Vietnam War: People Involved: North Vietnam

North Vietnam

  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Vo Nguyen Giap

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Ho Chi Minh
1890-1969 (born Nguyen Sinh Cung) Founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party, 1930

He left his family at an early age and at 21, set out on almost 30 years of traveling around France, England, Russia, China, Thailand and the United States, learning to speak French, English, Russian and Chinese fluently. He settled in Paris where he joined the French Communist Party in 1920 and was later commissioned by Moscow to form a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary organization in French Indochina. He embraced communism, as this seemed to be the best way to establish an independent Vietnam.

Early in 1941, he crossed from China into Vietnam where he met with several colleagues with whom he formed the Vietnamese Independence League. He then adopted his last pseudonym, Ho Chi Minh, which translates into “Light-Bringer”. During 1946, Ho Chi Minh desperately sought to avoid hostilities but the conflict with the French could not be solved and he began to prepare for war together with General Vo Nguyen Giap, the leader of the North Vietnamese army. The French were eventually overrun and defeated at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. Ho Chi Minh’s position as president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was confirmed in the constitution of 1959, but his health was failing and by mid 1960, his role in decision making was mainly ceremonial. Ho Chi Minh was considered to be both a patriot and a Marxist-Leninist who saw no contradiction between the two positions and controversy often stirred in regard to his stance as a patriot or a communist. He was capable of great charm, but also of being ruthless in his tactics to achieve his goals. He was considered a gifted leader with a talent for administration, strategy, and being a motivator in the fight for Vietnamese independence. He did not live to see the fulfillment of his mission; he died on September 2nd 1969, the 24th anniversary of his declaration of independence for Vietnam.

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Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap
Born 1911General and Commander PAVNPolitburo Communist Party 1951-1976Minister of Defence 1946-1980

General Giap was considered to be one of the most interesting characters of the Vietnam War. He had received no formal instruction in military science, but was by no means ignorant of the art of war. He admired Napoleon and T.E. Lawrence and described himself as a self-taught general. Born in the region close to the DMZ (An Xa) and attending Quoc Hoc Academy in Hué, he was expelled following a student strike and later earned a degree in law at the University of Hanoi, which was a French institution. Giap’s first command was a group of 34 guerillas, which he led to some small victories; at the end of his career he commanded the world’s third largest army and was hailed as the architect of Vietnam’s victory. After the French banned the Communist Party, Giap fled to China where he became a key deputy of Ho Chi Minh and was given command over the Viet Minh guerrilla forces fighting the Japanese from 1940 to 1945. The Communists seized control in 1945 and Giap became one of the top figures in the newly formed government. During the war against the French, Giap shaped the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) into a potent fighting force. His historical reputation results from his victory at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. Using siege tactics, Giap defeated the French with an extraordinary logistical buildup and effective use of a well-protected artillery. He achieved French surrender just days before the Geneva Conference, which would negotiate the French withdrawal from Vietnam, but would leave the country divided. In the late 1950’s through to the late 1960’s, Giap remained a key military figure but became embroiled in a fierce debate over the strategy for reunification. Eventually this power struggle would lead to the Communist Party demoting and ridiculing him. In 1967, Giap was the designer of the Tet offensive; this proved to be his last great military involvement, retiring in 1973 after the failed Ester Offensive. Reportedly suffering from illness, Giap resigned his position as minister of defense in 1980 and lost his seat in the politburo in 1982, after which he became chief of the Science and Technology Commission. In July 1992, he was awarded the Gold Star Order, Vietnam’s highest decorative honor.

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