Home » Foreign Forces » Former Vietnam Advisor: Giap Was ‘As Ruthless as Mao and Stalin’

Former Vietnam Advisor: Giap Was ‘As Ruthless as Mao and Stalin’

General Vo Nguyen GiapThe architect behind the 1954 North Vietnamese victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu was a “a dedicated killer determined to take absolute power by assassinating as many of his political opponents as possible,” Rufus Phillips, a former U.S. military advisor to Vietnam told USNI News on Saturday.

General Vo Nguyen Giap — who died in a Vietnamese military hospital on Friday at age 102 — led the People’s Army of North Vietnam through the communist fight against the French and later American forces.

Phillips — who arrived in Vietnam as a military advisor in 1954 — told USNI News that Giap’s iconic victory against the French relied substantially on the assistance of the Chinese.

“He could not have won without Chinese Communist advice and logistical and combat support, particularly with artillery,” Phillips, author of “Why Vietnam Matters,” said.

Giap was born in 1911 in a rural village just north of what would become the Vietnam’s dividing Demilitarized Zone. He rose to power as a so-called self-taught general and had a reputation for ruthlessness.

“One of the first Vietnamese I met in Saigon in 1954 had been a political activist in the North in the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD), the largest Vietnamese political party in 1946. He recalled vividly having just missed a party meeting which had been raided by one of Giap’s death squads. The VNQDD members were bound, sewn up alive in sacks with rocks and dumped into the Red River,” Phillips said.
“This was my introduction to who Giap was.”

Giap was also known for orchestrating the deadly 1968 Tet Offensive, in which more than 45,000 of his troops died in a series of wide-ranging across the country.

“Giap was callous,” U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland said in 1968.
“Had any American general taken such losses, he wouldn’t have lasted three weeks.”

Following the war, Giap lived as a national hero in Hanoi until his death.

“He seems to have mellowed long after the war, but while he fought it he was as ruthless as Mao and Stalin,” Phillips said.

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Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • hai_nguyen

    It’s too simplistic to portray your former enemy as “a dedicated killer determined to take absolute power by assassinating as many of his political opponents as possible”, especially when spent 80 years building a ragtag army of 48 soldiers and 21 obsolete guns into one that repulsed 2 of the world superpowers. That part of the world, at that time and with over 100 years of French colonial rule, political assassinations were the norms including countless communists killed by non-communist. In fact, the 1st President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem put in place by the US, was known to have killed scores of his communist and non-communist opponents. And if author Phillips really wanted to write about Vietnam or learn about Gen. Giap, he would have more than 200 books written / translated into over 100 languages available instead of tragic recall of a Quoc Dan Dang member ( a minor party that never even 10,000 membership ). Lastly, the battle of Dien Bien Phu has been carefully researched, analyzed and verified before being taught at different international military schools including French. For Phillips to say “He could not have won without Chinese Communist advice and logistical and combat support, particularly with artillery” is a shameful distortion that deserves nothing more from me.


    General Giap may well have been ruthless, callous, and a dedicated killer, but he was also the best general and most effective military leader on either side of the wars he fought and won.

    Truong Chinh, another ruthless, callous, dedicated killer laid out a realistic and effective national strategy for defeating the French and General Giap carried out the military portion of it effectively, using it to first defeat the French, then the US.

    The effectiveness of the combination of the politician, Chinh and the general, Giap is worth studying. Chinh’s writings lay out his nation’s strengths and weaknesses with an honesty western political strategic documents never approach, and that writing laid out the entire political military strategy, including fomenting protests and aligning with workers and students in the nations they were fighting at the time. A very effective combined arms campaign that used all instruments of national power in sync.

    Although their material weakness forced them to skew toward the use of diplomacy to stall and reconstitute and information to destroy support for the war on the enemy home front as opposed to major powers’ use of military and economic power, Mr. Chinh and General Giap used what they had to great effect and we can learn much from them regardless of the side they fought on or their personal characteristics.

  • Larry McClelland

    General Giap must have had some leadership abilities to have accomplished what were some fairly significant successes. To lead a country as small as Vietnam to stalemate world powers France and the United States does suggest he had the support and admiration at least a majority of the North VIetnamese population.
    I’ve heard the accusations against him but always considered the source of the Quote. As to General Westmoreland, callous, how about Sherman, Sheridan, Grant or MacArthur. I don’t remember any of my fellow veterans who served under Westmoreland holding him in any regard. They being enlisted and junior officers, still not a single Con Thien veteran I knew had anything but contempt for him and grudging respect for Giap.