A critical analysis of the operational performance of General Vo Nguyen Giap 1940–1954 Major Stuart Pascoe, Australian Army
Vo Nguyen Giap Introduction 1. General Vo Nguyen Giap has been described as one of the most successful Generals of the 20th century,2 and his ultimate success certainly supports this. His campaign began with no more than academic support for a communist ideal, and ended in the forced expulsion of a colonial power.3 His command responsibilities were broad and his challenge great, spanning the Vietnamese revolution and French occupation. Giap possessed a difficult nature. He was an idealist, a politician, and importantly did not always succeed in battle.4 An overall assessment of Giap’s leadership is a complex proposition. 2. The aim of this paper is to critically examine the operational performance of General Vo Nguyen Giap during the years 1940 to 1954. 3. The paper focuses on Giap’s campaign against the French and utilises the Hersey-Blanchard Situation Leadership Model (SLM) as the medium to examine his leadership effectiveness. The paper commences with an outline of his background, before detailing the command requirements made of him during the campaign. The Hersey-Blanchard model is explained, and then compared against Giap’s leadership method. From teenage activist to general 4. Vo Nguyen Giap was born to a peasant family in 1911. At that time Vietnam was almost entirely a rural nation. Aside from the cities of Hanoi and Saigon, population concentrations were based on small villages serviced by provincial capitals. Villages were most often small clusters of homesteads, and were particularly concentrated in the vicinity of the two major rivers in the nation, the Mekong in the south and the Red in the north. Vo Nguyen’s village, An-Xa was located in QuangBinh province.5 This was one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, and interestingly located adjacent to the 17th parallel, which was later to become the focus of national division.6 5. Vo Nguyen was raised in a strongly nationalistic family that placed a high priority on education. His father was highly respected within the region both for his participation in the resistance to French rule in the 1880s, and his application to studies. He ensured that his son received a balanced education that incorporated traditional Confucian Vietnamese content and values.7 Giap became well versed in the rising nationalism of the time, and was noted as a fervent and enthusiastic student of the subject.8 He demonstrated a particular interest in modes of political thought, and was especially attracted to the works of Lenin, Marx, Engels, and Mao Tse-Tung. He would later become an influential leader in the Vietnamese Communist Party.9 19
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6. Throughout his youth Vo Nguyen’s capacity as a student was demonstrated with his selection for continued studies at local and French academies. This was highly unusual at the time, the majority of the Vietnamese population being illiterate, and only the smallest percentage going past primary school. He was eventually awarded degrees in Law and political economics, and was noted as a student of particular intelligence. He had a considerable ability to dominate others using an adept thought process, and could quickly interpret the intent of others. He had a developed capacity to listen and debate, but also an innate ability to pull back so that points of contention would not become significant obstacles.10 Whilst a post-graduate student, Vo Nguyen was also a university lecturer. He was highly respected for his ability to instruct in history, particularly military history. This mainly self instructed historical knowledge was the largest portion of Giap’s military experience prior to assuming his first command responsibilities.11 7. Giap’s distinctive nature represented a synthesis of...
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