Võ Nguyên Giáp, the communist general who created, organized, and led Vietnamese forces to victory over the Japanese, French, Americans, and their collaborators, has died. He was only 102 years old.


Võ was a master of people’s war, a type of war that is rages today in Syria, albeit in vastly different conditions than those that prevailed in Võ’s Việt Nam. He started out with 34 volunteers, not a whole lot more than the seven soldiers who formed the first Free Syrian Army unit. He continually and deftly adjusted his tactics to the dizzying twists and turns the struggle took over the next three decades.


At different points, Việt Nam‘s communists offered to ally with French forces to defeat their common Japanese enemy (a bid that was rejected), accepted arms and training from and actively collaborated with their future American enemies, quoted America’s Declaration of Independence in their own, and then — despite all the wanton atrocities and unnecessary bloodshed perpetrated by the U.S. government — welcomed visiting American war veterans and capitalist investment with open arms. They did not let bitterness or grudges get in the way of healing old wounds and creating the prosperous, progressive Việt Nam they fought for and dreamt of for so long.


[Võ and Hồ Chí Minh with their American friends, officers of the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS.]

As Syria’s revolutionaries wrestle with the selfish machinations of false friends abroad, the perilous tactical alliances of convenience with enemies of freedom like Al-Qaeda, and the increasingly bitter divides between their country’s ethnic-religious communities, there is much to be learned from Võ and his comrades who never got lost in the maze of alliances, setbacks, difficulties, tactical turns, and betrayals as they marched to victory over their enemies and opponents, one after the other.

Something Võ said in the AP article on his passing illustrates one of the many commonalities between the Vietnamese and Syrian people’s wars:

“No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or caused as many losses as this war. But we still fought because for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.”

No other revolutions for freedom in the Arab Spring were as fierce or caused as many losses as the Syrian revolution, but the Syrian people still fought because nothing is more important than freedom. The Vietnamese people lost millions of their own in the course of their three-decade struggle while the Syrian people have lost over 100,000 as the revolution’s three-year anniversary approaches. The battle of Aleppo, like the battle of Điện Biên Phủ, have one thing in common: both were unexpected victories by rag-tag popular forces against the highly armed, well-supplied military forces of their oppressors. The United States used chemical weapons such as napalm and Agent Orange while the regime of Bashar al-Assad uses napalm-like chemical weapons and sarin. The United States designated entire areas of Việt Nam as “free fire zones,” meaning their entire civilian populations were fair game as military targets while the Assad regime treats universities, playgrounds, and high schools in liberated areas like al-Raqqah as free fire zones.

All of these brutal efforts were for naught. They were foiled and defeated, which brings us to the last and most important commonality between the two struggles. “We had to use the small against the big; backward weapons to defeat modern weapons,” Võ said. “At the end, it was the human factor that determined the victory.”

Syria’s Liberation Day is still to come and, just as 38 years ago for the people of Việt Nam, it is the human factor that will bring deliverance.