The Vietnamese nation offered a warm tribute to its iconic hero, Vo Nguyen Giap, Commander in Chief of the Vietnam People’s Army who, together with Ho Chi Minh, was an epic fighter in the wars for independence, reunification and socialism. Giap died in Hanoi on October 4, at the age of 102.
Giap attracted the admiration and respect of the world for his extraordinary military feats; but his in memoriam tributes were not equally sincere everywhere.
In the United States, the New York Times published an article by historian and journalist Nick Turse, aimed at exposing the fact that the statements of U.S. former Army officers acknowledging the military merits of General Giap published in the same paper followed the common trend of diminishing the worth of the brilliant Vietnamese military strategist.
According to Turse, all these suggested that the United States lost the war in Vietnam because General Giap thought nothing of sending unconscionable numbers of Vietnamese to their deaths since Vietnamese soldiers were very cheap. American strategists could not compete in that aspect of warfare.
“The Oriental doesn’t put the same high value on life as does the Westerner,” is a famous phrase of U.S. General William C. Westmoreland. “The Vietnamese could accept many casualties because they did not give much value to human life,” said the U.S. military chief whose troops were defeated and routed in Viet Nam.
Paradoxically, Turse believes that “America’s defeat was probably ordained, just as much, by the Vietnamese casualties we caused, not just in military cross-fire, but as a direct result of our policy and tactics.”
While nearly 60,000 American troops died, some two million Vietnamese civilians were killed, and millions more were wounded and displaced, during America’s involvement in Vietnam, researchers and government sources have estimated.
Turse explains that, “enraged, disgusted and alienated by the abuse they suffered from U.S. troops who claimed to be their allies, even civilians who had no inclination to back our opponents did so.”
“Now, four decades later, in distant lands like Pakistan and Afghanistan, civilians are again treating the United States as an enemy, because they have become the collateral damage of our “war on terror,” largely unrecognized by the American public.”
In more than a decade of analyzing long-classified military criminal investigation files, court-martial transcripts, Congressional studies, contemporaneous journalism and the testimony of United States soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, Turse found that Gen. William C. Westmoreland, his subordinates, superiors and successors also engaged in a profligate disregard for human life.
This is mostly a result of the American strategy to kill as many “enemies” as possible, with success measured by body count.
The United States declared wide swathes of the South Vietnamese countryside to be free-fire zones where any living being could be eliminated. They added artillery shelling, intended to keep the enemy in a state of constant unease, and drove hundreds of thousands of civilians into slums and refugee camps.
“Having spoken to survivors of the massacres by United States forces at Phi Phu, Trieu Ai, My Luoc and so many other hamlets, I can say with certainty that Westmoreland’s assessment was false,” says Turse.
“Decades after the conflict ended, villagers still mourn loved ones — spouses, parents, children — slain in horrific spasms of violence. They told me, too, about what it was like to live for years under American bombs, artillery shells and helicopter gunships; about what it was like to live under United States policies that couldn’t have been more callous or contemptuous toward human life.”
Needless to say, the military, political and human genius of General Giap, which led him to be known in the West as “the Red Napoleon” or “the General who humbled the West” was a product and expression of an extraordinary people which, like him, equipped mostly with initiative, audacity and surprise, were capable of the greatest feats against opponents with greater material resources.
The soldiers commanded by the military genius of Giap were not “very cheap” but very brave and much-imbued with love for their country and the just cause for which they fought.
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs3934.html