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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs