Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Passing of General Giap: Vietnamerica - "Omnipotent gods have burned their hands"


Soundtrack to reflections on the Passing of General Giap: The Stranglers, "Vietnamerica" 1980

General Vo Nguyen Giap, while not as iconic as Ho Chi Minh, was a familiar figure to advocates both for and against the United States' long intervention in Viet Nam. A relentless and charismatic North Vietnamese general whose campaigns drove both France and the United States out of Vietnam, he died on Friday in Hanoi. He was believed to be 102. 

 As Joseph Gregory reported in the New York Times:"The death was reported by several Vietnamese news organizations, including the respected Tuoi Tre Online, which said he had died in an army hospital. "General Giap was among the last survivors of a generation of Communist revolutionaries who in the decades after World War II freed Vietnam of colonial rule and fought a superpower to a stalemate. In his later years, he was a living reminder of a war that was mostly old history to the Vietnamese, many of whom were born after it had ended. "But he had not faded away. He was regarded as an elder statesman whose hard-line views had softened with the cessation of the war that unified Vietnam. He supported economic reform and closer relations with the United States while publicly warning of the spread of Chinese influence and the environmental costs of industrialization. 

 "To his American adversaries, however, from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, he was perhaps second only to his mentor, Ho Chi Minh, as the face of a tenacious, implacable enemy. And to historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did, costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American — sapping the United States Treasury and Washington’s political will to fight, and bitterly dividing the country in an argument about America’s role in the world that still echoes today.

 "A teacher and journalist with no formal military training, Vo Nguyen Giap (pronounced vo nwin ZHAP) joined a ragtag Communist insurgency in the 1940s and built it into a highly disciplined force that ended an empire and united a nation. "

 Mr. Gregory's complete article in the NY Times  appears here 

As Mr. Giap told the journalist Stanley Karnow in 1990, “We wanted to show the Americans that we were not exhausted, that we could attack their arsenals, communications, elite units, even their headquarters, the brains behind the war.” 

 He added, “We wanted to project the war into the homes of America’s families, because we knew that most of them had nothing against us.”

 DITHOB: General Giap's willingness to sacrifice countless lives, his own people and his adversaries -- reportedly 2.5 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans died in the conflict -- in pursuit of independence for his country, suggested a cultural and political divide that it would be difficult for a developed, democratic nation to sustain. But still, we seem to try.

 As the U.S. debates the value, meaning, and obligations of our continuing interventions around the world, we can only reflect upon the impact of what at the time appeared to be a watershed conflict in American history upon General Giap's nation and ours. Where it's gone, what it has meant for Viet Nam and the U.S. and what lessons, if any, if ever are to be learned, particularly as we approach the 40th anniversary of the end of this conflict. Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. 

And just as today the U.S. weighs a total withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, as reported in the NY Times. 

--Anthony Napoli

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