Vietnam’s late General Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013) is credited with having single-handedly defeated French and United States forces. Or did he? This is a nice little romance, but is contradicted by awkward facts which are amply documented by historians.
The truth is that while Saigon, capital of South Vietnam, was supported by one giant, the United States, Hanoi, the capital of the communist North Vietnam, was supported by two — the Soviet Union and China.
General Vo Nguyen Giap, left, with the
General Secretary of the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev.
Near the end of the Vietnam War, while Saigon’s ammunition started running our out because U.S. Congress decided to cut financial and military aid, Hanoi’s communist allies continued pouring in theirs — and in abundance.
From 1965 until April 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, Moscow gave Hanoi at least US$1 billion dollars annually in military aid and war-related economic aid. In 2001, when Moscow wanted to continue using the deepwater harbour at Cam Ranh Bay, Hanoi demanded debt forgiveness as a condition for its future use. Moscow refused to pay this price and withdrew its personnel.
During the Vietnam War, China also gave North Vietnam aid totalling $15–20 billion dollars. The aid included not only weapons but also footwear for Hanoi’s troops and even the toothpicks they used after meals. From 1964, China sent Vietnam 300,000 troops and other personnel, who contributed to air defence, logistical supplies, railway construction, etc.
As far back as 1950, Beijing sent Vietnam some of its top generals, such as Chen Geng, to help transform the Viet Minh resistance into a professional force. They copied the Chinese system of embedding Communist Party cells in armed forces’ units to perform propaganda and supervisory roles. They trained North Vietnam on how to mobilise the population and crush dissent.
Communist leader Ho Chi Minh’s land reform program, which aimed to prevent organised opposition to his rule by creating mutual suspicion among the population, came straight from China. Some tens of thousands of people were publicly executed in villages throughout the North, as peasants were urged to take revenge on land-owners, neighbours to execute one another, and children to inform against their parents.
According to popular legend, General Vo Nguyen Giap’s prowess enabled Vietnam to defeat the French at the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. What is omitted in this account is the significant role played by China. Giap’s troops used weapons supplied by China. Chinese military advisers, receiving their orders directly from Beijing, worked with Giap on strategies and daily tactics.
While no serious historian would dispute the facts cited above, in many high schools Western children are still not being told the truth. A typical history textbook would prominently mention the role of United States but gloss over the role of the Soviet Union and China.
Furthermore, a senior high school student, if asked, is likely to know about atrocities against civilians committed by American and South Vietnamese troops — they have probably seen pictures of the My Lai massacre in their textbooks. But hardly any have been told about the 1968 Tet Offensive and the almost daily bombings of crowded marketplaces and buses by communist terrorist squads.
The occasion of General Giap’s death should prompt not a recital of popular historical myths but a full disclosure of the facts about the Vietnam War.
Cuong Trong Bui, OAM MD, and Trung Viet Doan are former federal presidents of the Vietnamese community in Australia.