May 2015        

Forty years ago

The end of the Viet Nam war

The 30th of April marks the fortieth anniversary of the ending of the Viet Nam war. On that day in 1975 the forces of the People’s Army of Viet Nam and the National Liberation Front of South Viet Nam, under the command of General Văn Tiến Dũng, captured the South Vietnamese presidential palace and other important strategic sites in Sài Gòn (soon to be renamed Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh or Hồ Chí Minh City).
     The assault on Sài Gòn was the culmination of the Spring Offensive of 1975, and its denouement on the last day of April would precipitate the hasty evacuation of the US embassy and the formal surrender of the armed forces and government of South Viet Nam. North Viet Nam and South Viet Nam—now under the leadership of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet Nam—would be officially reunited as the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on 2 July the following year.
     Notwithstanding the contradictions and difficulties that have been a feature of the continuing struggle to build a socialist system in Viet Nam in the years since the ending of the war, the victory of the forces of the Vietnamese Revolution over the United States and its domestic allies will for ever stand as a testament to the ability of people to successfully resist imperialism and to vindicate their right to self-determination and freedom in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
     The struggle that a small band of communists had begun some forty years previously would eventually come to rank among the most epic struggles in all of world history. Having started out with educational and propaganda work among the masses, the nucleus of what eventually became the Communist Party of Viet Nam formed the Armed Propaganda and Liberation Unit in 1941. From its beginnings as an army of thirty-four men in possession of two revolvers, seventeen rifles, fourteen flintlocks and one light machine gun, commanded by the militarily self-educated 33-year-old Giáp, the Việt Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) in its different incarnations could eventually claim credit for helping to drive the Japanese from Indochina, defeating the hated French coloniser, the military and political defeat of the United States and its South Viet Nam allies, and defeating both Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and invading Chinese forces in 1979.
     Writing in his book National Liberation War in Viet Nam: General Line, Strategy, Tactics (1971), the senior Vietnamese military commander, the late General Võ Nguyên Giáp, attributed the glorious victory of 1975 to the fact that “our people have fought unremittingly and achieved tremendous successes on the path of national liberation and have ushered in a new era for our country, the era of independence, freedom and socialism, thus contributing a worthy share to the world’s revolution. Our people’s armed forces were born and have grown up with our people’s revolutionary high tide, skilfully led by our Party, carefully tended by Uncle Hồ and staunchly supported by our people. Starting from scratch, they have become a powerful battle-seasoned revolutionary army with a record of glorious victories. This is above all due to possession by our people and army of an invincible weapon: the Marxist political and military line of our Party.”
     The key to the Việt Minh’s initial survival and success throughout the following decades was an adherence to the fundamental principle that military action must have the support of the people, and that the revolution always be subservient to its needs. What ultimately made victory possible was a recognition that “the spirit of the people is greater than armed forces,” and that “if we can rely on the people, no one can defeat us,” as Hồ Chí Minh declared.
     They did rely on the people, and that is why they were ultimately victorious in the face of the most relentless and ferocious military onslaught any people had ever heretofore been subjected to in the history of warfare.
     On this the fortieth anniversary of the ending of the Viet Nam war we salute the revolutionary and heroic people of Viet Nam and the profound contribution they have made to the quest for freedom and justice in our world.

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