Thursday, April 19, 2012

America's Greatest Military Foe 4: Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap?

You know what is embarrassing? Copy and pasting your title to make sure you keep the same wording, and forgetting to update the number in the title. Yamamoto is now properly listed as post number three, as opposed to sharing post number two. Anyway, our next possibility is North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, who according to Wikipedia, is 100 years old.

I'm going to be completely honest, I know next to nothing about Giap. I was initially under the impression, for example, that he had lead the Tet Offensive; apparently, he had no real part in its planning. The Tet Offensive, while a military failure, was excellent strategy. Giap and his team understood Clauswitz's dictum that "War is politics by other means," which is popular enough that I oughtn't need to cite it for you. Really, if you are not up to speed on him (or this piece), it will do you good to read those. It is like Crane Brinton, reading these will help your understanding of history and policy more than any other books I can think of. Except maybe The Prince. Maybe.

But, let's get back to Giap. I'm going to quote Wikipedia quoting him:  "(The Tet Offensive was a)general strategy, an integrated one, at once military, political and diplomatic." That captures the maneuver neatly; he knew at the time that America's biggest weakness was its will to fight, and he attacked it viciously.

I also had not known about his campaign against the French, where he honed his guerrilla tactics that would prove so formidable against American troops. He made excellent use of his allies' resources and, like many other great military commanders, found a way to modernize his troops and deployments to the reality of the new war facing him.

What sets him apart from the previous three we looked at, is that Giap did achieve his goal. The U.S. did eventually withdraw, allowing Giap to bring his forces to bear effectively against Saigon. Of course, at that point, without the American military might, it was just a matter of holding his troops together through the final push and doing it swift enough that Congress didn't change its mind to authorize any more support.

Now, the Tet Offensive was a particular kind of horrible. Breaking a cease fire is generally frowned upon, but it is really, really hard to argue with success. Vietnam devolved into a war of attrition, which is a conflict that Giap could not win. So, he changed his victory condition. No longer did he need to sweep the American armed forces from the field as he had done to the French; he just needed to get the politicians back in Washington to decide that the fight was too expensive. It worked; despite losing blood and treasure hand over fist, Giap stared down Washington, until they withdrew. That, alone, probably ranks him as one of America's greatest military foes.



Smith and Leverett have taught me well.

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