Saturday, August 13, 2022, 16:34 (GMT+7)

Thursday, February 10, 2022, 09:15 (GMT+7)
Vietnam's military culture through the lens of military art

Vietnam’s military culture - a unique feature of the national culture – is the crystallisation from the tradition and art of millennium-struggle to build and defend the country, which has been embodied in many aspects with the military art being a prominence.

The basic feature of Vietnam’s military culture is not only the crystallisation of national cultural tradition but also the blend of patriotic thought with the spirit of national independence. This has formed patriotism and noble humanitarianism manifested in Nguyen Trai’s thought that: “Using great cause to win against cruelty and kindness to replace tyranny”. The culture has manifested itself in all military activities, but most clearly in the military art of people’s war of Vietnam, with the strategy of taking the small to win the big, the few to fight against the many, the weak to counter the strong, and defeating the enemy by military strategies instead of means of war. In this article, the author would like to discuss Vietnam’s military culture through the lens of military art:

The art of winning war with the synergy of the whole nation

This is one of the basic contents of the military art of people’s war of Vietnam, which brings into full play the role of the masses based on the strategy of the entire people fighting the enemy. Culturally, this tactic originates from the passionate patriotism and intense hatred towards the enemy, resilience, indomitable spirit, community cohesion of Vietnamese people; hence creating the tradition: the whole country and entire people fight against the enemy with undying loyalty and great national power.

In the history of national building and defence, the synergy resulting from patriotism and community cohesion to defeat the invaders has become a unique sustainable tradition of Vietnamese people as well as the eternal military cultural value. This tradition had long been formed during Ly-Tran dynasties with the emphasis on the unity of the whole nation. During the post-Le era, the spirit of national unity was highly valued, in which the people’s role was of primary importance; especially in war, people united together to obtain the overall strength. All aimed at bringing into full play the strength of the people, forming a synergy to fight the enemy and defend the country with the armed forces functioning as the core.

During the Ho Chi Minh era, our Party inherited and developed the viewpoint of the entire people fighting the enemy to a new height with unique cultural values in order to maximize the whole people’s strength. A typical example was President Ho Chi Minh’s Appeal for National Resistance which read: “To any man, woman, the old or the young, regardless of religions, parties, or ethnicities; if you are Vietnamese, you must stand up and fight the French to save our Fatherland. Those who have guns use guns. Those who have swords use swords, and those who do not have swords use pickaxes, spades, or clubs. Each individual must make efforts to fight against the French colonialists to save the country”. This has been turned into a distinctive military culture with its sole appropriate guideline: all-people national defence, people's war, all-people armament, fighting the enemy with the strength of the whole nation, in which military strength is dominant, and the armed forces play as the core. Therefore, in order to promote that tradition, importance needs to be attached to building neat, compact and strong armed forces, which fight the enemy not only with its own strength but also with the overall power of the whole nation; hence the cultural value in military operations.

The art of defeating the enemy by using stratagems and time

The power of means of warfare is overestimated in the military doctrines of many countries in the world. Therefore, when conducting war, they often rely on the power of weapons and equipment to destroy key targets, causing great casualties to the enemy, and severely devastating the battlefield. These are considered inhuman and non-cultural military activities vehemently condemned by progressive mankind. Therefore, it could not be regarded as cultural acts when in Vietnam War the U.S military carpet-bombed the southern battlefields, sprayed toxic chemicals in the mountains and forests of the Central Highlands or deployed B-52s to bombard Hanoi and some other locations in the North with the plot of "bringing Hanoi back to the stone age". In the history of wars against foreign invaders and defending our Fatherland, our ancestors always emphasised the use of stratagems to deceive and manipulate the enemy, along with exploiting the position of village, commune, terrain and time, weather, hydrology to push the enemy into a dire situation before weakening, exhausting and destroying them, creating a favourable opportunity to counterattack, attack and win decisive victories. Thus, defeating the enemy by using stratagems and time has been formed and developed in the history of fighting against invaders and has become one of the distinctive features of the art of people's war of Vietnam as well as military culture.

Upholding the national tradition of fighting the enemy and defending the country, when commanding warfare operations, our Party always focused on using stratagems to divert the enemy, and plots to intentionally manipulate the enemy's troops. Typical were: “The best plot is to deceive the enemy, the best strategy is to manipulate them”, “Grab the enemy’s belt to fight them”, etc., which limited the enemy’s strong points and exploited their weak points. In particular, our Party has developed a complete people's war posture - a close combination of different aspects: politics, spirit, economy, military, and diplomacy. Particularly, the military posture had improved in a very diverse effective manner to create a favourable condition to defeat the enemy. It was a perfect blend of force, position, time, and tactics to fight the enemy with culture, also known as culture of fighting the enemy.

Combine large-scale attrition with focused kill

Among Vietnam cultural institutions, the culture of villages and communes plays a fundamental role in forming social bonds and organising military activities. Vietnamese people, wherever they go, maintain a strong relationship with a certain village, commune, and hamlet. Each village, commune, hamlet has its own identity as the homeland and carries a very sacred meaning to every Vietnamese citizen. The homeland is the place where people unite, build and develop together, preserve and fight for protection, writing down a resilient and indomitable tradition such as: "when the enemy comes to the house, even women will fight", "fight to the death", "the hero is present in every corner". These have built up the cultural value in the combat activities of the local forces. Guerrilla attack, deep attack, dangerous attack, widespread attack, frequent and continuous attack, make the enemy stretch out with appropriate forms of fighting, which trap and weaken the enemy, setting a favourable condition for massive destruction at key points, practicing the military art of "taking the small to win the big”, “the few to fight against the many, “the weak to win the strong", etc. These represent the military culture of fighting the enemy in the localities.

Operational and strategic destruction is the key to the victory in wars because it can mark the breaking point in ending the war. Vietnamese military art always adheres to this rule and emphasises focused and selected destruction, not annihilation. In the national history of war and military art from the first day of nation building to the Ho Chi Minh era, in most of the resistance wars against foreign invaders, we had attached great importance to conducting battles and campaigns at key positions to win wars such as Bach Dang, Chi Lang, Dong Da, Dien Bien Phu Campaign, Ho Chi Minh Campaign, etc. We defeated the enemy with overall strength in line with fighting postures and grasping opportunities. Therefore, in some places we decided it was not necessary to fight. In certain areas where other methods could be applied to gain victory, we did not resort to military strength to limit bloodshed and casualties, or in regions where the enemy disintegrated themselves, we did not conduct intervention, etc. Besides, emphasis was placed on attacking the enemy’s will, protecting people's lives and properties, minimising the destruction of architectural and cultural buildings as well as infrastructure. We resolutely eliminated the heads and the stubborn, but for the foes having lost or surrendered, we gave them a chance to survive. These acts have symbolised Vietnam's military culture.

Combine military struggle and other fighting measures

The core values of Vietnamese culture are patriotism, humanitarianism, and humanity; therefore, even in military activities - the most brutal ones, we still value the combination of military combat and other fighting measures to limit bloodshed and casualties. During the history of wars, when faced with aggressive invaders, along with military activities, our forerunners always upheld justice and focused on winning people's hearts - "winning through wisdom and touching hearts".  Our troops took advantage of favourable terrains to fight the enemy, conducting the plot of empty houses and villages in combination with blocking and destroying the enemy’s food supply, pushing them into difficulties. Particularly, our precursors weighed up diplomatic measures, paving the way for long-term victory and avoiding human loss and casualties for both sides.

During the war of liberation, our Party closely combined military activities with political, economic, socio-cultural and diplomatic struggles. Importance was attached to taking political measures, especially conducting propaganda about our just war to make the enemy self-disintegrate, combining offensive with people's uprisings. On the diplomatic front, besides drawing support from the world's  peace-loving people, we not only uncovered the futility of war led by belligerent forces but also implemented the method of "fighting and negotiating", which prominently featured our Party's art of war. All above-mentioned serve the dual purpose of minimising losses in human as well as equipment while still winning war, which builds up Vietnam’s military art or military culture.

Lieutenant General, Associate Professor Tran Thai Binh, PhD

Your Comment (0)