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Claim: Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap's memoirs pinned U.S. military failure in Vietnam on American anti-war protesters.
Origins: More than thirty years after U.S. military involvement in Vietnam ended, debate continues unabated over the purpose, meaning, and results of that war. One particularly contentious subject in such debates is the question of whether the U.S. failed to achieve its objectives in Vietnam because it was defeated by a foe whose resourcefulness and tenacity it had underestimated, or whether American forces were undone not by enemy soldiers on the battlefield but were hamstrung by a swelling chorus of anti-war protesters
Definitively resolving this sort of historical question is problematic, as such examinations of hypotheticals rarely yield objective evidence. But what if a leading military figure on the other side of the conflict weighed in on the matter? Surely that would be a form of expert, informed opinion difficult to dismiss or ignore.
That's the concept behind the claim that General Vo Nguyen Giap, the chief Vietminh military leader in the war against
Most forms of this claim state that General Giap made his pronouncement about the effectiveness of American anti-war activism during the Vietnam War era either in his 1976 book How We Won the War or in an unspecified 1985 memoir. But Ed Moise, a professor of history at Clemson University specializing in modern China and Vietnam, noted in a review of the former book that no such statement appeared within:
This book has been the subject of several unfounded rumors on the Internet. The first one began in the late 1990s. Supposedly, General Giap had written in How We Won the War that in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive of 1968, the Communist leaders in Vietnam had been ready to abandon the war, but that a broadcast by Walter Cronkite, declaring the Tet Offensive a Communist victory, persuaded them to change their minds and fight on. This rumor was entirely false. Giap had not mentioned Cronkite, and had not said the Communists had ever considered giving up on the war.As well, a few weeks after Washington Dispatch commentator Greg Lewis cited this claim in a
Several variants of this rumor appeared in 2004. In these, Giap is supposed to have credited either the American anti-war movement in general, or John Kerry's organization (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) in particular, for persuading the Communist leaders to change their minds and not give up on the war. Giap is sometimes said to have made this statement in How We Won the War, sometimes in an unnamed 1985 memoir. All versions of the rumor are false. Neither in How We Won the War, nor in any other book (the 1985 memoir is entirely imaginary), has Giap mentioned Kerry or Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or said that the Communist leaders had ever considered giving up on the war.
A few weeks ago in a column about Kerry, I referred to what has turned out to be an "urban legend." Specifically, based on a "news" item that appeared on NewsMax.com, I repeated a reference to a volume of memoirs supposedly published by North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap in 1985 as the source of an assertion by Colonel Oliver North. After a reader requested a reference to Giap's 1985 "Memoirs," I did research that convinced me no such volume exists. For that matter, I haven't been able to verify through Fox News that Colonel North actually made the comments he is said to have made and which I repeated. My apologies to Colonel North and to WashingtonDispatch.com readers for including inadequately verified material in my piece on Kerry.In his most recent statement on the matter that we're aware of, a 1996 interview conducted for a CNN series on the Cold War, General Giap attributed the Communists' eventual military victory to their courage, determination, wisdom, tactics, intelligence, and sacrifices, along with Americans' lack of knowledge about the Vietnamese nation and its people, but he said nothing about a defeated Vietminh preparing to give up the effort before U.S. protesters changed the course of the war.
It's possible that the apparently apocryphal General Giap statement is based upon a misattribution of somewhat similar sentiments expressed by other political or military figures involved in the Vietnam War. For example, in 1995 the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Bui Tin, a former colonel who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, that included the following exchange:
Q: How did Hanoi intend to defeat the Americans?(The article notes that this interview was conducted after Bui Tin became "disillusioned with the fruits of Vietnamese communism" and left Vietnam to live in Paris, so it's possible that his comments may have been influenced by his changed outlook.)
A: By fighting a long war which would break their will to help South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh said, "We don't need to win military victories, we only need to hit them until they give up and get out."
Q: Was the American antiwar movement important to Hanoi's victory?
A: It was essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at
Q: Did the Politburo pay attention to these visits?
A: Those people represented the conscience of America. The conscience of America was part of its war-making capability, and we were turning that power in our favor. America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win.
Q: What else?
A: We had the impression that American commanders had their hands tied by political factors. Your generals could never deploy a maximum force for greatest military effect.
Last updated: 17 December 2007
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