General Vo Nguyen Giap: Vietnam War Was Lost at Home-Incorrect Attribution!

General Vo Nguyen Giap, commander of the North Vietnamese Army, wrote in his memoirs that his army was on the brink of collapse, but the U.S. lost the Vietnam War at home because of the media and protestors.

The Truth:

Despite long-running rumors that General Giap wrote in his memoirs that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War at home because anti-war protestors and media coverage emboldened the North Vietnamese Army, there’s no record of him actually saying that.

The idea that anti-war protests and media coverage of the Vietnam War eroded support and emboldened the North Vietnamese Army actually came from Bui Tin, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese Army.

It’s not clear how, exactly, those quotes came to be attributed to Giap. But it became a talking during the 2004 presidential election when John Kerry’s service in the Vietnam War, and his subsequent protest of the war, took center stage. At the time, theories that John Kerry, Jane Fonda, Bill Clinton and other anti-war activists impacted the U.S. war effort by weakening public support of the war, which ultimately (allegedly) shaped the Nixon Administration’s strategy in the region.

As those theories gained speed, a quote attributed to renowned North Vietnamese General Giap, the architect of the Tet Offensive, seemed to confirm theories that the ant-war effort had indeed contributed to the U.S.’s loss. A viral email from 2004, titled “Blood on Kerry’s Hands,” claims that Giap confirmed that theory.

Giap’s apparent confirmation that the anti-war movement ultimately led to the United States’ defeat in the Vietnam War appears to stem back to a 1990 interview he gave to American journalist Stanley Karnow about his strategy:

We were not strong enough to drive out a half million American troops, but that wasn’t our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war. Westmoreland was wrong to expect that his superior firepower would grind us down. If we had focused on the balance of forces, we would have been defeated in two hours. We were waging a people’s war … America’s sophisticated arms, electronic devices and all the rest were to no avail in the end. In war there are the two factors — human beings and weapons. Ultimately though, human beings are the decisive factor.

Giap definitely acknowledged that grinding down the U.S. government’s will to continue the war was a major part of his strategy — but he didn’t specifically say that John Kerry, Jane Fonda, or the anti-war movement in general helped accomplish that.

It’s also been rumored that Giap wrote in his memoirs that the anti-war movement led to the U.S.’s ultimate defeat — but that does not check out, either. Ed Moise, a professor at Clemson University, explained in a review of Giap’s memoir how those false rumors started:

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.

And not only does Giap’s quotes about the Vietnam War being lost at home not check out — Giap indicated in a 1996 interview with CNN that the North Vietnamese Army’s victory came in large part due to American leaders’ lack of understanding of Vietnam, their underestimation of the North Vietnamese will to win, and miscalculations about the effectiveness of guerilla warfare:

In general, I must say they were the most intelligent people, with certain talents such as military, political and diplomacy skills. They were intelligent people. That was the first point that I want to say. The second point I want to say is that they knew little about Vietnam and her people. They didn’t understand our will to maintain independence and equality between nations even though these are stated in President Jefferson’s manifestation. And so they made mistakes. They did not know the limits of power. … No matter how powerful you are there are certain limits, and they did not understand it well. …

The people in the White House believed that Americans would definitely win and there is not chance of defeat. There is a saying which goes, “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you would win every single battle.” However, the Americans fought the Vietnamese, but they did not know much about Vietnam or anything at all about the Vietnamese people. Vietnam is an old nation founded in a long history before the birth of Christ. … The Americans knew nothing about our nation and her people. American generals knew little about our war theories, tactics and patterns of operation. …

During the war everyone in the country would fight and they [would] do so following the Vietnamese war theory. We have a theory that is different from that of the Russians and that of the Americans. The Americans did not understand that. They did not know or understand our nation; they did not know our war strategies. They could not win. How could they win? As our president said, there was nothing more precious than independence and freedom. We had the spirit that we would govern our own nation; we would rather sacrifice than be slaves.

The sentiment that the U.S. lost the war at home because of anti-war protests and media coverage actually came from Bui Tin, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese, during a 1995 interview with the Wall Street Journal. When asked about the anti-war movement’s impact on the war, Tin replied:

It was essential to our strategy.  Support of the war from our rear was completely secure  while the American rear was vulnerable.  Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m.  to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement.  Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence  that we should hold on  in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.

So, General Giap did not say that the U.S. lost the Vietnam war at home because of anti-war protests and media coverage of the war. Those sentiments did come from a former high-ranking official in the North Vietnamese Army, though.

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