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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs