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Florian Waitl Articles
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Mao and Giap On Guerrilla Warfare

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Guerrilla Warfare

Vietnam War

War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare

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Mao Tse-tung and General Vo Nguyen Giap On Guerrilla Warfare
Mao Tse-tung and General Vo Nguyen Giap On Guerrilla Warfare
by Florian Waitl

Army cadres concern themselves solely with military affairs,
Government cadres with administrative jobs,
Party cadres with Party business.
They are like men standing on one leg. It is wrong for a cadre
to be acquainted only with one field. He will no be truly
proficient because army, mass, government and party work
forms a whole which would not be strong and complete should
one of its components come to miss.

    Ho Chi Minh- July 1952 (Ho's Selected Writings, p. 146)

Guerrilla Warfare is a method of war that can be traced back as far as the 3rd century B.C. when Fabius Maximus utilized this form of warfare against Hannibal's forces during the Second Punic War. Ever since then, the phenomenon of Guerrilla Warfare or Guerra de guerrillas has surfaced again and again throughout history when low intensity confrontation is the only tool that can be utilized against an unpopular foreign regime or modern army which is more powerful on the conventional battle field. According to Robert Taber (2002), "Guerrilla Warfare is a politico-military quasi science- part Marxist-Leninist social theory, part tactical innovation- that is changing the power relationships of the post- World War II era, and in the process is destroying the verities of the Western general staffs whose professional concern it is, and increasingly will be, to understand and to combat it" (p. 2).

This form of warfare has become the political phenomenon of the mid- twentieth century which brings not only fear and concern to the superpower nations but also hope and will to the "suppressed". This "wind of revolution" as Taber (2002) calls it, is not as important to our military who many times unsuccessfully attempt to fight such an invisible enemy but rather to the political regime in power who sends its military to win an unwinnable war and expects the impossible to be accomplished. This paper has the purpose to take a closer look at the Indochina and Vietnam War in which two superior nations and their armies have lost a war against an ill-equipped insurgency. It will show that Mao Tse-Tung's use and theory of Guerrilla Warfare was used and adapted (to Vietnam) by General Vo Nguyen Giap who through the patient application of the basic Guerrilla principles became the victor over two great countries with nothing more but an ill- equipped insurgent army and the will to fight and resist. Further more, this "visible wind of revolution" which started its major debut in the mid- twentieth century is in fact used in a score of countries from Afghanistan to Iraq and is here to stay as a political phenomenon rather than a military one. The Marxist-Leninist social part of this equation has merely changed into a radical- religious concern in the twenty-first century but the basics of this type of warfare have stayed the same. By understanding what Guerrilla Warfare is and that the guerrilla fighter is a political or religious partisan whose primary weapon is not his rifle but his relationship to the community and the nation in and for which he fights, the reader will understand not only why Giap was victorious both against the French and the Americans but will further develop a basic understanding of these implications in contemporary military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan which bring the U.S Military and its allies as many problems as it does. The use of history and the lessons that should have been learned a long time ago are being brought to light in this paper with the hope of saving future deaths of our military in a war that can not be won militarily. After all, George Santayana's quote "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it" is mentioned by many but understood by so few.

The first topic that will have to be examined is the history of the country of Vietnam itself before looking at Mao Tse-Tung's and General Vo Nguyen Giap's way of warfare in order to understand the conditions that must be present for Guerrilla Warfare.

Vietnam's History

The beginning of Vietnam's history is considered to have taken place in 208 B.C. when a Qin general named Trieu Da established a state called Nam Viet which consisted of the southern part of China and the Red River Delta. Some historians claim that this was the beginning of Vietnam's occupation by the Chinese while others still see this as an independent era but for most of the period from 111 B.C. to the early 10th century, Vietnam was under the rule of China and its successive Chinese dynasties. During this time many cultural and religious influences were imported into modern Vietnam but at the same time its people maintained a sense of their separate national identity (Isserman, p. 9). Sporadic independence movements were attempted against the Chinese but failed until Vietnam gained its independence in 939 A.D. following the Bach Dang River battle. Following ten centuries of Chinese occupation, Vietnam's future saw several attempts of invasion by the Mongols who were successfully defeated and even an expansion southward between the 11th and 18th centuries would further strengthen Vietnam's ability to stay independent from its neighbors. The new problem that arose in Vietnam was internally. Rival dynasties emerged in the north and south, warring with each other for centuries for control of the entire country and it wasn't until the start of the 19th century when the country was reunited under a single emperor, Gia Long (Isserman, p. 9).

The 15th century would mark the beginning of European expansionism which led to the establishment of religious missions, trading settlements and colonies in Africa, the newly discovered Americas and Asia. The first French Catholic missionaries arrived in Vietnam during the 17th century and a sizeable minority of Vietnamese was converted to the Catholic religion. Vietnamese rulers worried about the loyalty of these Catholic converts and periodically persecuted the missionaries. Following several missionaries' slaughters, French forces, under the pretext of protecting its missionaries, set out to conquer Vietnam and convert it into a colony of France which was accomplished with the Indochinese Union of 1887 which brought modern day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos under the rule of a single French governor. Even though the Vietnamese emperors were still allowed to sit on the imperial throne, they were powerless to govern their people while local governors were replaced by French administrators. French settlers gained control of the most productive farmland; the colonial government imposed heavy taxes on the Vietnamese and established government monopolies trading in salt and other necessities. Nearly 95% of rubber plantations in Vietnam were French owned and less than 10% of school age children were educated in schools even though the French boasted of their mission civilisatrice or "civilizing mission". Under this colonial empire several uprisings occurred but all were suppressed rather quickly with arrests of hundreds of nationalists. The French pride of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" was denied to its colonial subjects which is why the European colonial empires were destined to fail in the 20th century (Isserman, p. 10).

Ho Chi Minh ("He Who Enlightens") was born in 1890 and is credited as being the man most responsible for Vietnam's independence from the French. Educated and experienced from his world travels, Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam after 30 years with the goal to gain Vietnam's independence. Following the disinterest of Vietnamese independence at the 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty, he turned for support elsewhere and joined the French Communist Party in 1920. Leaders of the Soviet Union, who directed the international communist movement, called for the overthrow of the colonial regimes of Asia and Africa which was reason for Ho Chi Minh to join in the first place. According to Ho Chi Minh, "it was patriotism and not Communism that originally inspired" him to join the communists. He rose quickly through the ranks of the International Communist movement and traveled to Moscow and China on several occasions to gain the support for Vietnam's independence. Unable to return to Vietnam due to prosecution by the French, Ho Chi Minh continued to work in exile to gain support for Vietnam's independence. With the defeat of France by Germany in 1940 and the occupation of Vietnam by the Japanese, Ho Chi Minh was able to slip back into Vietnam in early 1941 where he founded the Vietnamese Independence Brotherhood League, or Viet Minh, which was used not only to attack the Japanese but also French forces. Ho Chi Minh believed in an Allied victory and that Vietnam would be rewarded with independence after the war. Being the only pro- Allied force in Vietnam, the Viet Minh were supported by the United States and its Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the forerunner of the CIA) with whose help the Viet Minh were conducting guerrilla warfare against the occupation forces. With the end of World War II and the Japanese surrender, Ho Chi Minh was regarded as the father of the Vietnamese independence by his fellow countrymen. Ho Chi Minh exploited the power vacuum created after Japan's surrender and before Allied forces were able to regain control over Vietnam, he declared Vietnam an independent state on 2 September 1945, borrowing a passage from the American Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately due to the outbreak of the Cold War following the swiftly unraveling of the temporary wartime alliance of the United States and the Soviet Union, Ho Chi Minh's dream of an independent Vietnam was denied once again. The French wanted to reestablish their empire in Indochina, especially following the embarrassment of World War II. The United States were shoring up anti- Communist governments in Western Europe, including France, which translated into the deny of accepting an independent Vietnam and the U.S. government made it clear that it wouldn't stand in the way of the reestablishment of the French colonial empire. Vietnam was divided between the Viet Minh controlled North and the French controlled South by late fall 1945. Following a year long failed negotiations between the two parties, French naval forces shelled the northern port of Haiphong in 1946 which marked the beginning of the first Indochinese War (Isserman, p. 11-13). The map at the end of this chapter shows the French expansion in Vietnam throughout the years and illustrates the above named points in their geographical retrospect.

The Viet Minh soon abandoned the cities and fought back from the countryside using Guerrilla tactics. The man in charge of the Viet Minh was Vo Nguyen Giap, a schoolteacher and self taught tactician. It would be Giap using Mao Tse-Tung's Guerrilla Warfare and the Chinese help to fight the French and Americans successfully in order to gain an independent und united Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh's vision. The history of Vietnam is important to the discussion of Guerrilla Warfare for several reasons. It shows the mistreatment of the Vietnamese under French colonial rule which wasn't only the case in Vietnam but in most of the colonies, the implications of World War II on Vietnam as well as most of the other colonies and finally the history of oppression which was a big part throughout Vietnam's history. For thousands of years the Vietnamese had fought invaders with the goal of independence which shows a certain will to fight and resist outsiders that might not be common or known in Western countries. World War II proved to be the turning point for the British in India, the British, French and Belgians in Africa, and the French in Indochina. With the help of Guerrilla warfare, these colonial empires fell and many countries gained their independence following long struggles against these major powers (Taber, p. 3-6). But what exactly is Guerrilla Warfare? In order to answer this question, one must take a closer look at Mao Tse-Tung's book On Guerrilla Warfare whose ideas were not only used by General Vo Nguyen Giap during the Indochina and Vietnam War but by guerrillas around the world.

Mao Tse-Tung's Guerrilla Warfare

… the guerrilla campaigns being waged in China
today are a page in history that has no precedent.
Their influence will be confined not solely to China
in her present anti-Japanese struggle, but will be

    -Mao Tse-Tung, Yu Chi Chan, 1937

Mao Tse-tung (1937) is often viewed as the father of modern insurgency and Guerrilla Warfare due to his most notorious book On Guerrilla Warfare which he wrote in 1937 while in retreat after ten years of battling the Nationalist army of Chiang Kai- shek. He wrote Yu Chi Chan or On Guerrilla Warfare following the Japanese invasion of China with the goal of laying out a pattern for the organization of the Chinese people for unlimited guerrilla warfare on the Japanese (Griffith, p. 37). But how can an insurgency win a war against a powerful mechanized army?

Mao's approach to the theory of war was simply to shift the emphasis customarily given to the fundamental components of previous established military doctrine. In other words, where the industrial nations stressed such tangible military factors such as arms, logistics and manpower; Mao focused on the intangibles which are time, space and will. Not being able to fight a well- equipped army in the field, Mao avoided battles by giving territory to the enemy forces which was a space for time trade. With the newly gained time Mao was able to produce will which will eventually and inevitably lead to victory. After all, only those who will admit defeat can be defeated while the ones who will not admit defeat and produce more will to resist, will never be defeated. With this in mind, the question arises how one can organize space so that it could be made to yield time. Mao's political problem was how to organize time so that it could be made to yield will, that quality which makes willingness to sacrifice the order of the day, and the ability to bear suffering cheerfully the highest virtue (Taber, p. 43). This might be another reason why the concept of Guerrilla Warfare had its roots in the ill- equipped and poor farmer who has nothing to loose. The Chinese peasant according to Mao Tse-tung, "ate bitterness" from the time he could walk until he was laid to rest in the burial plot beneath the cypress tree (Griffith, p. 14). Who else would be willing to suffer for one's cause for years or decades just to gain their political means? The Western military thinkers usually direct a large part of their attention to the ending of military operations while the guerrilla does the exact opposite; he has to avoid a military decision for as long as possible. Obviously those are two extremes when comparing the "Western Way of War" which focuses on a fast and decisive battle to decide the outcome of a war, and the guerrilla tactics of Mao Tse-tung which focus on the continuation of war and the avoidance of any military decision. This explains the reasons why tactics such as hit and run, fight and live to fight for another day are being used by guerrillas around the world. The guerrilla can afford to run when he cannot stand and fight with a good chance of winning, and to disappear and hide when it is not safe to move. "A guerrilla", according to Mao Tse-tung (1937), "can always sink back into the peaceful population which is the sea in which the guerrilla swims like a fish". The space for time formula is well conceived but the importance of time is that it has to be used to produce a political result which translates into the raising of a revolutionary consciousness or the will of the people. In fact, the population is the key to the entire struggle. Without the consent and active aid of the people, the guerrilla would be merely an outlaw and could not survive for long. Without the support of the population, the guerrilla would not exist because there would be no war in the first place. This kind of thought process is familiar to Clausewitz, one of the writers Mao Tse-Tung read (Short, p. 363-365), and who termed the individual components of war as a "wondrous trinity" which consists of violence and passion which signifies the people; the chance and uncertainty which would be signified by the Armed Forces and the talent and knowledge of the commander; and lastly the political purpose and effect which would be signified by politics itself. But by no means does this "wondrous trinity" only consist of people, government and army as many like to think but rather violence, hatred and enmity; chance, probability and creativity; and reason which all three combined make the essence of war. Only if we understand the concept of "wondrous trinity", can we go on and make sense out of Clausewitz's statement that "War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case" (On War, Book I, Chapter I) which means that war can take on radically different forms depending on the conditions of the three elements of the "wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit". This theory also shows us that the three above mentioned parts drive the events of war in the real world and according to Clausewitz must be kept in balance "like an object suspended between three magnets" (Book I, Chapter I).

Now bringing this chameleon into China, a slight different animal develops. As Clausewitz, Mao Tse-Tung saw the importance in the people as well, which is the most important part of his equation as can be seen from the above discussion; the political objective which in Mao's terms was the fight itself in which he won the support of the people; but lastly, the uncertainty or fog of war disappeared in Mao's equation because the chameleon changed due to the enormous size of the Chinese country side. Instead of the friction of war that Clausewitz had to battle in war, Mao or guerrilla fighters have the time which translates into the gaining support of the people and the successful revolution. The fog of war or uncertainty is a factor in conventional warfare which will never be solved, no matter how much technology or money is invested into the war machine. In fact, the fog of war is not only the uncertainty on the battlefield but also an important factor on the home front. Increasing costs of the war machine, increasing opposition to the war itself by both civilians and politicians and no light at the end of the tunnel in winning a war can bring down even the mightiest war machine of them all.

On the other hand the guerrilla fighter does not have to worry about this friction of war or the uncertainty. The guerrilla has the initiative and it is he, who begins the war, and he who decides when and where to strike. His military opponent must wait, and while waiting, he must be on guard everywhere. The military opponent is in a defensive position before and during the war by reason of its role as a policeman. It is the guerrilla's opponent who has to protect cities, towns, villages, communications, commerce, industry and all its military investments such as convoys, airfields, outposts etc. The political system is another factor which has to be preserved and strengthened which obviously is already under a severe strain if open insurrection has been reached. At the same time, the guerrilla remains elusive and insubstantial as the wind. There are no posts, no towns, no villages, no expensive military hardware etc to defend. He has nothing to defend but his own existence which he can do quite easy by dispersion and hiding and sinking back into this "peaceful population". The guerrilla fighter is primarily a propagandist, an agitator and disseminator of the revolutionary idea. His mere survival is a political victory which encourages and raises the popular opposition to the incumbent regime. So, Mao realized that "the guerrilla's fighter war is political and social, his means are at least as political as they are military, his purpose is almost entirely so". At the end, Clausewitz can be paraphrased and one can say that Guerrilla Warfare is the extension of politics by means of armed conflict, and at some time during this war the guerrilla war becomes a revolution in itself which can not be countered or suppressed militarily because the incumbent government can not wipe out the populace, or any significant sector of it. The guerrilla on the other hand can wear down his opponent as we have seen on the above discussion but his primary objective is not militarily but political (Taber, p. 10-16). Clausewitz's statement holds true that "The political object- the original motive for the war- will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires" (On War, Book I, Chapter I) and with amount of effort the time of the struggle is meant and how much the struggle develops into a political revolution before the incumbent government cracks.

Mao Tse-tung (1937) believed that guerrilla warfare has a specific relationship to national policy. In the case of China in the 1930s and 1940s, the resistance against the Japanese can be seen as a semi colonial country against an imperialism which meant that a clearly defined political goal had to be established. The basic policy of China was the creation of a national united anti- Japanese front which had to be accomplished through the accomplishment of the following seven steps.

1. Arousing and organizing the people.
2. Achieving internal unification politically.
3. Establishing bases.
4. Equipping forces.
5. Recovering national strength
6. Destroying enemy's national strength.
7. Regaining lost territories.
On Guerrilla Warfare, p. 43

The above named steps were included in three phases according to Mao Tse-tung (1937) which are fairly indistinct and many times intermingle among one another. The first phase is the period of establishment of the movement and the development of its viability. The support of the people is needed which means that the movement must have some kind of political goal which the masses support otherwise there would be no movement in the first place. The base of the revolution has its roots in this organization, consolidation and preservation of regional base areas phase. The indoctrination of the mass and the persuasion of the mass take place which translates into support in forms of food, recruits and information. In other words, the water is made used to the fish and the peaceful living together of the two is being realized. During this time there might be only sporadic military operations due to the still weak movement. The next phase though is based upon an ever increasing importance of military operations which include acts of sabotage, assassinations of "reactionary elements", attacks on vulnerable military and police posts and targets, and whatever other target can be attacked successfully. During this phase, the progressive expansion phase, the movement learns to fight which Mao Tse-tung (1937) referred to as a university in itself. "Our chief method is to learn warfare through warfare. A person who has had no opportunity to go to school can learn warfare- he can learn through fighting in war…" (Taber, p. 43). The teachings of warfare are not the only part gained by the guerrillas but rather the primary purpose of this phase is the collecting of arms, ammunition, medical supplies and any other essential materials. With the help of this newly equipped guerrilla force, more political agents are being sent out to proceed with the indoctrination of the inhabitants of peripheral districts. Once again a single spark, which is the idea of revolution, can ignite a prairie fire which can not be stopped by water (military) alone. Throughout the first two phases, the primary objective is to get the commitment of as many people as possible so that the movement gradually acquires the quality of mass. Even though the guerrilla force consists only of the hardcore indoctrinated guerrilla, some local "home guards" or militias are formed which support the guerrilla forces from time to time. It is this militia where we can mainly find the school teacher and peasant during the day but the partisan at night (Mao Tse-tung, p. 79-84).

The last phase is the decision or destruction of the enemy phase during which time a significant part of the active guerrilla force transforms into an orthodox army capable of engaging the enemy in conventional battle. Many times this phase is protracted by "negotiations" which are held for the simple reason of gaining time and to wear down and frustrate the enemy army and incumbent regime. So, guerrilla warfare starts with the political partisan who gains support through the population, gains experience and the needed weaponry to resist and to fight until through the help of the population the guerrilla force is being transformed into a "conventional" army capable of destroying the enemy on the conventional battle field (Griffith, p. 22-24).

Throughout this paper one can see that the population is the key in every instance which is reason for the importance of discipline in the guerrilla fighter as well. Mao Tse-tung (1937) emphasized the importance of decentralization of control and he believed that guerrilla units should and must be allowed to operate on their own. Of course an attempt to coordinate the efforts of the individual units must be made as well but Mao Tse-tung stated that "Dispersion, concentration, constant change of position- it is these that guerrillas employ their strength" (p. 102) and in order to use this strength and apply these situationally, guerrilla units must have freedom. The individual in charge of such a guerrilla unit must chose when and where to attack, how and how long a fight will be continued etc. At the end, Mao Tse-tung wrote that "the basis for guerrilla discipline must be the individual conscience" (p. 90) which gives reason for the importance of the indoctrination of these forces. Due to the dispersion and freedom necessary for guerrilla forces to operate successfully, Mao Tse-Tung introduced the "Three Rules and the Eight Remarks" which were used by the Eight Route Army in the hope to further stabilize and increase the unity of spirit between the guerrilla forces and local inhabitants.

  1. All actions are subject to command.
  2. Do not steal from the people.
  3. Be neither selfish nor unjust.

  1. Replace the door when you leave the house.
  2. Roll up the bedding on which you have slept.
  3. Be courteous.
  4. Be honest in your transactions.
  5. Return what you borrow.
  6. Replace what you break.
  7. Do not bathe in the presence of women.
  8. Do not without authority search the pocketbooks of those you arrest.
(On Guerrilla Warfare, p. 92)

If the above named rules are followed, a close unity between the people and the guerrillas is formed which will only increase by the abuse and mistreatment of the population by the incumbent regime and its army. This is reason why guerrilla warfare is a people's war and a people's army which brings us to the next topic. Mao Tse-Tung's ideas and theories were and still are used all over the world but one of the most successful uses and adaptation of Mao's Guerrilla Warfare took place in Vietnam under the leadership of General Vo Nguyen Giap.

General Vo Nguyen Giap's Guerrilla Warfare

The war of liberation of the Vietnamese people proves that, in the
face of an enemy as powerful as he is cruel, victory is possible only
by uniting the whole people within the bosom of a firm and wide national
united front based on the worker- peasant alliance.

    General Giap (The Military Art of People's War, p. 97-98)

Vo Nguyen Giap was born 28 August 1911 in Quang Binh Province. His revolutionary tendencies were already known and in the files of the French security service by the time he was 13 years old. Giap graduated from university with a degree in law and political economics but was forced into exile in China in 1940 due to the ban against the Communist Party. During his exile, Giap met Ho Chi Minh, immersed himself in the study of Mao Tse-Tung's and other military strategist doctrines and attended a political/ guerrilla warfare school. Giap was given increasingly important leadership roles in the Indochinese Communist Party and once the decision was made to actively fight the Japanese and French forces in China, he was named commander of the Viet Minh forces. According to Arthur D. Jackson, Giap had the experience of a major in a western army at the end of 1945 but he was put into the responsibilities of a four star theater commander when he took charge of the Viet Minh (p. 64). It was during these early years that Giap tested the strategies and operational doctrine (learned by Mao Tse-Tung) on the battlefield, analyzed his successes as well as failures and then developed his own kind of revolutionary warfare which followed Mao Tse-Tung's On Guerrilla Warfare in many aspects. The discussion about Mao Tse-Tung's guerrilla warfare was discussed in the above topic which and should give the reader already a basic understanding of guerrilla tactics which is reason why mainly the differences and changes that Giap introduced are being discussed in this chapter.

Giap's "new model" of Mao Tse-Tung's Guerrilla Warfare incorporated a more robust capability and intent to shift back and forth between the various stages of warfare. The shift was dictated by the situation as well as the region where the fighting occurred. Giap tailored Mao's guerrilla warfare to the requirements of the period as well as the geographic location. In his words, he saw a protracted warfare as a gradual altering of the balance of power by a long series of small tactical victories, each of which had been assured by achieving overwhelming local superiority, or declining battle. Giap divided protracted war into three distinct phases which are similar to Mao's but are not the same.

Giap's three phases according to Robert O'Neill (1969) consisted of:

1) Stage on Contention (predominantly organization and guerrilla warfare).
2) Period of Equilibrium (complex mix of guerrilla and mobile warfare).
3) Stage of Counteroffensive (mobile warfare with conventional forces including some positional warfare in late stages) (p. 62).

Giap relied on regular forces much earlier in order to gain and hold new areas. He saw organization and limited guerrilla activity and minor success against the enemy as integral to the overall organizational success. Giap continued and believed that the first phase also targeted enemy morale and attrition. Obviously attacks and other military operations were only conducted when success was certain because otherwise the continuous gaining of popular support was in danger. The wearing down of the enemy was another important aspect at this stage which was supposed to be accomplished by only attacking when success was certain but the withdrawal and the inability of the enemy to find the guerrillas was dragging down their morale. The second phase, the equilibrium, had two aspects; mainly the altering of the balance between the two forces due to the loosing of the will to fight by the enemy and the morale issues both in the enemy army as well as the homeland which affected the reluctant reinforcement of new troops. The next aspect in this phase was the importance of conventional units that were supposed to exploit the gains of the guerrillas already by making deliberate attacks aimed at geographic positions that were supposed to be held. The last phase of Giap, his counteroffensive, is where mobile warfare by large conventional forces would dominate the battle field. During this last phase, the importance of logistics and support functions became much more involved due to the switch from guerrilla to conventional war, at least to some extend (Currey, p. 53, 152-154).

But some other changes are of notable importance as well. Giap' view is much less rigidly structured and more flexible as already mentioned above. Within each stage it reflects the strong influence exerted on national guerrilla strategy by North Vietnam's small size. For Mao, the three stages of protracted war moved from one stage to the next in a continuous and progressive process which means that each phase is precisely delineated and this development is usually carried out at the same time throughout the country. Mao further believed that the process is ongoing which means a retreat from a more advanced stage to an earlier one should not occur. Giap on the other hand saw the three stages merge into one another without a clear cut demarcation between them. Another point in which the North Vietnamese view differs from Mao's can be seen in the uniform development of the different stages. For Giap and Vietnam, the stages did not develop in a uniform pattern throughout the entire country. Giap had all three stages of Guerrilla Warfare throughout the country at the same time which explains why Giap believed that some areas that have already advanced to the third stage may be forced back into one of the other two former stages. This makes the protracted war a subject to innumerable retreats and deviations which is seen in its sporadic nature. Mao though believed that protracted war must be progressive and sequential which meant the entire country must be in the same stage of revolution (Taber, p. 63-64).

Another change from Mao's Guerrilla Warfare to Giap's can be seen in the functions and roles of guerrilla and conventional forces. While Mao placed emphasis on the conventional forces at the last stage, Giap continued to strongly support the guerrilla character in the combination with mixed conventional forces throughout all phases of his protracted war. Mao Tse-tung also urged the retreat to the countryside and the avoidance of positional warfare as can be seen in his words that "the enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue" (p. 46). Base areas for Mao Tse-tung were in the countryside where the support of the people saved the guerrilla. Giap on the other hand recommends a dedicated defense of the cities by using positional warfare and the use of guerrilla forces in such areas even after losing them and the development of base areas in close proximity to the cities. Once again, the geographical space played the significant part in the change of the Maoist doctrine. The second phase has differences as well between the two. Giap focused on the insurgent operations mixed with conventional forces which are being continued into the third stage as well where Mao demanded the use of conventional elements in its purity while Giap believed that final victory results from a combined guerrilla and conventional effort fighting hand in hand (Taber, p. 68-70).

General Vo Nguyen Giap, the school teacher and self taught general, showed the remarkable talent of extracting and applying elements of his choosing from a diverse group of military strategists and tacticians such as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Mao Tse-tung and others. Giap used the ideas of others and adapted them to the unique circumstances of Vietnam. He understood the concept of campaigning from having studied Napoleon and T. E Lawrence; his thoughts on "People's War" show the knowledge of the Clausewitzian trinity and the successful prosecution of war. Giap understood that in a "People's War", the center of gravity is the people. This isn't only the center of gravity of the enemy but also the center of gravity of one's own forces. The "hearts and minds" of the people decide the victor in any "People's War". The word that best describe General Giap's process throughout the use of guerrilla warfare in Vietnam is "adaptive". According to Giap, these adaptations represent "…a wise and creative application of Marxist-Leninist principles on revolutionary war and revolutionary armed forces to the practical situation of a small, weak, colonial and semi-feudal country" (p. 70).

Conclusion- On Guerrilla Warfare

Why does the guerrilla fighter fight?
We must come to the inevitable conclusion
that the guerrilla fighter is a social reformer,
that he takes up arms responding to the angry
protest of the people against their oppressors,
and that he fights in order to change the social
system that keeps all his unarmed brothers
in ignominy and misery. 

    Ernesto Che Guevara (p. 10)

The "wind of revolution" which has brought a communist government to China and Vietnam was and still is felt around the world. Guerrilla Warfare, even though used from the 3rd century B.C. is ever changing and becoming a more powerful weapon in the hands of the technological backwards areas of the world. It is liberating the masses of the poor from the oppression of the privileged few. This wind picked up at the end of World War II and was used as a political phenomenon against the West. We have seen on the example of Vietnam and its able General Vo Nguyen Giap, that this form of revolution can be changed to fit the geographics and demographics of any country. Of course the example of Vietnam is one in a thousand. The Boer Wars, the Greek Civil War, the Napoleon campaign against Spain, the Philippine American War and many other examples throughout the centuries come to mind when discussing Guerrilla Warfare. All of these examples have something in common though, which is the incumbent regime or its army attempts to solve this problem in a purely military way.

After reading this paper, it should be clear that Guerrilla Warfare isn't as much a militarily problem as it is a political one. The idea of the military campaign against guerrillas is senseless. Territory is nothing in a Guerrilla War. The conventional army is even invited to expand which gives the guerrillas more chances to harass. While the conventional army attempts to encircle and suppress the invisible guerrilla, they themselves become encircled by the guerrilla force. No clear frontlines are visible and the guerrilla continues to attack the army's rear and weak spots. Movement of men and material becomes progressively greater and more expensive. The longer the lines of communication and supply get, the more vulnerable they become to guerrilla attacks. As longer as the war continues, the stronger the guerrilla and the weaker the conventional army becomes. It is a war based on time not space. The more the morale of the conventional army declines, the bigger the support for the guerrilla grows. This has been the case now for centuries but many military commanders look the other way and attempt to win this unwinnable war by modern technology.

My plea to learn from history stays unheard by many and we are condemned to repeat our past over and over until the voice is heard and we finally learn all the lessons of history. The war against terror which is currently costing the USA and its allies billions and billions of US $ as well as a substantial amount of human lives, is being fought as a conventional war even though the enemy is using guerrilla tactics around the world. With globalization and the end of the Cold War, the Marxist- Leninist social theory died but the radical religious trend has taken over this part of the guerrilla equation. It might be called terrorism today but the amount of guerrilla tactics used in this war is disturbing. The phases of guerrilla warfare described by Mao Tse-Tung are still reality today in the war on terror. Phase I and to some extent Phase II is happening right now in Iraq and Afghanistan while the belief of being able to counter guerrilla warfare/ terrorism with military power. The winning of the hearts and minds of the people is the most important aspect in such a war but with every disturbing picture of atrocities conducted by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib, every report of rape and killing of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the chance of winning the war dwindles. Every soldier in the conventional army is a diplomat of their country. Every action they take will have consequences in the big picture and in the outcome of this war or any Guerrilla or insurgent War. Mistakes during the Vietnam War, such as the relocation of entire villages, were conducted in the hope to gain the support of the population which would be like taking away the water from a fish (or taking away the support of the population from the guerrilla) but the exact opposite was the case. The enemy's and the population's culture has to be studied so that mistakes such as the one above will not be made. Once again, it is the ability to "know your enemy and yourself" (Sun Tzu) which will make warfare successful. Especially in guerrilla warfare, the West has to know themselves and understand that such a war will be long. Guerrilla Warfare is measured in years and decades which means that the support (West's center of gravity) of the own people will be lost over time. Throughout this paper we have learned a lot about the guerrilla enemy as well as ourselves and it is my believe that the West will never be able to win such a war, unless it uses atomic weapons to eliminate both the guerrilla as well as the supporting populace which would transform the war into a crime against humanity.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2007 Florian Waitl.

Written by Florian Waitl. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Florian Waitl at:

About the author:
Florian L. Waitl, co-founder of Human Dimension Leadership Consulting (HDLC), is a military historian and leadership development specialist. He received his Master of Arts in Military History from Norwich University and has an extensive background in military history, leadership development, team building, and lessons learned programs. He facilitated leadership seminars at dozens of universities and at various prestigious military leadership institutions such as the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), the U.S. Army Engineer School, the British Land Warfare Centre, and the German Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr. To read more about Florian’s accomplishments, connect with him on LinkedIn at

HDLC is a leadership consulting company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri that develops and delivers customized experiential leadership training conveying the lessons of the past to today's leaders. HDLC’s unique and highly effective methodology is designed to improve business operations. Florian and his team translate the military leadership observed on the battlefield into relevant leadership concepts and practices which can be applied by today's business leader. For more information visit

Published online: 12/09/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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