FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

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

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail