Giap the Great and thoughts on the Indian nation

Perhaps, the greatest general of the 20th Century, Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese victor over, successively, the Japanese Imperial land forces, the French colonial army, the United States and, under his guidance as defence minister, the beating up of the invading Chinese PLA in 1979, is no more. He died Oct 4 in Hanoi at 102. Defeating one great power in a lifetime would be tremendous enough achievement; to lay low four world powers — all within a 40 year time span,is unimaginable military success. He was the steel behind Ho Chi Minh’s ideological silk.

Consider Giap’s reply to a question in a PBS interview ( as to why Vietnam was the only country in the world to defeat America in war. “Speaking as a historian,” the military strategist and war planner non pareil and, right up to the colonial power France’s banning of the Vietnamese Communist Party and his exile to China with Mao’s fighting cadres, and his subsequent leadership of the first Vietnamese nationalist guerilla army, the Viet Minh, was a teacher of history with special interest in Napoleonic wars, “I’d say that Vietnam is rare. As a nation, Vietnam was formed very early on…. Why? Because the risk of aggression from outside forces led all the various tribes to band together. And then there was the constant battle against the elements, against the harsh winter conditions that prevail here. In our legends, this struggle against the elements is seen as a unifying factor, a force for national cohesion. This, combined with the constant risk of invasion, made for greater cohesion and created a tradition — a tradition that gave us strength.”

This is exactly the opposite to what happened in greater India — the Indian subcontinent throughout recorded history, at least from Alexander’s time (323 BC), where the distinct tribes and communities, instead of setting aside their differences and unifying against the invader by rallying around the locally powerful chieftain (Porus, Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Tipu Sultan, and, during the freedom movement, Subhash Chandra Bose) to overwhelm the external enemy and occupier, invariably and myopically intrigued against him,compromised with the invaders/occupiers, becoming willing collaborators, until ending up as demeaned subjects in a British colony. May be as a mongrel race, we are a hardy people but our survival instincts have eviscerated our will to fight, time and again prompting us to kneel rather than unite and firm up against the outsider. Here again the principles that have historically motivated the Vietnamese people to mobilize, unite, and fight are illustrative about what Indian peoples as a nation lack: “Unification above all”, “Victory above all”!!

One so wishes the Indian peoples and nation had displayed the grit and the sense of unity and purpose of the Vietnamese nation and people through the ages, which they never could, and never did. The awful thing is in the 21st Century, India still can’t.

It is this visceral antipathy to being dictated to by anyone and the undiluted fighting spirit of its people that has marked out Vietnam’s singularity and why, I have been advocating over the last two decades and more, that India should make Vietnam its strategic pivot — arming it, equipping it, with every strategic armament, including nuclear missiles and the Brahmos cruise missile, and anything else Hanoi wants, to keep China occupied east of Malacca, and off our backs. If we don’t have the guts to take on the Chinese — as the Congress govt of Manmohan the Silent has shown in the last nine years, let’s at least help a country that summons the will to fight and can be the outer tier of India’s security perimeter.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, guerilla warfare, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Japan, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, United States, US., Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Giap the Great and thoughts on the Indian nation

  1. krishnakanth says:

    Sir, In our Country also there were people like Chandragupta Maurya who defeated Alexander, Yashodharma who defeated Hans,Shivaji, Guru Gobind Singh,etc,but the saddest part is that our history books wont mention their great deeds,our future generations are not taught true history.Can it change at least now Sir, do u see any ray of hope that a Chandra Gupta Maurya, Yashodharma, Shivaji , etc emerging from our contemporary Leaders.

    • Correction: Chandragupt came after Alexander’s victory over Porus at the Battle of Hydespas (Jhelum) and, owing to his soldiers’ revolt, his retreat from India, towards home.

      At the core, it is a matter of national self-respect and self-regard, which Indians and the Indian government need to acquire.

  2. krishnakanth says:

    Sorry Sir, i couldn’t check the facts,but I remember reading somewhere that Alexander has been inflicted with a serious injury at Multan (now in Pakistan).
    But Sir, our people particularly the youth (who constitute about 55% of our population (20-35) yrs age group people) need to be educated about true history, instilled with patriotism.These two videos by an Ex-IPS Officer Shri RSN Singh and a Retired Army Major Shri GD Bhakshi are really eye opening for our People:

  3. Shaurya says:

    There is a reason, why I rile against the slogan “Unity in Diversity”. It is oxymoronic. Unity has to be cultivated, nurtured and honed. India’s entire gamut of issues can be traced down to a lack of organizational unity, which in turn points to a lack of ideological unity.

    Even today the ideas that seek to unite the Indian state are foreign, the value systems are foreign but it is not that the native systems have some magic answers and this is where the BJP struggles to come up with a positive alternative framework.

    MKG had this unique ability to be deeply tradition minded yet so transformative in his approach that he would make those very same traditions stand on its head. We struggle today as we do not know what we are fighting for beyond plain arthic existence. The value systems that make our civilization-state unique are being lost.

    There is increasing evidence that that same thing happened through our history. Kshatriyas who ruled were increasingly “ignorant” of our direct sanskrit texts, which provided these common values. The brahmins sought increasing control to interpret these texts and invariably moved the interpretations away from matters of the world and towards “Brahma Gyan” – resulting in their exalted privileges. Sectarianism, regionalism, lack of common ideas and values did their part to fragment political authority.

    We desperately need ideas that make us unique and unite. They are there, but need to be tapped in a non-sectarian manner. We cannot divorce ourselves from our civilization heritage – as has been sought to be done by the existing framework, yet cannot go back and adopt some old framework as is. Amelioration is inescapable, to what is the question?

  4. Shaurya says:

    On the issue of Vietnam and the American role. The memoir by Robert MacNamara the defense secretary from 61-68 is an interesting read, with deep remorse for the monumental mistake that America ventured into.

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