General Vo Nguyen Giap – Unforgettable memories

VietNamNet Bridge – American journalist Stanley Karnow recalled his memories of General Vo Nguyen Giap on Tuoi Tre Daily on the occasion of the 100th birthday of the legendary general (25-8-1911-25-8-2010).

Stanley Karnow, 85, is an American journalist who writes popular histories.

After serving with the US Army Air Forces in Asia during World War II, he graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's degree in 1947; in 1947 and 1948 he attended the Sorbonne, and from 1948 to 1949 the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. He then began his career in journalism as a Time correspondent in Paris in 1950.

After covering Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (where he was North Africa bureau chief in 1958-59), he went to Asia, where he spent the most influential part of his career.

He covered Asia from 1959 until 1974 for Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The London Observer, Washington Post, and NBC News. Present in Vietnam in July 1959 when the first Americans were killed, he reported on the Vietnam War in its entirety.

This landed him a place on the master list of Nixon’s political opponents. It was during this time that he drew together the stimulus for his seminal 1983 book Vietnam: A History. He was chief correspondent for the PBS series Vietnam: A Television History, which won six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, a George Polk Award and a DuPont-Columbia Award.

In 1990, Karnow won the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines. His other books include Mao and China: From Revolution to Revolution, which was nominated for a National Book Award; and Paris in the Fifties (1997), a memoir history of his own experiences of living in Paris in the 1950s.

Karnow currently lives outside of Washington, D.C. He belongs to the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Historical Society.

Karnow had the chance at an exclusive interview with General Giap, posted to New York Times Magazine in June 1990 entitled "Giap Remembers.”

Karnow couldn’t forget the day he sat in an old-styled room in Hanoi and listened to General Giap, the legendary man, talking about the miraculous victory of his country.

When did you first interview General Vo Nguyen Giap?

The first time I saw him was in 1990. We met in an old house in Hanoi, near my hotel. We talked and then I visited his home. I met his wife and some members of his family.

After this trip, I wrote a New York Times article about him and used it in my book later. I researched the wars in Vietnam and Giap’s role when he became a leader of the Viet Minh… Giap and I talked with each other and we interviewed in French because he is very proficient in the language.

Do you know why General Giap agreed to be interviewed by you, an American, when Vietnam had just opened its door to the world?

I think perhaps he had read my book, Vietnam: A History, so he agreed to talk with me. He told me about Dien Bien Phu by moving tea-sets on the table.

The interview with General Giap was an important landmark in my career.

Is there any change in your view of the Vietnam War after your talk with General Giap?

I really think that Americans were wrong when they carried out the Vietnam War. The US didn’t have any opportunity to win and that is the topic of my book. Looking back I see this war is a tragedy. Around 60,000 American died and went missing. So many Vietnamese died. So many Vietnamese families lost their relatives and were affected by Agent Orange.

In any circumstance, General Giap was very determined. And when I asked him: “Can you help me understand why there was no chance for American to win this war?” He answered: “Because we were always consistent and ready to struggle to overcome every circumstance.”

Did he tell you about the price that Vietnam had to pay in the war?

He told me about cemeteries of war martyrs and the white tombstones. Many cemeteries have white tombs that don’t contain the remains of anyone. These are artificial tombs of soldiers who died in southern Vietnam, but their remains were lost. We could understand that there are always heart-breaking sacrifices in wars.

General Giap never told me about the specific number of Vietnamese who died in the war. He always repeated that it was a great loss. But he said there were people who had to sacrifice to win in that war. I listened to him and I understand very clearly.

I don’t judge him about it. I was a soldier in World War II, when I was only 18, 19 years old. I reported the war in Algeria. I observed many wars in my life to understand that the number of people who had to die for wars is terrible.

Why did you write about General Giap as the person who is on a par with Grant, Lee, Rommel and MacArthur in the temple honoring world military leaders?

I wrote about many general in my book and made comparisons with him. He told me how he faced the French since 1946. When Giap told me about French General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny in Vietnam, he was very proud to face him in the war. He made me remember the other great generals in history.

When he led the Dien Bien Phu campaign, foreign advisors were always besides him. They told him to do this, do that. General Giap said he always listened to what they said and didn’t sleep at night to make decisions.

He commanded soldiers to dig into the earth to move into the centre. The French could never imagine that General Giap could bring cannons to hill tops and then triumph with the least losses. That was one of the most special victories in his life. That’s why I compared him and his historic battle to other famous generals.

What was your impression of General Giap?

He is a courteous and a little humorous in talks. He is very intelligent and urbane in a French style. On this occasion, I would like to convey my and my daughter Catherine’s happy birthday wish to him.

General Giap is among 59 greatest military leaders portrayed in Great Military Leaders and Their Campaigns by Jeremy Black, published by Thames & Hudson in London in 2008 besides Julius Caesar, George Washington, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Saladin, Ghengis Khan, Napoleon, Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, Erich von Manstein, and Georgy Zhukov.

There are two pages about General Giap in this book, quoting him as saying: “Inheriting and continuing our nation’s tradition of fighting against foreign invasion, our people have defeated a large force with a smaller one.” The book presents two pictures of General Giap in the Dien Bien Phu (1954) and Tet Offensive 1968 campaigns, with maps and instructions. General Giap is the only living person among the 59 selected persons in this book, showing the position of the Vietnam War in modern world history in which General Giap is the symbol of Vietnam’s liberation.

The page about General Vo Nguyen Giap in "Great Military Leaders and Their Campaigns".

Party leader congratulates General Giap

Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh visited General Vo Nguyen Giap yesterday to congratulate the former military commander as he turns 100 tomorrow.

The Party leader wished the general good health and further longevity and thanked him for his great contribution to the revolution.

He also assured the general that the Party and State would take advantage of opportunities and overcome all challenges to foster the renewal process as well as modernisation and industrialisation.

The General Secretary also emphasised the Party and State's determination to defend the nation and successfully reach the goal of a prosperous people, strong country and a just, democratic and civilised society.

General Vo Nguyen Giap was the first general of the Vietnam People's Army and the top commander in the two wars against the French colonialists (1946-1954) and the US imperialists (1960-1975).

The veteran revolutionary was the Vietnam People's Army's Commander in Chief for 30 years and an excellent disciple of President Ho Chi Minh.

A great military strategist and tactician, he was closely associated with the historic defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu on May 7,1954.

Under Giap's command, libration forces captured Sai Gon, now Ho Chi Minh City, on April 30, 1975.

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