By Owei Lakemfa
THE conscientious world on Monday, September 2, marked the fiftieth year departure of Ho Chi Minh (real name Nguyen Sinh Cung) also affectionately called Uncle Ho, one of the greatest men that ever lived. Uncle Ho’s role in history as that smallish, frail and fragile Vietnamese patriot who led his country to take on military powers from three continents: Japan in Asia, France in Europe and the United States, US, in North America and defeat them in battle, cannot be erased.
Indeed, no training in any military academy can be complete without studying the tactics and strategies of Uncle Ho and his Army Commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap. The books of Giap, including: The Military Art of People’s War (1970); Banner of People’s War, the Party’s Military line (1970); People’s Army, People’s War (1974); How We Won The War(1976) and Art of War co-authored with Laurence Brahm (1995), are standard texts in many military academies.
Vietnam, a much-abused country, was colonised by France from 1887; seized by powerful Japan during the Second World and recolonised by France after the September 2, 1945 surrender of Japan to the Allies. When the Vietnamese routed the French military, the US invaded but the heroic Vietnamese defeated the American invaders.
Uncle Ho’s dedication to country and the emancipation of humanity from oppression, colonialism and poverty was so total that he became a model for all peoples who wanted to throw off the yoke of colonialism and imperialism. He toured parts of the world as a sailor and briefly lived in the US where he was influenced by Marcus Garvey and attended meetings of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. A writer, he argued that a successful writer must: “Write in such a way as to be readily understood by both the young and the old, by men as well as women, even by children.” An accomplished poet, the matchless guerilla fighter said: “A poet must learn to wage war.” A leading journalist, he believed that the journalist must fight for basic rights and principles, if need be, with the pen in one hand, and the gun in the other. He was also a polyglot who was fluent and proficient in French, English, Russian, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese.
The Japanese occupied Vietnam in 1941, the same year Ho returned home to lead the Viet Minh independence movement. He led many military attacks against the Japanese and the French. Japan eventually withdrew from Vietnam, and Uncle Ho proclaimed the independence of his country, only for the French to return as colonialists. With that, the Viet Minh began guerrilla warfare against the French in December 1946.
The resistance led by Uncle Ho wrote him into the history of human resistance given the fact that he led a ragtag army of the poor to militarily take on a rich, world military power and beat the French silly while executing one of the most brilliant battles in history: the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. When the resistance started Uncle Ho told the overconfident French: “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.” True to his analysis, the Viet Minh sustained very high casualties with about 200,000 killed while France and its allies had over 70,000 of their soldiers killed, 65,000 injured and 40,000 taken prisoner, but France lost.
France surrendered after one of the most famous battles in world history, Dien Bien Phu. This battle reminded me of the Carthaginian (Tunisian) General Hannibal Barca’s war against overconfident Rome. The Romans had huge and formidable armies, including those of their allies on land, a commanding naval dominance on the sea and felt quite safe with the Alps Mountains covering them. The snow on the Italian side melts in the day and refreezes at night and Italian side of the Alps is much steeper
They never imagined that Hannibal could train elephants and in 218 BC move them over the Alps, bypassing the Roman navy and land armies to directly attack Rome itself. He occupied many parts of Italy for 15 years and Rome avoided defeat because its army, led by General Fabian Maximus, refused to engage in direct combats; rather, they adopted a guerrilla war of attrition hoping to wear out the Carthaginians. This is the etymology of the words “Fabian Tactics”.
With no hope of defeating Hannibal on their soil, the Romans attacked North Africa, which forced Hannibal to return home and his army was defeated at the Battle of Zama. The French military under General Henri Navarre established a big base in the Valley of the Dien Bien Phu Mountain which could only be reached from the air.
Given their dominance of the air and superior artillery, they felt it was very secure as the Vietnamese did not have the air power to attack the base. They never imagined that the Vietnamese could hurl artillery, anti-aircraft guns and heavy military equipment over the mountains, and train them down the valley. They battered the French military and starved them. After two months, the French surrendered. In that single battle, 2,300 French soldiers were killed and 4,800 injured. The over 10,000 captured French soldiers were marched through the jungles to prison camps, and half of them died in the process.
After Dien Bien Phu in 1954, there was a Geneva Accord with France which split Vietnam into two separate countries, North and South. Uncle Ho and his followers decided to unite the country but America invaded to keep Vietnam divided.
As the Americans poured in troops, Uncle Ho retorted: “Everything depends on the Americans. If they want to make war for 20 years then we shall make war for 20 years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to tea afterwards.”
With the Americans losing the war, they employed napalm bombs and sprayed the chemical, Agent Orange, which alone claimed some 400,000 Vietnamese lives.
In January 1968, Uncle Ho’s forces launched the Tet Offensive which changed the tide of the war leading to massive anti-war protests in the streets of America. This, on March 31, 1968, forced President Lyndon Johnson not to seek a second term. President Richard Nixon who succeeded him began peace negotiations with the Vietnamese. Uncle Ho did not live to see a united and victorious Vietnam as he passed away on September 2, 1969, but the victory of the Vietnamese was unstoppable and irreversible.
In all, 1,353,000 Vietnamese were killed in the war against America while America lost 58,200 troops. One of Uncle Ho’s truisms was: “To reap a return in ten years, plant trees. To reap a return in 100, cultivate the people.”