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Posted on Nov 4, 2004 in War College

We Support Ourselves

By Steven McWilliams

On 1 September 1910, Vo Nguyen Giap is born in An Xa, Quang Binh Province. Giap entered the world of revolutionary activity at the age 14, guided by well-known and regarded anti-French agitator Phan Boi Chou. In 1925 Phan, allegedly betrayed by Ho Chi Minh for 100,000 Piasters, is sentenced to life at hard labor, though this is later commuted to permanent house arrest in Hue. Incidentally, Giap’s father was also a revolutionary, active in the revolutions of 1885 and 1888. Giap studies law and philosophy at the University of Hanoi. For motivation in the conflict against the French colonial forces, Giap uses the memory of his wife, who died in a French prison after being sentenced to life at hard labor for revolutionary activities.

Ho Chi Minh, 1968

Ho Chi Minh, 1968

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Working as a history teacher, Giap is away on 17 June 1929, when the Indochina Communist Party (Dong Cong San Dong Duang) is founded. Shortly afterwards though, the ICP Military Strategist moves south from Cao Bang Province (NE Vietnam) to Thai Nguyen Province, immediately north of Hanoi. 

An ambitious man, Giap is fond of exclaiming to his comrades "nothing is impossible for those who dare." He follows the words of Mao Zedong, who teaches that China is a land of peasants, and therefore the revolution must begin in the countryside; and Trieu Quang Phuc, a 6th Century Vietnamese who fought the Chinese Liang Dynasty from within the swamps of the Red River Valley. Giap teaches that 20th Century Vietnam’s concepts of warfare came from Trieu.

Following are some concepts put forth by Mao for conducting a war of revolution.

RULES FOR SURVIVAL

1. Obey orders in all your actions
2. Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses
3. Turn in everything captured

NORMS OF CONDUCT

1. Speak Politely
2. Pay fairly for what you buy
3. Return everything you borrow
4. Pay for anything you damage
5. Do not hit or swear at people
6. Do not damage crops
7. Do not take liberties with women
8. Do not ill-treat captives

FIVE REQUIREMENTS FOR VICTORY IN GUERILLA WAR

1. Support for the masses
2. Party organization
3. Strong guerrilla army
4. Favorable region for military moves
5. Economic self-sufficiency

Giap also adhered to certain of Sun Tzu’s teachings, viz;

1. When the enemy advances, we retreat
2. When the enemy halts and camps, we trouble them
3. When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack
4. When the enemy retreats, we pursue

A more homegrown philosophy also is taking shape. On 28 August 1945, the Viet Minh seize Hanoi and declare the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is declared President, with Giap the Minister of the Interior. Somewhere in this timeframe, the ICP transitions to the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The French take up a "business-as-usual" stance, dismissing any revolutionary rhetoric as the musings of disaffected students and peasants.

Central to the VCP philosophy is dau tranh, or the struggle. This is defined as “the sustained application of total military and non-military force over long periods over time in pursuit of an objective". This doctrine has a large conceptual breadth, requiring the total mobilization of society’s resources and psychic energies. All people, including children, are weapons of dau tranh, to be hurled into battle, hence the term, "people’s war".

Further, political dau tranh is not politics, but a mobilizing and motivating program operating in the gray area between war and politics. It consists of three van, or action programs.  The all-important dich van (action among the enemy, including action against the enemy in his own country); dan van (action among the people, including action in liberated areas); and finally binh van (action among the military, including non-military activities against the enemy’s military forces).

Giap finds another of Mao’s declarations particularly fitting to the Vietnamese concept of revolution:

        "A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another", Mao Zedong, 1927

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