Date: 04/10/2013

> AP | Oct 4, 2013, 07.32 PM IST
> HANOI, Vietnam: 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 grueling effort to save the country from communism,
> has died. At age 102, he was the last of Vietnam's old-guard
> revolutionaries.
> Giap died on Friday 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 source
> close to Giap said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because his
> death had not been formally announced.
> 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 tires 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 U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in
> April 1975, reuniting a country that had been split into communist and
> noncommunist states. He regularly accepted heavy combat losses to
> achieve his goals.
> "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 hospitalized. 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.
> Although he was widely revered in Vietnam, Giap was the nemesis of
> millions of South Vietnamese who fought alongside U.S. troops and fled
> their homeland after the war, including the many staunchly
> anti-communist refugees who settled in the United States.
> Born Aug. 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. He later remarried and had five children.
> In 1944, Ho Chi Minh called on Giap to organize and lead guerrilla
> forces against Japanese invaders during World War II. After Japan
> surrendered to Allied forces the following year, the Viet Minh
> continued their fight for independence from France.
> Giap was known for his fiery temper and as a merciless strategist, but
> also for being a bit of a dandy: Old photos show him reviewing his
> troops in a white suit and snappy tie, in sharp contrast to Ho Chi
> Minh, clad in shorts and sandals.
> Giap never received any formal military training, joking that he
> attended the military academy "of the bush."
> At Dien Bien Phu, his Viet Minh army surprised elite French forces by
> surrounding them. Digging miles (kilometers) of trenches, the
> Vietnamese dragged heavy artillery over steep mountains and slowly
> closed in during the bloody, 56-day battle that ended with French
> surrender on May 7, 1954.
> "If a nation is determined to stand up, it is very strong," Giap told
> foreign journalists in 2004 prior to the battle's 50th anniversary.
> "We are very proud that Vietnam was the first colony that could stand
> up and gain independence on its own."
> It was the final act that led to French withdrawal and the Geneva
> Accords that partitioned Vietnam into north and south in 1956. It
> paved the way for war against Saigon
> and its US sponsors
> less than a decade later.
> The general drew on his Dien Bien Phu experience to create the Ho Chi
> Minh Trail, a clandestine jungle network that snaked through
> neighbouring, and ostensibly neutral, Laos and Cambodia, to supply his
> troops fighting on southern battlefields.
> Against American forces with their sophisticated weapons and B-52
> bombers, Giap's forces again prevailed. But more than a million of his
> troops perished in what is known in Vietnam as the "American War."
> "We had to use the small against the big; backward weapons to defeat
> modern weapons," Giap said. "At the end, it was the human factor that
> determined the victory."
> Historian Stanley Karnow, who interviewed Giap in Hanoi in 1990,
> quoted him as saying: "We were not strong enough to drive out a half
> million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to
> break the will of the American government to continue the war."
> Giap had been largely credited with devising the 1968 Tet Offensive, a
> series of surprise attacks on American strongholds in the south by
> Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces that came during lunar new year
> celebrations. Newer research, however, suggests that Giap had been
> against the attacks, and his family has confirmed that he was out of
> the country when they began.
> The Tet Offensive shook America's confidence, fueled anti-war
> sentiment and prompted US President Lyndon B. Johnson
> to
> announce that he would not seek re-election. But it took another seven
> years for the war to be won.
> On April 30, 1975, communist forces marched through Saigon with tanks,
> bulldozing the gates of what was then known as Independence Palace.
> "With the victory of April 30, slaves became free men," Giap said. "It
> was an unbelievable story."
> It came at a price for all sides: the deaths of as many as 3 million
> communists and civilians, an estimated 250,000 South Vietnamese troops
> and 58,000 Americans.
> Throughout most of the war years, Giap served as defense minister,
> armed forces commander and a senior member of Vietnam's ruling
> Communist Party, but he was slowly elbowed from the center of power
> after Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969. The glory for victory in 1975 went
> not to Giap, but to Gen. Van Tien Dung, chief of the general staff.
> Giap lost the defense portfolio in 1979 and was dropped from the
> all-powerful Politburo three years later. He stepped down from his
> last post, as deputy prime minister, in 1991.
> But despite losing favor with the government, the thin, white-haired
> man became even more beloved by the Vietnamese people as he continued
> to speak out in his old age. He retired in Hanoi as a national
> treasure, writing his memoirs and attending national events, always
> wearing green or eggshell-colored military uniforms with gold stars
> across the shoulders.
> He held press conferences, reading from handwritten notes and
> sometimes answering questions in French, to commemorate war
> anniversaries. He invited foreign journalists to his home for meetings
> with high-profile visitors and often greeted a longtime American
> female AP correspondent in Hanoi with kisses on both cheeks.
> He kept up with world news and offered a piece of advice in 2004 for
> Americans fighting in Iraq.
> "Any forces that wish to impose their will on other nations will
> certainly face failure," he told reporters.
> Giap received a parade of foreign dignitaries, including friend and
> fellow communist revolutionary Fidel Castro
> of Cuba. In
> 2003, the pair sat in Giap's home chatting and laughing beneath a
> portrait of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.
> The general's former nemesis, US defense secretary Robert McNamara
> , came to
> visit in 1995. He asked about a disputed chapter of the Vietnam War
> , the 1964 Gulf
> of Tonkin incident in which two US Navy destroyers were purportedly
> fired upon by North Vietnamese boats. It's the event that gave the US
> Congress justification for escalating the war.
> Later, many questioned whether the attack actually occurred. During
> his visit, McNamara asked Giap what happened that night.
> "Absolutely nothing," Giap said.
> At age 97, Giap took a high-profile role in a debate over the proposed
> expansion of a bauxite mine that he said posed environmental and
> security risks, in part because it was to be operated by a Chinese
> company in the restive Central Highlands. He also protested the
> demolition of Hanoi's historic parliament house, Ba Dinh Hall. Both
> projects, however, went ahead as planned.
> Giap celebrated his 100th birthday in 2011. He was too weak and ill to
> speak, but he signed a card thanking his "comrades" for their
> outpouring of well wishes. And even then, he continued to be briefed
> every few days about international and national events, said Col.
> Nguyen Huyen, Giap's personal secretary for 35 years.
> Late in life, Giap encouraged warmer relations between Vietnam and the
> United States, which re-established ties in 1995 and have become close
> trading partners. Vietnam has also recently looked to the U.S.
> military as a way to balance China's growing power
> in
> the disputed South China Sea
> .
> "We can put the past behind," Giap said in 2000. "But we cannot
> completely forget it."