As the founder of the Indo-Chinese Communist party in 1930 and president of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1969, Ho Chi Minh led the longest and most costly 20th-century war against colonialism. His whole adult life was devoted to ending French and later, American domination of Vietnam. His goals were achieved in 1975, six years after his death, when the last Americans left South Vietnam. The Vietnamese communist has always claimed that Ho Chi Minh was the hero who gained independence for Vietnam from France. There is no doubt that Ho Chi Minh was a man of undoubted bravery and vast subbornness.
Ho Chi Minh was born as Nguyen Tat Thanh (his given name) on May 19, 1890, in Hoang Tru, Vietnam (French Indochina). He attended school in Hue during his teen years, he worked as a schoolmaster for a time, and went to a technical school in Saigon. In 1911 he went to work on ocean freighters, which took him around to Africa and as far as Boston and New York City. After two years in London from 1915-1917 he moved to Paris and remained there until 1923. At Paris he became a socialist and organized a group of Vietnamese who were living there in a protest against French colonial policy. He was then later inspired by the successful Communist revolution in Russia, that he went to Moscow in 1924 and took part in the fifth Congress of the Communist International. His anticolonial views kept him from returning to Vietnam until the end of World War II. He spent much of his time in China, where he organized the Indo-Chinese Communist party on February 3, 1930. It was up until the 1940s that he began to use the name Ho Chi Minh, meaning “Ho the Enlightener.” In 1941 Ho and his comrades formed a league for the independance of Vietnam or Vietminh.
Following World War II a bloody seven-and-a-half-year struggle raged between Communist Vietnamese and the French for control of the land. Finally a peace conference was held at Geneva, Switzerland, to determine the fate of Indochina. Concluding in July 1954, the conference determined that French rule would be ended in Vietnam and that the country would be temporarily divided politically.
Laos and Cambodia, comprising the rest of Indochina, were prohibited from making military alliances. Foreign military bases were barred from their territory and from Vietnam.
By 1945 the Japanese had taken over Vietnam and defeated the French, and later in the year the Japanese were defeated by the United States. Ho Chi Minh immediately sought the cooperation of the United States in preventing the return of colonial rule, and on September 2 1945, he proclaimed the independence of Vietnam.
The battle of Dien Bien Phu was a major turning point in the history of Vietnam the battle of Dien Bien Phu ended any hope of the French control in Indochina and gave way for the heavy American involvement in the area from 1965 to 1975.
Vietnam—Forty years ago, men fought, bled and died here in an epic battle that changed the course of recent world history. Here was where the French stronghold of Dien Bien Phu fell to a peasant Vietnamese army of nationalists and communists, ending French colonial rule, setting the stage for the involvement of the United States in Vietnam, and ending Western–and white–domination of much of Southeast Asia.
New generations of farmers now roam the peaceful valley with water buffalo, plowing the land helping grow their crops. Children play in ponds, old men and women ride their bicycles.
Late 1953 the French occupied a small mountain outpost named Dien Bien Phu, located in the northern part of Vietnam near the Lao Tian border. The French hoped to cut the Vietminh supply lines into Laos and to set up a base from which to attack. The Vietnamese, in control of the countryside, quickly cut off all roads to Dien Bien Phu, so the French could only be supplied from the air. The French remained quite confident of their position as well as they underestimated the Vietminhs strength, they were completely taken by surprise when General Vo Nguyen Giap now at the age of 82, (the legendary warrior) of North Vietnam surrounded their base with 40,000 troops and used heavy artillery to batter the French lines. The Vietminh were so successful because since they were fast on foot, their knowledge of the land, and the amount of items they carried. The Vietnamese had also gained a great deal of economic support of the Soviets, which gave the Vietnamese troops better weapons, although the French had some good artilery but, in the end they were no match for the Vietminh. The Americans gave France a helping hand, but still Dien Bien Phu fell on May 7, 1954. By this time support in France for the war had virtually evaporated, and the American Congress refused any more aid to support a lost cause. The French government accepted an end to the fighting, and an agreement was signed in Geneva on July 21, 1954. The agreement also divided Vietnam in half along the 17th parallel.
The area of Dien Bien Phu represents, glory for the old soldiers, on occasions they put on their tattered, mismatched uniforms with medals as they retrace the battlefield and pose for photos for reporters and tourists.
About 4,000 of Giap’s troops lie in four tree-shaded cemeteries in Dien Bien Phu. There is none for the French. Their dead are symbolized by two rebuilt grave sites, where returning French veterans pay their respects. Hundreds of Vietnamese and French troops were buried in the earth of Dien Bien Phu at the positions where they fell, or were swallowed up by monsoon waters.
In military operations in both the Viet Minh and Vietnam Wars, Giap was cautious and so careful and percise in planning the operations. Frequently they were delayed because either they or the moment was premature. Giap’s caution and policies led his opponents to underestimate both his military strength and his tactical skill. Although in war there will be someone undoubtedly underestimates the other. Historians, particularly French historians, tend to write and talk about Giap, in larger than life terms; they write of his brilliance as a strategic and tactical military genius. But there is little proof of this. Perhaps the French write him large as a slave for bruising the French. Giap’s victories have been due less to brilliant or even incisive thinking than to energy.
“And his defeats are clearly due to serious shortcomings as a military commander: a tendency to hold on too long, to refuse to break victory to intoxicate and lead to the taking of excessive and even insane chances in trying to strike a bold second blow; a preoccupation, while fighting the “people’s war,” with real estate, attempting to sweep the enemy out of an area that may or may not be militarily important.”
Giap always was at his best when he is moving many men and supplies around a battlefield, far faster than his enemies would expect. He did this against the French in 1951, infiltrating an entire army through their lines in the Red River Delta. Without General Giap history would have written it own new script. After the Vietnam War General Giap slowly began to fade the scene, withdrawing gradually from day-to-day command of PAVN. General Dung began to take up the reins of authority.
Published in 1997 Stanley Thornes (Publishers) LTD
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GEORGE ESPER, Battle of Dien Bien Phu Shaped Southeast Asia