Wednesday, July 29, 2020, 06:44 (GMT+7)
The ideology of mercy in Vietnamese military culture

In Vietnam’s rich and diverse culture, there are elements reflecting the country’s struggle against foreign invaders which was full of both hardships and glorious exploits as the scientific basis for forming the military culture - an integral part of the Vietnamese culture. Vietnam’s military culture has its particularities and identity in itself. However, generally speaking, it makes contributions to preserving, shaping and improving “the truth, the good and the beautiful” in the people’s life. In the national construction and protection and the defence of national independence, the Vietnamese people did not to gain victories at any cost; they behaved culturally, which was expressed via each battle, military art and even victory. To establish such a culture, the Vietnamese people have always considered “compassion and righteousness” as the consistent ideology in the political and military guidelines for national salvation and protection. The ideology of mercy, humanity and compassion acts as the core ideological value of Vietnam’s military culture.

1. We engage in a war only when having no other choice

As a peace-loving country, in its history of national construction and protection, Vietnam has always sought ways to reduce, push back and neutralise the risks of war so as to prevent the country from being devastated. It has always safeguarded the country from afar and made necessary preparations to increase its power right in peacetime (In peace let us maintain our strength; Forever shall live this nation), which is actually aimed at improving the country’s defensive capacity and extinguishing other countries’ intention of invasion. In the past, Vietnamese dynasties all pursued clever, flexible foreign policies in order to maintain friendly relations with other countries and avoid conflicts and wars. They always sought ways to prevent and neutralise the risks of war and they conducted a war only when having no other choice.

In 30 years of revolutionary wars, President Ho Chi Minh and our Party mapped out sound, effective strategies to separate our enemies, defer and neutralise the wars, and make all necessary preparations in response to the enemies’ deliberate aggression. After the August Revolution of 1945, the fledgling Democratic Republic of Vietnam was confronted with an invasion by the French Colonialists. We signed the Vietnam-France Preliminary Agreement, entered into negotiations at the Fontainebleau Conference and then signed the Temporary Agreement with the French so as to delay the war and consolidate the country’s power. Once our goodwill was not responded to, we had to go to war. Our goodwill was clearly expressed in the Appeal for National Resistance by President Ho Chi Minh: “We want peace, we have to make concessions. But the more we make concessions, the more the French colonialists encroach on us because they want to take over our country again.” Nowadays, when performing the task of national protection, our Party is always steadfast in the guidelines on the all-people national defence and the people’s war, with emphasis placed on preventing and pushing back the risks of conflict and war, proactively protecting the country from afar, and pursuing the policy of “more friends and fewer enemies.” It always advocates settling all disputes and differences by peaceful means, avoiding falling into the trap of provocation laid by enemies, maintaining internal unity, and eliminating detriments, especially the internal ones. It pursues a foreign policy of openness, diversification, and multilateralisation, stressing that Vietnam is a friend, a reliable partner and a responsible member of the international community, which could be described as “humanity” in Vietnam’s military culture.

2. We win victories by strategies instead of weapons and equipment

In its wars for national liberation, Vietnam effectively promoted its personnel and materiel as the two fundamentals of its Military’s combat strength. However, the enemies were always superior to us in terms of manpower and materiel; hence, we attached importance to winning those wars by strategies instead of weapons and equipment. In this regard, priority was given to bringing into play the whole nation’s synergy and military art and combining political, diplomatic struggle with military struggle as a deciding factor.

We remain steadfast in and bring into fullest play the policy of people’s war. Conducting the people’s wars has become a traditional and cultural trait of the Vietnamese people. Thanks to steadfastness in the policy of people’s war, patriotism and a sense of communal solidarity were promoted to the utmost. It also helped confirm the role of the people and arouse the nation’s will of iron as evidenced by the sayings: “As long as my head has not fallen down, Your Majesty please do not worry,” “If such was your will then have me be beheaded first,” “I would rather be a ghost in the south than a prince in the north.” The Vietnamese people also fought the enemies to preserve their national origin and cultural identity; we “Fight for the right to grow our hair long/ Fight for the right to dye our teeth black/ Fight so they never dare to challenge us/ Fight until their armour turns to dust/ Fight to teach them a lesson, enshrined in our history, that the heroes of the South shall always reign supreme.” In the Ho Chi Minh era, “All of you, men and women, young and old, what ever your region, ethnic origin, or political opinion, arise to struggle against French colonialism and save the Homeland. Let those who have guns use their guns, those who have swords use their swords, those have neither guns nor swords use hoes, pick-axes, and sticks. Let all arise to oppose colonialism and defend our Homeland.” Persistence in the guidelines of all-people national defence and people’s war is a basic viewpoint of our Party, the core ideology of our national defence and military strategies in the new period, and the development of Vietnam’s military culture at a high level.

We fight enemies adopting stratagems and won victories by means of opportunity and advantage. Fighting enemies using unique military art is part of our military culture and to some extent it demonstrates the ideology of mercy in the Vietnamese military culture. Fighting enemies by means of our unique military art was centred on “taking the few against the many,” “taking the weak against the strong,” and “using a small number of our troops in ambush against a large number of enemies.” Promoting the country’s extraordinary tradition of fighting enemies, the Vietnamese military art has been increasingly developed and completed. We attached significance to using our “strengths, advantages, opportunities and strategies” to fight enemies, defeating them by means of “stratagem, advantage and opportunity,” promoting the national synergy, with the strength of all people playing the core role, destroying them in a focalised manner, thinning them out extensively, reducing their strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. When selecting targets to attack, we avoided public places, residential areas, hospitals, schools and cultural places. Our operational areas were mainly mountainous and favourable for us, thereby lessening the impacts on civil operations.

We always heighten a sense of humanity in military operations. Vietnam’s basic viewpoints in its wars are to save human resources, minimise casualties, and force enemies to get bogged down, become weaker and suffer defeat. When enemies surrendered or were arrested, they were all treated mercifully and protected safely. In Tran Dynasty, Tran Nhat Duat even organised a Song army within his forces against the enemy. When they were surrounded and about to be destroyed, he even provided them with food and vehicles to return. As for the implacable enemy, Ho Chi Minh always determined to “fight to drive the U.S. troops, fight to topple the Saigon puppet regime,” both “fight the enemy and conduct negotiations” in order to help them end the war with honour. That is our strategy for wars and profoundly expresses our humanism which reaches beyond normal cultural values to become the culmination of military cultural values of the times.

We combine military operations with other types of struggle. Vietnam always took the ideology of “winning without fighting” as the best policy to protect the country, while combining military struggle with diplomatic and political struggle as the basis for defeating enemies. In Le Dynasty, our country placed great emphasis on making peace with its enemy to prepare weapons and equipment, raise money, and recruit more troops. When besieging strongholds, we resolutely destroyed enemy reinforcements, cut off their supplies, and adopted psychological warfare tactics to force them to surrender and retreat to their country. In the wars for national liberation, we attached great value to political struggle and actively carried out the work of enemy agitprop to encourage enemy troops to join our forces. We both fought enemies and conducted negotiations. Typical examples were the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the Paris Accords of 1973, which were believed to be the peak development of war-time diplomacy to give valuable assistance to our military operations on battlefields. In wars, we always distinguished between enemies and their people, closely combined the national strength with the strength of the times, and separated enemies to end the wars in the most favourable conditions, minimise casualties, and prevent our country from being heavily ruined.

3. Blot out the past and embrace the future

This is a noticeable feature clearly showing humanism and the ideology of mercy in Vietnam’s military culture. After its wars, under the policy of national great unity, Vietnam always treated misled people humanely. Their dignity was respected and they were provided with a favourable condition to reintegrate into our society. Invaders, prisoners of war and surrendering soldiers were treated mercifully and given a chance to come back to their countries. We have gradually established and normalised diplomatic relations with the countries which had ever taken part in the wars in our country, while fostering cooperation with them under our foreign policy of being a friend, a reliable partner and a responsible member of the international community. Those actions are the result of the Vietnamese people’s compassion and humanism.

The ideology of mercy in our military culture is a feature and tradition of paramount importance in the history of national construction and protection. Hence, we should continue studying, applying and developing this ideology in the task of national construction and protection.

Lt. Gen., Associate Prof. TRAN THAI BINH, PhD - Sr. Col. CHU HUU QUAN, PhD

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