Giap was a master of logistics, but his reputation rests on more than that. His victories were achieved by a patient strategy that he and Ho Chi Minh were convinced would succeed—an unwavering resolve to suffer immense casualties and the near total destruction of their country to defeat any adversary, no matter how powerful. “You will kill 10 of us, we will kill one of you,” he said, “but in the end, you will tire of it first.”

Giap executed that strategy with an unbending will. The French repulsed wave after wave of frontal attacks at Dien Bien Phu. The 1968 Tet offensive against the U.S. was a military disaster that effectively destroyed the Viet Cong. But Giap persisted and prevailed.

The U.S. never lost a battle against North Vietnam, but it lost the war. Countries, not just their armies, win wars. Giap understood that. We didn’t. Americans tired of the dying and the killing before the Vietnamese did. It’s hard to defend the morality of the strategy. But you can’t deny its success.

Near the end of our meeting, I made another attempt to test Giap’s candor. I asked him if it were true that he had opposed Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. He dismissed that too, with something like, “the party’s decisions are always correct.”