Blogs > Cliopatria > Jonathan Winkler: Did General Giap Say the Vietnam War Was Won on the Streets of America?

Oct 29, 2004 6:51 pm

Jonathan Winkler: Did General Giap Say the Vietnam War Was Won on the Streets of America?

Jonathan Winkler, University of Maryland, College Park, writing on H-Diplo (Oct. 25, 2004):

Curt Cardwell has raised the question of the origin of the claim, supposedly by General Giap, that the anti-war protesters contributed to the success of the North Vietnamese in the war.

Ed Moise has already tackled this one [in a review of] Vo Nguyen Giap and Van Tien Dung, How We Won the War. Philadelphia: Recon Publications, 1976. 63 pp.

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.

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."

I understand that there is a 1985 memoir by Truong Nhu Tang (A Vietcong Memoir) that mentions the U.S. anti-war movement (thanks to Richard Jensen's online bibliography. It is possible that while the author, memoir and year are all wrong, the quotation may yet be authentic and merely misattributed.

As to the implications of such a link between Vietnam-era protesters and those agitated by the current situation in the world, it seems to me that the use of the quotation, inaccurately or not, is more about firing up conservatives, particularly those of Vietnam-era age, against John Kerry than about attacking those who are "anti-war protesters" (an ambiguous term) today.

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Norman G. Owen - 10/30/2004

Truong Nhu Tang does indeed comment on the NLF's interest in encouraging the anti-war movement in the USA (under the slogan "Stimulate the enemy's internal contradictions") but, like Giap, he does not mention Kerry or the VVAW, so far as I can tell, nor does he suggest that Hanoi was ever considering surrender.

I doubt very much whether this is a matter of an "authentic, but misattributed" quote, unless one is willing to take the same stance towards CBS's use of the forged Bush National Guard memos on the grounds that they spoke to some deeper truth. It appears to be blatant political fraud.

That the enemy was encouraged by dissent in the USA is not remotely surprising nor, in my view, particularly significant. It goes with being a democracy. There is certainly evidence that the Filipino revolutionaries fighting the US in 1899ff. were pleased to hear of the anti-imperialist movement and hopeful for the defeat of McKinley in the 1900 election. And there were plenty of American imperialists at the time who were happy enough to charge not just the anti-imperialists, but all Democrats, with stabbing the USA in the back. Would those who attack Kerry today continue to insist that the US was right to annex the Philippines? (Sadly, I suspect some of them would.)