Friday, October 4, 2013

Võ Nguyên Giáp -- the North Vietnamese general who won the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and drove France out of Vietnam and who handily whipped the U.S. Army and Air Force -- has died at the age of 102.

American military leaders later grudgingly admitted that Giáp belonged in the pantheon of great military strategists alongside Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, and Erwin Rommel.

Giáp was an attorney and political economist, and utterly untrained in the art of war. But he understood the role politics played in war, and never made the same mistake twice. He understood that indiscriminate bombing by the U.S. would alienate the Vietnamese people, and that the South Vietnamese government was corrupt to its very core and could not win. The Tet Offensive of 1968 -- a military disaster for his troops -- easily sapped the will of American military leaders to continue fighting.

Removed from command in 1972 because of cancer, he nonetheless oversaw Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1979 -- which removed the genocidal regime of Pol Pot from power. (Half of Cambodia's people died under the Khmer Rouge.)

In the 1990s, Giáp supported free-market economic reform and closer relations with the United States, demanding a war on poverty which the increasingly elitist governing class refused to sanction. He also publicly warned of the spread of Chinese influence and the environmental costs of Vietnam's rapid industrialization.

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