Vietnamese remember General Giap, 'Red Napoleon' and independence hero
Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The 'Red Napoleon' who led Hanoi's armies to victory against the French is dead. The strategist who ended the historic battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 with a "stunning victory" still studied today in military schools, who also led the struggle for independence against the United States, remains for historians and experts one of foremost theorists in the tactics of guerrilla warfare.
With deep emotion and sincere affection, the Vietnamese have begun honouring the memory of General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died on Friday at the age of 102 years in a military hospital in the capital, where he spent much of the last four years of his life because of ill health.
Yet, General Giap remained faithful to his reputation as a fighter until the end. Even in his last years, he did not spare his salvos and or hold back harsh attacks against official authorities for the lack of freedom, excessive bureaucracy and unfettered bauxite mining in the Central Highlands against the interest of ordinary people. Still, over the years, he was eased out of power because of these attacks despite the many recognitions he received.
General Vo Nguyen Giap was born 25 August 1911 in Quang Binh province, north-central Vietnam in a poor family of seven brothers and sisters, some of whom died young. Politically active early on, he was expelled from high school in Hue for organising student protests.
His name however is closely connected to the wars fought in Indochina in the second half of the 20th century. For the Vietnamese, he is a national hero, the second most important personality of the nation after 'Uncle Ho' (Ho Chi Minh).
A few years after Dien Bien Phu, his genius found new inspiration in the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a supply route that ran through ostensibly neutral Cambodia and Laos that allowed North Vietnam to resupply its troops fighting in the south. This proved crucial in tipping the balance in favour of Hanoi and led to reunification under the same flag in 1975.
After retiring from active service, he became defence minister, and a leading member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party as well as deputy prime minister.
In recent years, he often clashed with Hanoi's new generations of leaders. He accused them of promoting policies that were too "pro- Chinese" at the expense of Vietnam's territorial and economic independence.
He also slammed them for allowing bauxite mining in the Central Highlands to Beijing's profit, a policy that has been roundly criticised by the scientific community and environmentalists.
In 2009 he wrote three letters to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, asking for the temporary freeze of mining activities.
Ultimately, his accusations of corruption against political leaders and his criticism of the Communist party and the country's bureaucracy ended in his marginalisation in the past 25 years.
In a speech to a party congress in 2006, he repeatedly insisted on the need for transparency and democracy and decisive action against corruption.
"A party that conceals its defects is a spoiled one," he said. "A party that dares to admit and clarify as well as fix its errors is a brave, strong and true one."
Even his old enemies paid tribute to great military man and statesman. Senator John McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called Giap "a brilliant military strategist".
He inspired generations of Vietnamese, especially the young and the most active advocates of democracy and human rights; people like Catholic lawyer Le Quoc Quan and Catholic blogger Maria Ta Phong, and a group of Christian (Catholic and Protestant) activists in the diocese of Vinh, who are in prison for their opposition to bauxite mining and China's growing "imperialism" in Vietnam.