News / Asia

    Famed Vietnam General's Legacy Remains Divisive

    FILE - General Vo Nguyen Giap is seen in an August 4, 2008, photo.
    FILE - General Vo Nguyen Giap is seen in an August 4, 2008, photo.
    Marianne Brown
    On Friday, one of Vietnam’s most celebrated war commanders, General Vo Nguyen Giap, died in a military hospital at the age of 102. Despite the nationwide outpouring of grief and tributes, the general’s long career both during and after the war remains divisive, not least among Vietnam’s political activists.
     
    The news of General Vo Nguyen Giap’s death broke on social media sites Friday evening and was quickly followed by varied reactions.
     
    The general is credited with masterminding the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which led to the end of French colonial rule. He is also described as being a key figure in the defeat of South Vietnam in 1975, ending what the Vietnamese call the American War.
     
    The self-taught military strategist is also considered the founding father of the Vietnam People’s Army, and was close friends with President Ho Chi Minh.
     
    Perspective

    For such a historic figure, the attention on his passing shines a great light on Vietnam’s present leadership and its record, says Jonathan London, Vietnam analyst and assistant professor at City University Hong Kong.
     
    “His death in a sense brings attention to the performance and the legitimacy of Vietnam’s current leadership, so there’s a need among the leadership in a sense to manage this affair because of the sensitivities associated with it,” said London.
    After the war, Giap raised concerns about the country’s quick adoption of Soviet-style economic reforms and foreign policy. He was later sidelined from Vietnamese politics and retired as deputy prime minister in 1991.
     
    Professor London said Vietnam’s leadership wants to control the official narrative of his passing by focusing on his military victories, but that may prove difficult because of his political stances in his later years.
     
    “A few years ago when General Giap was making his voice heard about several issues, including the bauxite mining in the Highlands and was generally calling for greater accountability with respect to Vietnam’s leadership, there was a great deal of interest among the Vietnamese population in general,” said London.
     
    Some of those who championed the general’s causes were also targeted by the government.
     
    Looking forward

    When anti-China protests erupted in Hanoi in 2011, some of those on the march were carrying posters bearing the general’s face.

    Nguyen Quang Thach was one of them. He said he believes the Vietnamese people should embody Giap’s spirit, but not just to fight China.
     
     “At the moment our citizens need to transform Giap's spirit into our hearts so that our country can win in many new battlefronts such as economic and educational reforms, military modernization,” says Nguyen Quang Thach.
     
    Not all activists share Thach’s fervor. While Giap remained an influential voice in Vietnam well into his 90s, some say his influence, according to Jonathan London,  diminished in recent years while the general was hospitalized and out of public view.

    “The general was hospitalized for three or four years so his death has been long expected. In the meantime, I think Vietnam’s own political culture has changed a lot in a very short period of time. So while the general himself just a few years ago was an individual of great interest while those struggling for political reforms in Vietnam by the time of his death, the country had in respect moved on,” London said.
     
    For those who fled to the United States after the war, the reactions to the general’s death are quite different from those in Vietnam’s capital. Many in the diaspora still have strong feelings about the Communist Party, said Duy Hoang, spokesman for the pro-democracy organization Viet Tan, which is banned in Vietnam.
     
    “I think the propaganda inside Vietnam, and also by some of the western intellectuals, is always how Giap threw out the Americans. But I think what they are missing is really that for those 20 years it was a civil war between Vietnamese brothers fighting for different ideologies and ultimately I think the country of Vietnam was the loser for that,” said Duy Hoang.
     
    However, he added that the diaspora should appreciate the role the general played in fighting colonialism.
     
    “We have to recognize General Giap’s role in the independence movement, in the role of Dien Bien Phu, that’s something that not everybody in the overseas community is willing to acknowledge,” added Duy Hoang.
     
    The general’s funeral will take place on Saturday in Hanoi.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.