Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

The Red Napoleon and the Ends of Revolution

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The fabled bookish General Vo Nguyen Giap was a revolutionary commander who, unlike others, left a revolutionary legacy. The pocket books of those who speak of “legacies” are scanty, filled with romantic reflection and the moment of suicidal release, but Giap was able to mould together an army, a formidable fighting force that triumphed despite assertions that it was low brand and aspirational. Just as Leon Trotsky of the Bolsheviks manufactured, with much guile, the Red Army, then Giap wove, banded and gathered units that challenged the imperial powers of the day.

Such efforts began humbly, those 34 men who gathered in northern Vietnam in December 1944 even as Imperial Japan was being pushed back. Cecil B. Currey, one of Giap’s many biographers, describes the beginnings in some detail. Every people’s army is bound to be humble fare and these famous few had but two revolvers, a light machine gun, 14 flintlocks, some of which reeked of the Russo-Japanese conflict of 1904-5. Antiquity is not necessarily a bar in conflict.

It is worth remembering that, while U.S. Senator John McCain, who shed years of his life and strength in the Vietnamese prison system, can speak of admiration, it is fitting that the feelings were not always mutual. The late Robert McNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defence, found Giap bewildering in his efforts to examine the record of the Vietnam conflict. Giap seemed to have the upper hand even after the fact. The strategist on the ground was always better than the manager in the boardroom.

Soldiers will often try to find common ground. They are the agents entrusted with the task of butchering each other. In “peoples” wars and struggles, the butchering is more intense, the respect more problematic. The entire dehumanisation strategy of the Vietnam War, replete with “gook” narratives and subhuman motifs, should not be cast aside. The Indochina conflicts provided daily assaults on the laws of war, a sequence of continuous massacres – of the industrial and more conventional type. My Lai, napalm and Agent Orange tend to speak volumes about what “nobility” was at stake, the imperial nose caught in the local trough. It is not the honour of the conflict but its cankerous dishonour that haunts combatants and activists alike.

Just as the conflict on the Eastern front during World War II was waged between enemies who considered each other on the lunar edge of civilisation, effectively mediocre specimens of other races, then the United States and its warriors preferred to see a more primitive sort of warrior in Indochina. The Cold War continued the nasty habits of the Second World War, just with another language. In the U.S. example, President Kennedy’s trigger happy liberalism took the form of sponsorship for authoritarian regimes against a celebrated vicious communist option. His efforts would ultimately fail.

Giap’s triumphs share a common thread with those other Asian forces of the 20th century who won victories against Western powers. They involved combat not merely with weapons but with perceptions. Battles are often won in a cerebral way, much like a seduction is won in words before any deed is enacted. Giap was the greatest seducer of battle. He wooed his enemy. He seduced them into believing that greatest weakness which masquerades as strength: prejudice dressed up, rendered decent.

His critics admired and cursed his threshold in battle – his armies were able, and willing, to sustain huge losses. “Any American commander who took the same losses as General Giap would have been sacked overnight,” claimed Giap’s counterpart, an envious U.S. General William C. Westmoreland. Westmoreland’s reflections on the losses his own forces inflicted were somewhat threadbare.

Giap was an echo of a very specific history. He, along with North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh – dead by the year 1969 – and former prime minister Van Dong, were a sacred trinity overseeing the Vietnamese state. Their bogeymen were colonial masters whose yolk had proven to be all too rich. It came in the form of French self-assuredness and American certainty. Easily forgotten is the role he played, like so many communist revolutionaries of the colonial context, against Imperial Japan.

Their efforts to rid the country of all three powers were spectacular. Giap’s name is much like a secular Moses in the context of engineering the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Hundreds of miles of trenches were dug. French air supplies began drying up, deterred by anti-aircraft guns. Just as Moses brought tablets of rules, Giap brought the message that colonial powers like France could be defeated.

The formula was devastating. When that counter-revolutionary power in the form of the United States started replacing the French presence in the manner of not so quiet Americans the program repeated itself. For the United States, it would continue to repeat itself.

Giap made it past the century mark, dying at 102. And his passing managed to make it into an era where 140 characters in a message matters – the hot house and speculation that is social media. Twitter and Facebook, despite being heavily censored by the Vietnamese authorities, flooded the channels of mourning. State run agencies were lethargic in releasing an official statement on his passing. Journalists of state agencies were furious. Even in death, Giap could baffle and change the record.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

July 07, 2015
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row