Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general who masterminded the defeat of French colonial forces at Dien Bien Phu and the Tet Offensive that turned many Americans against the Vietnam War, has died at 102.
Giap, whose legacy in Vietnam is second only to Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary communist leader, died Friday in a hospital in the capital, Hanoi, a government official tells news agencies.
The general is ranked by historians as among the greatest military leaders of the 20th century. His 1954 defeat of French forces garrisoned at the northwestern province of Dien Bien Phu is considered a classic of guerrilla siege.
After the U.S. became involved in the conflict in the 1960s, Giap was responsible for key campaigns against American forces, most famously a massive assault against the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies during the 1968 Tet Lunar New Year celebrations. The Tet Offensive, although a military defeat for the North, nonetheless helped turn American opinion against the war.
NPR’s Greg Myre interviewed Giap in Hanoi in 2000 on the 25th anniversary of the Communist victory that toppled the U.S.-backed government in the South.
At the time, Giap told Myre that the Americans were welcome to return to Vietnam, but only if they helped rebuild the impoverished country, where 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese, mostly civilians, died in two decades of fighting against the French and then the Americans.
“We can put the past behind, but we cannot completely forget it,” Giap told reporters, including Myre, who was with The Associated Press at the time. “As we help in finding missing U.S. soldiers, the United States should also help Vietnam overcome the extremely enormous consequences of the war.”
According to Reuters, Giap was “the son of a peasant scholar” born in central Vietnam in 1911 who eventually became a close friend of the revolutionary Ho who “held him in high regard alongside former prime minister Pham Van Dong.”
“Giap’s critics and his nemesis, the late U.S. General William C. Westmoreland, said he was effective partly because he was willing to sustain huge losses in pursuit of victory.
“Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would have been sacked overnight,” Westmoreland was quoted as saying in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stanley Karnow’s 1983 book “Vietnam. A History.”
Karnow wrote that Westmoreland seemed to misunderstand how determined the communists under Ho and Giap really were.”