Birthday: August 25, 1911
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Vo Nguyen Giap
Born Country: Vietnam
Born in: Lệ Thủy District, Vietnam
Famous as: Officer
Spouse/Ex-: Nguyen Thi Quang Thai, Đặng Bích Hà
father: Vo Quang Nghiem
mother: Nguyen Thi Kien
siblings: Võ Thuần Nho
children: Võ Hạnh Phúc, Võ Hòa Bình, Vo Hong Anh, Võ Hồng Nam, Võ Điện Biên
Died on: October 4, 2013
place of death: Military Hospital 108, Hanoi, Vietnam
Founder/Co-Founder: Group 559
education: Vietnam National University
Who was Võ Nguyên Giáp?
Võ Nguyên Giáp was a Vietnamese politician who served as the general of the ‘Vietnam People's Army.’ He drew attention during World War II, when he served as the military leader of the ‘Việt Minh,’ against the Japanese who held Vietnam. Giáp is primarily known for commanding the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War. Two of his significant campaigns were the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the Tết Offensive. Giáp also served in Hồ Chí Minh's ‘Việt Minh’ government and was the military commander of the ‘Việt Minh,’ the commander of the ‘Vietnam People's Army,’ and a defense minister. He was a member of the politburo of the ‘Communist Party of Vietnam.’ His guerrilla tactics helped him secure a ‘Việt Minh’ win over the French and a North Vietnamese triumph over the U.S. and South Vietnam.
Childhood & Early Years
Võ Nguyên Giáp was born on August 25, 1911 (or 1912), in the Quảng Bình Province of French Indochina. Giáp's parents, Võ Quang Nghiêm and Nguyễn Thị Kiên, owned a farm.
Giáp's father was a Vietnamese nationalist, who had been part of the Cần Vương movement of the 1880s. In 1919, he was arrested by the French. He died in jail later.
Giáp had a brother and two sisters. One of his sisters, too, was arrested. Although she was released soon after, she fell ill and passed away after being released.
Giáp was homeschooled by his father before he attended the village school. In 1924, he joined the ‘Quốc Học’ (the "National Academy"), a French-run lycée in Huế. Hồ Chí Minh, too, had attended the same school.
At 14, Giáp worked for the ‘Haiphong Power Company.’ He was expelled from school for participating in the protests. He joined the ‘Tan Viet Cach Menh Dang,’ or the ‘Revolutionary Party of Young Vietnam,’ in 1926. It was his gateway to communism.
In 1930, he was arrested by the French for participating in student protests and served 13 months of a 2-year sentence at the ‘Lao Bảo Prison.’ He was released later due to lack of evidence.
In 1931, he joined the ‘Communist Party of Vietnam.’ He actively participated in protests against the French rule in Indochina and contributed to the formation of the ‘Democratic Front’ in 1933.
Sources claim he might have also spent time in ‘Lycée Albert Sarraut,’ a French lyceum in Hanoi. Giáp attended the ‘Indochinese University’ in Hanoi from 1933 to 1938 and obtained a bachelor's degree in law, majoring in political economy.
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He failed to qualify for the ‘Certificate of Administrative Law’ and joined the ‘Thăng Long School’ in Hanoi, as a history teacher.
There, he converted many of his colleagues and students to communism. In 1938, he got married and both he and his wife worked for the ‘Indochinese Communist Party.’
In 1939, the party was banned. Giáp fled to China, but his wife and sister-in-law were held captive by the French police. His sister-in-law was guillotined, while his wife died in prison 3 years later.
Giáp joined Hồ Chí Minh in China, in 1940. In 1941, Giáp formed an alliance with Chu Van Tan, a guerrilla leader of the Tho community of northeastern Vietnam.
The Indochina War
Giáp and Hồ Chí Minh went back to Vietnam after a year and founded the ‘Việt Minh.’ They marched into Hanoi in August 1945. On September 2 that year, Hồ Chí Minh announced Vietnam’s independence and declared the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (later North Vietnam). Giáp started a dialogue on independence with the French, but it was not successful.
Thus, in December 1946, the ‘Việt Minh’ started an 8-year war, known as the First Indochina War. The ‘Việt Minh’ did not succeed until after 1949, when Mao took over Beijing and China began helping the Vietnamese.
In 1950, his army clashed with the French forces at a battle at the Red River Delta. The Vietnamese suffered huge losses in this war.
In 1954, French General Henri Navarre decided to settle in Dien Bien Phu, in order to protect Laos. Giáp, however, took the help of thousands of farmers to supply dismantled weapons in bicycles, to the hills around Dien Bien Phu. The French forces surrendered on May 7 that year. The same day, a discussion began in Geneva to put an end to colonialism in Indochina.
The ‘Geneva Conference’ divided Vietnam into North Vietnam (under the Vietnamese communists) and South Vietnam (under the French), with a provision for an election in 1956 to reunite the two.
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In July that year, Giáp became the defense minister, the deputy prime minister, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of North Vietnam, or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The Vietnam War
In July 1955, South Vietnam refused to participate in the elections to unify the country. North Vietnam tried using force, causing the Vietnam War in 1955. The ‘People's Army of Vietnam’ of the North and the South Vietnam-based ‘Việt Cộng’ joined hands against South Vietnam.
The North Vietnamese forces were supported by communist allies such as China and the Soviet Union. The U.S. joined in the war, along with allies South Korea, Thailand, and Australia, to prevent the spread of communism, and thus provided military aid to South Vietnam.
In 1960, the relationship between Vietnam and the Soviet was strained, and Hanoi sought the support of Beijing. However, Giáp supported the Soviet. Giáp was then accused of trying to create a “coup d'etat” along with Moscow. Around this time, Giáp wrote ‘People’s War, People’s Army’ (1961), an account of guerrilla warfare .
By 1965, Giáp clashed with the U.S. and suffered immense losses due to the superior US artillery. On 30 January 1968, the communist forces launched the Tet Offensive and struck South Vietnam. The U.S embassy in Saigon was attacked, and the ‘Việt Cộng’ took over Hue.
However, in Hanoi, the ‘Việt Cộng’ were defeated badly and were almost obliterated by the U.S. Although they were defeated, the Vietnamese declared a tactical victory, as the Americans were losing support because their claims about the end of the war were proved wrong.
Eventually, the South Vietnamese forces were overpowered, followed by the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Giáp became the first Vietnamese general to defeat American forces in a war.
North and South Vietnam were finally reunited in 1976. Giáp opposed the extreme economic measures in his country but was losing his power. In December 1978, going against Giáp, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, in order to remove the ‘Khmer Rouge.’ The Vietnamese army then fought a guerrilla war against the ‘Khmer Rouge’ for over 10 years.
Because he opposed the war, Giáp was removed from his position of the defense minister in 1980. After 2 years, he had to give up his seat in the politburo, too. He continued to serve as the deputy prime minister and was in charge of science and technology. He was also the head of a national campaign for birth control.
By the 1980s, Giáp had lost most of his power. He found some support from army personnel who had been affected by the war in Cambodia and the economic debacle of the time.
In 1986, some officers requested Giáp to take control and make changes to the system. However, Giáp refused. Colonel Bui Tin requested Giáp to take control of the political situation again in 1990. Giáp refused again, opting for a retirement instead. Giáp stepped down from his position as vice premier in 1991. He spent the rest of his life traveling, giving interviews, and meeting foreign dignitaries.
Many disappointed Vietnamese blamed him for not being strong enough to make political and economic changes when the country needed him.
Personal Life, Family & Death
Giáp got married to Nguyen Thi Minh Giang (or Nguyễn Thị Quang Thái), who was his professor Dang Thai Minh’s daughter.
They had met at school in Hue and got married in June 1938 (or April 1939). They had a daughter, Hong Anh, in May 1939. After he fled to China in 1939, his wife was imprisoned. She died in 1942.
In 1946, Giáp married Dang Bich Ha. They had two daughters and two sons.
He died on October 4, 2013, at the ‘Central Military Hospital’ in Hanoi, aged 102. He received a state funeral on 12–13 October. He was buried in Quảng Bình.