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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid