated North, to reinforce our military potential at the same time, to modernize as much as possible our army. A number of units were transferred to the task of economic construction.
Interviewer:
But in Geneva, the Accord which you had signed...alright...
Vo Nguyen Giap:
If you would like...

Unity of Vietnam during the war with the U.S.

General Giap: Sixth time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, what made you decide to intervene in the South from 1964 on? Were you afraid that the revolutionary forces in the South would not be able to deal with the situation all by themselves?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Well, Vietnam is one. The Vietnamese nation is one nation. From the very first moment of the American intervention, the entire Vietnamese people from the North to the South, together with our compatriots in the South, have resolutely engaged in the struggle for the liberation of the South and the re unification of the country. In 1966, the US went from...
[Interruption.]
General Giap: Seventh time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Vietnam is one. The Vietnamese nation is one nation. And that is the reason why, from the very first moment of the American intervention, the entire people of Vietnam, from the North to the South, together with our compatriots in the South, have engaged in a determined struggle for the complete independence and the unification of the country. In 1964, the US went from what they called “Special warfare” to a new strategy, that of “Local warfare.”
At the same time they launched the air war against the socialist North. They had spread the hostilities over the entire territory of our country. It was absolutely normal and it was necessary for us to mobilize all our forces, political and military, in order to carry on the struggle and to reach final victory. Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom, our president Ho Chi Minh has stated.

Function of the Tet Offensive for North Vietnam

General Giap: Eighth time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, in 1968, did the Tet Offensive have more of a military or a political objective? Or were you essentially aiming at the American public opinion?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
[Laughs] There have been many comments on this topic. But you know, for us, there is no purely military strategy. Our strategy can only be a general strategy, an integrated one, at once military, political and diplomatic. And that is the reason why, obviously, the Tet Offensive of 1968 had an objective which was at the same time military and political. It is the same for the great Spring Offensive of 1975 crowned by the brilliant victory of the Ho Chi Minh campaign.

The North's success against the French

Ninth time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, which French general gave you the hardest time, if I dare say?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
It is difficult to say which French general gave us the most trouble. Maybe I could tell you that...the defeat which each of them had to suffer could be said to be in proportion to the harm they wanted to inflict upon us. It does not mean that I underestimate the value of the military training of the French generals, such as Marshal Da Lattre de Tassigny for instance. But in serving an unjust cause, he could not obtain success.

Significance of American defeat by the North

Interviewer:
Is there a difference between the struggle against the French and the struggle against the American? And what is the difference?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
That is a very large question. One would need a whole book. [Laughs.] Briefly, the war...the war... What was the question again?
Interviewer:
The difference between the struggle against the French and the struggle against the American.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
The war launched against us by the French was an unjust war. And it is the same way with the war of aggression by the US From that standpoint, there is no difference. But there is this point. With the French, the war was of the old colonialist type. With the American, it was a neo-colonialist war. It is somewhat of a paradox that it is neo-colonialist war against a country. But the circumstances, the conditions were quite different on both sides.
It was different from the international perspective, too. On our side, when we began the struggle, the war of resistance against the French, the government by the people was still very new. Our army was still in the process of being created. On the contrary when the struggle against the American began, we already had a socialist North, and it was firm. Our military potential had grown a great deal. And...
Tenth time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
When we began the war of resistance against the French... But there were great differences from the point of view of the conditions, the circumstances of either side, and also from the point of view of the international situation. What I want to say is that, when we began the war of resistance against the French, the government of the people was still quite new. The army of the people was still being built. And during the first years of that war of resistance until 1950, we were totally surrounded while we were carrying on our fight. But when we began our struggle against the American, the situation had changed. We had the North which was socialist, free, and strong.
We had a stronger military potential, a firm national unity. The leadership of our Party had also gained much experience from many points of view. And we received help from sister countries, from the USSR, from China which had a stand different from the one she now has, from other socialist countries. And we have enjoyed the growing support and help not only from international opinion, but also from all the progressive forces from all the countries, from countries through out the world which love peace and independence.
There is also a difference in the means employed by the American. Everyone knows that it is the most powerful country in the imperialist camp, the leader, the international policeman, with a tremendous military and economic power. And they have engaged massive forces in the war. From the military standpoint for instance, there were divisions of GIs, there was the tactical and strategic air forces, there was the 7th Fleet, there was chemical warfare, and electronic warfare. And they used their whole military potential, not just from the point of view of weapons—it was nuclear weapon[?]—, but also from the point of view of military strategy and tactics, from the point of view of military science.
They had mobilized science. They had mobilized, in the words of one journalist, the brightest among the American. All of this is to tell you how great was the victory of our country over the American. It was a victory with an international significance. A victory for all the forces of peace, of national independence, of democracy, of social progress in the world. All of this is to tell you what the dimensions are, what the consequences which so far have not yet been measured, what the consequences of the American defeat are.
I must say that even today they are still far from drawing the necessary lessons. One must say that in the classroom of History the imperialists are poor students. And also all the revolutionary forces...well...
Eleventh time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, did the American air force have any impact on the battle field?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
The American air force is a very powerful air force. Naturally, that air force had an influence on the battlefield. It was a great trump card. The American wanted to rely on their air force to somehow change the course of events. Well, they overestimated their opponent. We very quickly developed, both strategically and tactically, methods of fighting which allowed us to deal with their air force. We succeeded in
[Sharp noise on tape.]
Vo Nguyen Giap:
We succeeded in protecting our rear areas, in protecting the life of our compatriots, daily life and work. We have defeated what they dubbed the tactic of flight at low altitude. We have ensured the supply of food and munitions for the front line, and the movement of the bulk of our forces along the very well known Ho Chi Minh trail which they wanted to cut off with their massive bombing, twenty-three hours over twenty-four, daily, without succeeding. And we have developed methods of fighting which allowed the popular forces to be victorious in the battlefields in the South itself.
And finally, everybody knows the huge losses we have inflicted upon their strategic air force during the their massive bombing of Hanoi carried out by what they called the “flying fortresses.” Just a small detail: I had the opportunity to take a look at secret documents taken from the B 52s which had been shot down. Those documents bore a very interesting caption: “It is forbidden to take out of the archives of the department of defense of the US” So I told myself that the following should be added to the caption: “Exception for the Defense Ministry of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”
I also had the opportunity to take a look at the directives of operation given by the US Air Force Command to B-52s squadrons, including flight itinerary, exact timetable, bombing target, and the caption “Carry out your mission and return to the base together.” They did not return all together. This is to tell you that in this, as in other things, the imperialists underestimate the strength of a people, of an army fighting for independence and freedom, for their rights to life.
It seems to me that even today the Pentagon and Washington and the White House are far from having learned the necessary lessons. In the classroom of History the imperialists are really poor students. And it is the same for the reactionary of all stripes, including the expansionists of Peking.

Vietnamese military philosophy

Twelfth time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
General, could you present the essential principles of Vietnamese military philosophy?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
The question is very large. I will limit myself to drawing a few important lines. Our country, Vietnam, very early on, had become a true nation. From the time of Van Lang before the Christian era, to the time of Dai Viet from the 11th to the 19th century, to contemporary Vietnam, our people had to carry out many difficult and heroic struggles against the foreign invaders in order to ensure our existence and our development. And that is the reason why Vietnamese military philosophy springs from the thousands of years of tradition of struggle against foreign invaders, invaders of all stripes. During these last fifty years, on the basis of the Marxist Leninist line of the Communist Party of Vietnam...
Rest of the interview with General Giap on the other side of this tape.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
And under the leadership of President Ho Chi Minh, in the fire of the struggle, during the long war of liberation from the French, the French colonialists, then from the American, and more recently the war against the invaders from the North, this military philosophy has really become a science, a true military art. What I want to say is that the Vietnamese military science is foremost the military science of a just war in contrast to the unjust war waged by colonialism, neo colonialism, and by Chinese expansionism.
The just cause of our people, the cause of independence and socialism, the cause of peace, has helped us mobilize our entire people. It injects an invincible power to our military science, to our military art when faced with any enemy. Our military science is the military science of the people’s war. The entire people in arm, the entire people joining the fight. I want to add that a people’s war is not limited to purely a guerrilla war as some tend to believe.
A people’s war goes from the small scale war with units of self defense, of militia, of regional troops to the war of movement on a growing scale, with more and more modernized large units of the regular army. Well then, to combine small scale war to regular war, not to great war, you know [tiny chuckle], to combine together various forms of organization, to arm the masses to build the army, to build units of militia, of self defense, of regional troops, then the regular troops, that method was already known in our national tradition.
It had already been mentioned in the very succinct but very valuable letter of directives written by President Ho Chi Minh at the time the propaganda brigade of the liberation army was formed. Afterward we elaborated on these forms of organization, these forms of struggle little by little until now. And the process continues.
Thirteenth time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
From the point of view of strategy as well as from the point of view of tactics, our military science combines all the forms of struggle. It combines military struggle with political struggle.—As I have told you, for us, there is no strictly military strategy. Our strategy can only be a general strategy, an integrated strategy. And that is the source of strength of our military science. Vietnamese military science, from the point of view of strategy as well as from the point of view of tactics, is also deeply imbued with the spirit of being on the offensive, although there can be a defensive and an offensive form in battle.
We have to always hold the initiative, initiative, always initiative, on the basis of a good knowledge of our own forces, of the forces of our adversary, and on the basis of a knowledge of the laws of war, a war which is always changing. Well, it is tactical and strategic initiative alone which allows us to be in control, and always to be in control, of the battlefield, in every single moment, anytime, anywhere, and thus to carry out each fight, each battle, and to carry out the war as a whole, through all the difficulties, to final victory.
Fourteenth time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
One of the most essential, if not to say the most essential rule in Vietnamese military science is that, in war, we have to win, absolutely have to win. One has to be determined to win. At the same time, one also has to know how to win. That requires decision, courage, heroism. And it also requires intelligence, creativeness. And it is the creative energy of the army, of the masses which is responsible for the development of methods of fighting that ensure a certain victory. What is the criterion to determine a good strategy, a good tactic?
One could answer that the main criterion to determine a good strategy, a good tactic, a progressive military science, the main criterion is that it efficiently serves the cause of the people, that it wages war to victory. At present, together with the entire people, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, our military science is in charge of the defense of the sovereignty and independence of our country. And that is the reason why that military science is imbued with the spirit of peace and friendship among the nations.
Fifteenth time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Our military science is charged with the mission to defend the territorial integrity, the sovereignty, and the independence of our country. At the same time, it knows that it is at the service of the cause of peace and friendship among nations. During the long development of the Vietnamese military philosophy, and during the long development of our military science and our military art, we have of course gained from the valuable experiences in armed struggle of sister countries, of other people in the world, in particular those of the Red Army of the USSR established by Lenin, also those of the National Liberation Army of China which still had a revolutionary character, and those of other armies.
But in everything that I have just told you, you can see that our military philosophy, our military science does not owe anything to the Chinese military philosophy. For instance, we have successfully carried out the revolution, the August general uprising. Meanwhile Chinese military philosophy denies the possibility of an uprising in the cities. Another example, for us, the power of the people springs from the revolutionary struggle. But for them, power springs from the barrel of a gun. Another example still, we have conducted decades of military and political struggle in the South, and with what sacrifices, for the liberation and reunification of our country.
But they would have us keep our forces lying low for a long time, a very long time, until... They told us, for instance, that Vietnam would be re unified but that it would take time. Maybe a hundred years for example. Still a more recent example. In the Spring of 1975, we launched the general offensive which ended in final victory. But Peking was opposed to it. Here I want to say that we, the people of Vietnam, hold in high esteem the friendship in struggle which binds us, binds our people and the revolutionary people of China in the common struggle against the enemy, against imperialism.
But Peking did not think of American imperialism, did not yet think of it as their allies. I can see that is not the opinion of the Chinese people and of the authentic Chinese Communists. And it is precisely in the name of this traditional friendship between our people and the revolutionary people of China that we are determined, and the we have succeeded in defeating any machiavellian design of the expansionists of Peking allied to international imperialism.

Vietnam's solidarity with other nations

Sixteenth time. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
It is as a Frenchman that I would like to ask you a question now, general. In your eyes, did French occupation of Vietnam have only negative aspects or were there maybe some positive aspects? And what were they?
Vo Nguyen Giap:
The question is a complex one. I would like to approach the question in a more appropriate manner. I want to say that on the one hand there is French imperialism, but on the other there is the people of France, the great people of France. Well, as imperialist domination, the eighty years of colonial domination meant for us the denial of national independence and unity, oppression, exploitation, poverty, ignorance, denial of moral and cultural values.
However, some relationships had been created between our people and the valiant people of France. Here, I particularly want to talk about, to insist on the militant solidarity between the people of Vietnam and the progressive forces and the people of France, solidarity in our common struggle against imperialism which our two people have always considered as their common enemy. The symbol of this solidarity can be seen in the vital image of President Ho Chi Minh, the great friend of democratic France, the founder of our Party and one of the founders of the French Communist Party.
And it is precisely under those conditions that exchanges have gone on, have increased in different areas, for instance in the area of the cultural heritage of our two countries. And this is what one could call the positive aspects, but not of colonialism, not of the colonial occupation, but positive aspects resulting from the somewhat unusual contact between our people. I see there favorable conditions which carry much promise for the future, and will allow a broadening of relationship in all areas, political, economic, scientific, and cultural. I love democratic France very much.
Interviewer:
Thank you. We are going to go on a little bit so we could present...There is something else you would like to say...
Seventeenth time. Clapstick.
Vo Nguyen Giap:
Right now while we are talking here, the warmongers in the Pentagon have engaged in an headlong arm race. They seek to fan up points of conflict everywhere in the world. They are getting ready for local wars, armed intervention, and even for nuclear war. And that is the reason why peace, peace becomes a crucial question. Peace has become the deepest yearning of the people of Vietnam, and I believe, that of the people of France also, of the people throughout the world. And that is the reason why one should ask many questions about the war.
If we have fought a war, that is because war had been forced upon us. And it is in order to reach a true peace... One could say that the people of Vietnam is the people who most cherish peace. That is the reasons why we rightly appreciate the initiatives for peace no matter where they originate, from the great USSR in particular.
I would also like to take advantage of this opportunity and ask you to give my greetings to the great people of France, to the forces for peace, to the French left. And I would like to express my wish for closer bonds between our two countries, for a broadening of the relationship between Vietnam and France. Peace and Friendship. Thank you for your attention.
Interviewer:
Thank you, general. Thank you very much. There must be a minute of silence, because silence...