7 May 2014 marked the 60th anniversary of the French surrender at Dienbienphu to the forces of the Vietminh after a spectacular historic military defeat at the hands of a largely ill-equipped but determined and cohesive national liberation movement. Despite millions of dollars of American military aid and equipment, French forces were overwhelmed by Vietminh forces that had built roads and caves to transport and store arms and ammunition over 500 miles through dense jungle territory. Led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese forces showed that the people of that country would fight for and win their freedom from eighty years of colonial rule, cruelty and famine.
Professor Marilyn Young, the New York University historian, has recorded the stirring conclusions of General Giap in her excellent book, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990. Giap wrote, five years after Dienbienphu that, "a colonized and weak people once it has risen up and is united in the struggle and determined to fight for its independence and peace, has the full power to defeat the strong aggressive army of an imperialist country."
Giap's victory over the French was an important inspiration to
anti-colonial campaigners around the world, particularly in French
colonies, and most particularly in North Africa, not least because many
of the troops fighting on the French side in Indochina were from North
Africa. The victory at Ðiện Biên Phủ marked the beginning of a new era in the
military struggles against colonialism for national liberation and
independence movements in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and other colonised
countries. After 1954 the name of Võ Nguyên Giáp was closely identified
throughout Africa and Latin America with the defeat of colonialism.
General Giap passed away in October 2013 aged 102 years and was given a state funeral.
Ominously, the Americans disagreed that Vietnam could or should be 'lost' to the Vietnamese. Despite Ho Chi Minh's declaration of Vietnamese independence being phrased almost precisely in the words of the American declaration of 1776, the US dismissed him and his movement in favour of French colonialism.
An aide to John F Kennedy, upon reading General Giap's account of Dienbienphu, concluded that "in Southeast Asia... there is no pervasive national spirit as we know it".
That was a spectacular failure to acknowledge one of the most basic of facts about the world at that time; and the price of that piece of obtuse reasoning, failure of imagination and inability to see the world as it was, was enormous.
It was primarily the Vietnamese people who paid the price to the tune of millions of lives against the full fire power of the American military but still emerged victorious after another massive military operation in 1968 - the Tet offensive.