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Vietnam’s “Greatest Generation”

October 7th, 2013
04:41 PM ET

By Lucky Gold, CNN

Imagine a world where a self-taught soldier wrote the playbook for modern insurgency – and used it to defeat two mighty armies.

Vietnam is planning a state funeral to honor General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died on Friday at the age of 102.

More than half a century ago, as a history teacher, he joined forces with a former bus-boy named ho chi minh to create a lethal guerrilla army.

In 1954, their stunning victory at Dien Bien Phu forced the French out of Indochina.

A decade later, as the Vietnam War raged, General Giap’s guerillas fought the U.S. in jungles, caves, and on television.

A master of propaganda, Giap launched the Tet offensive in 1968 – it was a military defeat for Vietnamese forces – but he gambled that the American public had had enough of televised slaughter.

His gamble paid off, and a year later U.S. ground forces began to withdraw.

Even in retirement, General Giap remained an icon – whether shaking hands with his old adversary, the U.S. defense secretary at the time, Robert McNamara, or greeting admirers like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Current U.S. Senator John McCain was a prisoner of war for years in Hanoi. He recalls meeting Giap while he was in prison, and again in the 1990s when the two countries had normalized relations.

McCain says Giap told him: "you were an honorable enemy."

soundoff (31 Responses)
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