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

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail