Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap: ‘Red Napoleon’
Hanoi, Oct. 4 (AP): Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant and ruthless self-taught general who drove the French out of Vietnam to free it from colonial rule and later forced the Americans to abandon their gruelling effort to save the country from communism, has died. At age 102, he was the last of Vietnam’s old-guard revolutionaries.
Giap died this evening in a military hospital in the capital of Hanoi where he had spent close to four years growing weaker and suffering from long illnesses, a government official and a person close to Giap said.
There was no word of the death in state-controlled media late today, but the news had spread widely in Facebook and other social media. Giap was a national hero whose legacy was second only to that of his mentor, founding President Ho Chi Minh, who led the country to independence.
The so-called “red Napoleon” stood out as the leader of a ragtag army of guerrillas who wore sandals made of car tyres and lugged their artillery piece by piece over mountains to encircle and crush the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The unlikely victory, which is still studied at military schools, led not only to Vietnam’s independence but hastened the collapse of colonialism across Indochina and beyond.
Giap went on to defeat the US-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, reuniting a country that had been split into communist and non-communist states.
“No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or caused as many losses as this war,” Giap told The Associated Press in 2005 in one of his last known interviews with foreign media on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the former South Vietnamese capital.
“But we still fought because for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” he said, repeating a famous quote by Ho Chi Minh.
Giap remained sharp and well-versed in politics and current events until he was hospitalised. Well into his 90s, he entertained world leaders, who posed for photographs and received autographed copies of his books while visiting the general’s shady colonial-style home in Hanoi.
Born on August 25, 1911, in central Vietnam’s Quang Binh province, Giap became active in politics in the 1920s and worked as a journalist before joining the Indochinese Communist Party. He was jailed briefly in 1930 for leading anti-French protests and later earned a law degree from Hanoi University.
He fled French police in 1940 and met Ho Chi Minh in southwestern China before returning to rural northern Vietnam to recruit guerrillas for the Viet Minh, a forerunner to the southern insurgency later known as the Viet Cong.
During his time abroad, his wife was arrested by the French and died in prison.