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Reflections on the Passing of Comrade General Vo Nguyen Giap - Great Hero of Humanity
By Merle Ratner
I am very saddened at the passing of General Vo Nguyen Giap on Friday, October 4, 2013! Bac Giap, as he is called as a term of great affection, dedicated his entire life to achieving the national liberation and independence of Vietnam. He led the victory of the Vietnamese people against French colonialism and US imperialism, making Vietnam the first country to achieve decisive victories over colonial and imperialist powers. Bac Giap and President Ho Chi Minh together led the movement for national liberation and socialism which made these victories possible. Developing Marxism Leninism creatively and applying it to the particular conditions of Vietnam, they were able to meld the demands for national independence and ending feudalism and oppression into a powerful and all-sided people's struggle.
Bac Giap developed a theory and practice of people's war — an integrated strategy of military, political and diplomatic mobilization of the entire Vietnamese people. This unique comprehensive approach maximized the agency of the Vietnamese masses in achieving their own liberation, mobilizing their grass roots initiative. Some bourgeois press obituaries of General Giap have claimed that he was "ruthless," willing to lose millions of people to win Vietnam's independence. Those who write this clearly do not understand Bac Giap or the Vietnamese people! The French colonialists and US imperialists' scorched earth war against the Vietnamese made the fight for liberation burn in the heart of the people, who were willing to make incredible sacrifices to achieve their liberation. Bac Giap successfully led this movement with great love and respect for those he commanded and his love has been reciprocated. The massive outpouring of people, including many youth, this weekend in the streets of Vietnam to honor Bac Giap underscores how beloved he is in Vietnam, as he is around the world.
After liberation, Bac Giap continued to fight for the development of people's power and socialism, particularly focusing on the empowerment and advancement of the majority of the population — the peasant community. He has been a consistent voice criticizing corruption and opportunism and advocating for environmentalism. Around the world, Bac Giap embodied proletarian internationalism as an inspiration to people struggling for independence, equality and justice.
In an interview he gave in 1999 with PBS, Bac Giap summed up some of the lessons which the world has drawn from his life of service to humanity, "There is a limit to power. I think the Americans and great superpowers would do well to remember that while their power may be great, it is inevitably limited.... Since the beginning of time, whether in a socialist or a capitalist country, the things you do in the interests of the people stand you in good stead, while those which go against the interest of the people will eventually turn against you. History bears out what I say."
I met Bac Giap and his wife and comrade, Dang Bich Ha, several times over a number of years from the 90 s to 2005. The first time, I was immediately struck by his kindness and his humility. As I shook his hand, somewhat awestruck, he waved his hand and stopped me when I started to say how honored I was to meet him, He said that he had come to hear my thoughts, and the thoughts of our movement, about the situation in Vietnam and the US He asked me to tell him about the communist and left and anti-war movements in the United States, about how people here viewed Vietnam and about what we thought of the current situation of the Vietnamese revolution. He was particularly interested in how young people in the US understood the situation in Vietnam and the about basis for long term friendship and solidarity.
Bac Giap told me that about his research and investigation into the living conditions of the peasants, land use issues and his desire to ensure that they were able to improve their lives and prosper as Vietnam developed. He expressed concern for Vietnam's workers, saying that in a socialist country, particularly in this stage of development, policies must focus on the well-being of the majority — the workers and peasants.
In a later meeting, we spoke about socialism and about the challenges of political education of youth. Bac Giap was always hopeful, even when acknowledging the contradictions that development brings.
I was also privileged to spend some additional time with his wife, Dang Bich Ha. Bac Ha is a strong revolutionary woman who took part in all the discussions and raised many questions about the communist movement in the US Bac Giap and Bac Ha's relationship impressed me as an expression of the Vietnamese revolution's emphasis on the equality of women from the earliest days. It struck me as a marriage of love, equality and respect, with common beliefs as well as lively discussions and even some disagreements!
In my final meeting, General Giap spoke mainly of his activities in the revolution against the French and his work together with President Ho Chi Minh. At that time, he was resting in Do Son at a very modest Army house. His body was becoming frail, but he still managed to climb a flight of stairs to meet with a large group of soldiers who had come to visit bearing flowers and great enthusiasm. With the young soldiers Bac Giap radiated energy and warmth, making everyone feel comfortable. I will always remember Bac Giap, Bac Ha at his side, among that group of young men and women with their eyes shining!
Merle Ratner was instrumental in organizing the two Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) study tours to Vietnam and contributed to the CCDS pamphlet "Vietnam: From National Liberation to 21st Century Socialism." She is a Co-coordinator of the US-based Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign and coordinated an international workshop on Marxist Theory and Practice in the World Today at the Ho Chi Minh Academy in Vietnam.