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The United States Has Lost the War: An Interview

An Interview

10th Anniversary Victory Poster: Artist Unknown

10th Anniversary Victory Poster
Artist Unknown

Reprinted from The Military Art of People’s War: Selected Writings of General Vo Nguyen Giap, edited by Russell Stetler (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 319–27.
The death of Vo Nguyen Giap on October 4, 2013, in his 103rd year, was noted with respect everywhere in the world. General Giap commanded the military forces that freed Vietnam from French colonialism in the 1946–1954 war that ended with the victory at Dien Bien Phu (1954), and that then defeated U.S. imperialist aggression in the 1962–1975 war that ended with liberation of Saigon. The heroic and victorious struggle of Communist Vietnam was a major factor in the growth of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements that shook the previously colonized world, Western Europe, and even the United States. For some years, throughout the world, movements of the powerless and exploited surged and offered real hope of a better future. In 1970 Monthly Review Press published Military Art of People’s War: Selected Writings by General Vo Nguyen Giap, that included a May 1968 interview with General Giap by Madeleine Riffaud, originally published in l’Humanité on June 4, 1968. In commemoration of Vo Nguyen Giap we reprint that interview. Note the dates and places of publication; in some sense the interview captures the spirit of what well could be considered the high point of the twentieth century. In the grim years of the global counter-revolution that commenced in the 1970s, gathered force in the triumphalism of capitalist globalization of the 1990s, and led to the depressed exhaustion of the present moment, the aging General Giap never ceased to oppose and resist the disease of capitalist social relations in Vietnam that came to infect both society and party. His contribution to the survival of a strong socialist core in the Vietnamese party is an important legacy. Yet greater is the legacy for all of humanity of the knowledge that, no matter how strong it may appear at the moment, arrogant, self-confident imperialism can be vanquished. —Eds.

QUESTION: While visiting Vietnam for more than a month I have often heard quoted, not just on Radio Hanoi, but in my conversations with people in the street, this phrase from President Ho Chi Minh’s December 25, 1967, message: “It is now clear that the Americans have lost the war….”

ANSWER: In fact, our president correctly stated in his message to the nation: “It is now clear that the United States has lost the war.” These words now take on their full meaning not only for us Vietnamese but also for world opinion. They reflect the great reality of our struggle against American aggression.

From the first days of this aggression, our people, under the leadership of our Party, with Ho Chi Minh at its head, rose up to fight resolutely. And from that day forward we had an unshakable conviction that the victory would be ours—that in spite of all its material, economic, and military power, the United States of America would lose the war in the end. We never doubted this.

You yourself have traveled a great deal in the rear, at the front, in the North and South of our country. You have seen what unalterable faith there is in victory and what resolution to fight for the country’s independence. You have seen, too, how unshakable is the determination to fight for the cause of socialism and peace.

When we rose up against United States aggression, this unalterable faith of our entire people was shared by our brother peoples and countries, the socialist countries. They also believed in our victory. But some in the progressive world were worried. They supported our just cause; they admired our resolute and heroic people. But they were unnerved by the terrible material power, the enormous war machine of the United States, that was thrown against us. This sector of progressive public opinion, however, has come a long way over the months and years. In the face of reality, it no longer doubts: the United States is losing the war; the final victory will go to the Vietnamese people.

In America itself an ever larger part of the people thinks that America has lost the war, and this is recognized by the leading circles themselves. At the outset of the aggression, they thought in the White House and the Pentagon that the United States’ formidable military power could turn the situation around overnight. Those were the bright days of official optimism. It was premature.

Around 1967, after two years of large-scale aggression against the South of our country and against the North, the United States leaders began to doubt their ability to solve the Vietnamese problem by force. They began to see that they could not win militarily. But they still believed that, in any case, they could not lose the war. The view of these circles also had to be brought along by the force of events. The problem has now become how to get out of this war, how to lose the war. That is what they call “without loss of honor”—the honor of the imperialists, of course, which means preserving the interests of the aggressor.

Our people are fighting for our national cause but also for socialism and for the other peoples in the world struggling for their liberation. The myth of the invincibility of the United States, this colossus supporting itself impotently on the H-bomb, is collapsing irretrievably. No matter how enormous its military and economic potential, it will never succeed in crushing the will of a people fighting for its independence. This is a reality which is now recognized throughout the entire world.

Why did the United States think that it would be victorious? It deployed an enormous war machine in our country. Westmoreland is a general who found a way to boost the United States expeditionary force from twenty thousand men to more than five hundred thousand without offering Washington anything in return but a light at the end of a tunnel. The Americans based their confidence that they would win the war on their superior numbers, their overwhelming armament, their riches in dollars, and in the tons of bombs they are dropping.

Finding themselves in a more and more difficult situation, they are now accusing their generals of trying to settle things arithmetically—for example, in the matter of the balance of forces—while the Vietnamese have a “trigonometric” strategy. That is not correct. Our strategy is neither arithmetic nor trigonometric. It is quite simply the strategy of a just war, of a people’s war. They will never be able to understand that.

Even before the Tet offensive, the United States had increased its forces to a level higher than that foreseen for a local war. Moreover, they had already had to raise this level several times. For America, the battleground in the South is a sinkhole for its soldiers. In spite of that, none of the five goals the Pentagon set in the South has been attained. Quite the contrary. These objectives were to exterminate the Liberation Army units (it is the American units which have been exterminated), to pacify the countryside, to blockade the South, to destroy the economic and military potential of the North, and to consolidate the puppet government.

It was a vital task for American imperialism, which is conducting a neo-colonialist war of aggression in our country, to reinforce the puppet army and prop up the puppet government.

Since the Saigon “government” is drowning, the United States intervention is a rescue operation. The more the Pentagon increases its forces in South Vietnam, the more the drowning government founders and sinks, dragging its rescuers with it into the disaster. This is the most tragic defeat for the Americans. The Tet offensive marked a turning point in this war, as our president said. It burst like a soap bubble the artificial optimism built up by the Pentagon. The United States leaders wanted to make 1968, an election year, a year of successes in Vietnam—which Lyndon Johnson thought could serve his domestic political ambitions.

However, the spring 1968 offensive revealed abruptly to the Americans that the Vietnamese people do not give up easily and that their military strength has not been in any way impaired by United States aggression, no matter what its forms and its cruelty. Gone, and gone for good, is the hope of annihilating the Liberation forces. Gone are the “pacification” projects. They would have to start all over again from scratch. The United States troops had to entrench themselves on the defensive, blocked in their positions. The “McNamara line” proved its total ineffectiveness.

Gone also is the hope of refloating the drowned government. The Saigon government showed itself more and more to be a puppet government without any social base whatever. The purported United States commitment to support this “ally” has been unmasked more clearly than ever as a fraud, intended only as a cover-up for aggression.

In three years of escalating the air war in North Vietnam the United States has not been able to achieve a single one of its military, economic, or political aims. In these three years, America has lost an important part of its modern air force and the cream of its pilots. You see, no matter how modern it may be, you can take it for granted that air power will never decide the outcome of a war. Our people are more determined than ever to fight against the aggressor. And during this time we have continued to build socialism. The cars and trains are moving, as you have seen. The communication routes remain open, as the American press has recognized.

After these American experiences and these hard-to-make-good losses, it was inevitable that the United States would contemplate dropping the extension of the air war to North Vietnam. Several of its leaders understood that it was time to stop the bombing, which was a military and political error and brought them no advantage. It was in these circumstances that President Johnson made his March 31st speech. This speech exploited for political purposes the military need to concentrate the bombing on the southern part of our country, of North Vietnam. We never believed in the good will the American imperialists.

After the Tet offensive the Pentagon circles realized that they no longer had a chance of winning the war militarily. Furthermore, they saw that they were losing militarily.

It was in this situation that the problem of “peace with honor” was posed for them. This expression was used previously by the French colonialists before Dien Bien Phu. That the world’s greatest imperialist power has been driven to seek such an outcome to a war of aggression is a very bitter thing for the imperialists and a very heartening one for us, for progressive humanity. This said, however, we know that our enemies have not yet, in spite of their failures, given up their aggressive aims.

If our people have succeeded in inflicting these defeats on them, it is because our struggle is just. We are fighting for our independence, for freedom, for the reunification of our country, which is a sacred task for the Vietnamese—the sacred duty of all our people.

QUESTION: “Of all our people,” you said—let me interrupt you. The name General Giap is bound up with the idea of people’s war. This concept seems like something new to a large part of European opinion.

ANSWER: In fact, it is all our people who are waging this war. But the idea of people’s war is not entirely new. It has existed since peoples have emerged and taken form, since they have become aware of their fundamental rights and risen up against the invader. Already in our most remote history our ancestors said, “Our whole country is rising up against the invader.” In our literary tradition, the poet Nguyen Dinh Chieu, for example, the blind poet and singer of South Vietnam, celebrated the struggle of “simple villagers who volunteered for the army out of love of their country” and the delicate, fragile women who because the enemy was upon us “mounted horses, brandished banners, rowed boats, loaded guns, demolished citadels, and scaled ramparts.”

Since the October revolution a new era has opened up and, with the higher consciousness of the peoples under the aegis of the proletariat, people’s wars have developed, have acquired new content and thereby a new power, an invincible power.

The people’s war in Vietnam is mobilizing all the patriotic classes: the peasants, the workers, the intellectuals, the national bourgeoisie—all classes in every region—into a very broad front. In the South recently the creation of the Alliance of National and Democratic Forces under the aegis of the NLF proved once again that all the people of Vietnam, including the intellectuals and the well-to-do strata in the cities, are against the Americans. The United States is warring not only against the Liberation Army in the South and the forces of the People’s Army in the North. They are warring against an entire heroic people which is fighting under a firm and seasoned leadership in the South under the leadership of the National Liberation Front. And this is the reason for the American defeats.

Our generation has had the mission, and for us it is a conspicuous honor, of struggling for some decades against Japanese fascism, French colonialism, and now against United States imperialism. It has always been a just war that we have waged, a war of a whole people, a war of liberation.

But this war is a war of our entire people against United States neo-colonialism and against the aggression of the most powerful imperialist state in the capitalist world. This is why the present people’s war has acquired all its power, exalting the heroism of all the patriotic classes to its highest peak. Never in our history have we had such a heroic national war.

Recently, this war has brought into play new forms of struggle: combined political and armed struggle, struggle in the mountainous regions, in the countryside, in the cities. These forms of struggle are mobilizing ever more broadly the masses of our people against the aggressor.

In the South, our compatriots and the Liberation Army are fighting under new conditions nationally and internationally. Our people are the people that made the August revolution. They has known people’s power and have waged a long, hard war against imperialism. South Vietnam is half of a liberated country. The independent, socialist North is an always existing source of encouragement and support for our compatriots in the South. In the North, we all feel that we are the rear of a great front. And the North intends to fulfill to the utmost its duty as the backup of the front.

If in the North we have succeeded in defeating the United States air attacks of the most modern, the most powerful air force in the world, it is also because after ten years of socialism our people’s determination to be independent is firmer than ever. We are struggling to safeguard the conquests of socialism. Despite all his technical means and all his barbarism, the enemy has not been able to paralyze our economy. On the contrary, at the rear of the front, as you have seen, the North is stronger than ever from the military, economic, and naturally from the political point of view.

From the international standpoint, we are struggling in a world where the socialist system and the national liberation movements are stronger than ever. We have the firm support of our brother socialist countries and that of progressive opinion, even in the United States.

Does the American government want to get out of this war ? Well, it has five hundred thousand troops in our country, which are invading our country, sowing death and ruin everywhere. If America wants peace, let it end its aggression, withdraw its troops. Nothing could be simpler. In Vietnam we also love peace, after twenty years of war. Our people are, I think, one of the world’s most peace-loving peoples. But let it be understood, we are talking about real peace, not peace the American way, under the boot of the aggressor.

QUESTION: I have returned from the Fourth Zone,* from regions bombed day and night. It seemed to me in fact that the bombing there was more concentrated than at the time of my last trip. Am I right?

ANSWER: Exactly. The Am­ericans are continuing the restricted bombing to which they were reduced by their defeats over a very important part of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. They have concentrated this bombing on the Fourth Zone and have stepped it up. South of the twentieth parallel, they have redoubled their barbarism since Johnson’s last speech, as if to prove what must be understood in the United States by “peaceful intentions.”

Moreover, the Americans have publicly acknowledged—with what cynicism!—that they were intensifying their attacks over this large area of our territory. Every day they commit more crimes against the civilian population of those regions. Every day, furthermore, they are bringing new troops into the South. They are launching new military operations. They are bombing the population of Saigon, Cholon (Saigon, their last refuge…) with B-52s. They are trying to improve the armaments of the puppet troops. They are pressuring the governments of Thailand and South Korea to get new contingents of mercenaries. Is all this new evidence of the peaceful intentions of the United States?

Prospective defeats for them are looming up dramatically. They are still trying to turn South Vietnam into a neo-colony. Well! The people of the South want none of it. That is why they continue to struggle, and that is why the NLF is calling on the people in repeated declarations to continue the fight until victory.

As President Ho wrote in his recent letter to Nguyen Huu Tho and to the members of the NLF Central Committee: “While it talks about peace negotiations, the United States is intensifying the war, and that is why our compatriots, our fighters, must firmly join hands, redouble their vigilance, and strengthen their resolve to fight and win.”

We want peace and independence—without the Americans. If they think they can make South Vietnam into a neo-colony by talking about peace while they pursue their aggression, it will cost them dearly. They have already experienced defeat after defeat. They will suffer still more bitter ones. The Vietnamese people are determined more than ever to struggle on until the day the United States abandons its imperialist designs on our country. No peace can be achieved except on the basis of respect for our people’s fundamental rights. For us, only one kind of peace is possible, real peace with independence and freedom, a peace which will recognize Vietnam’s right to determine its own destiny.

Our people are going from victory to victory. We firmly believe that after the Japanese fascists and the French imperialists, our people will also get the better of United States aggression. Already in both the near and distant past Vietnam has withered the laurels of many foreign generals hungry for conquest and buried many hopes of the invaders’ military strategy. This was the case with the Japanese and the French imperialists. And today it is American imperialism’s turn.

We intend to carry on the struggle until victory, for the independence and unity of our country and for future generations. We are proud in so doing to make a contribution to the cause of socialism, of the national freedom of the peoples, and to the cause of peace in the world.

The final victory will be ours. And it will also be the victory of our brother socialist countries, the victory of all peoples throughout the world who cherish peace and freedom, the victory of all progressive humanity.

Footnote

  1. * That part of North Vietnam nearest the Demilitarized Zone (including Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces).