In death, Vietnam War hero made larger than life

In death, Vietnam War hero made larger than life

The story goes that at some point during his long retirement, General Vo Nguyen Giap was given a copy of the book Small Is Beautiful by the British economist E.F. Schumacher on a Friday.

The book, first published in 1973, and subtitled A Study Of Economics As If People Mattered, is considered one of the most influential in the Green movement.

The next Monday, Gen Giap - pronounced "Ziap" - had finished it and was asking for more books on ecology and green economics.

The hero who inspired anti-colonial movements across the world by humbling the mighty French in the battle for Dien Bien Phu in 1954, then took aim at the government's granting of bauxite mining concessions in his country's wild and beautiful Central Highlands to a Chinese company.

At 97, the diminutive man still had tremendous moral authority. His open letter in January 2009 on the negative effects of such mining on forests, waterways and indigenous people prompted 135 intellectuals to petition Vietnam's National Assembly to stop the projects.

In response, the government had to back-pedal, cancelling one project and stalling others.

But Vietnam's one-party communist state run by the Workers' Party does not take kindly to open criticism. Besides, while Gen Giap was a national hero, his star had already begun descending as a new generation took over political and military leadership in the late 1960s, edging him to the sidelines.

As he grew frailer in his long twilight, and until his death on Oct 4 at the age of 103, the man who started life as a journalist and teacher and then without any formal military training became one of the greatest military generals of all time, was inevitably more marginalised. Few outsiders and no journalist had access to him in the hospital where he spent his last four years.

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