General Tran Hung Dao's Words to His Officers

In the 13th century, Vietnam was time and time again bothered by China's ambitions to reconquer the land that had fought to be free from Chinese control. The three attempts by the Mongols to retake Vietnam failed disgracefully because of great resistance of the Vietnamese army led General Tran Hung Dao (see information below). The success of the Vietnamese army owed greatly to the skill of this hero, whose words to his men have been recorded as follows:

Translated and adapted by George F. Schultz

I have often read the story of Ky Tin who replaced the Emperor Cao to save him from death, of Do Vu who took a blow in his back to spare King Chieu, of Du Nhuong who swallowed burning charcoal to avenge his leader, of Than Khoai who cut off an arm to save his country, of young Kinh Duc who rescued the Emperor Thai Tong besieged by The Sung, and of Cao Khanh, a subject living far from the Court, who insulted the rebel Loc Son to his face. Every century has produced heroes who have sacrificed their lives for their country. If they had remained at home to die by the fire, would their names have been inscribed on bamboo and silk to live eternally in Heaven and on the Earth?But as descendants of warrior families, you are not well-versed in letters; on hearing about these deeds of the past, you may have some doubts. Let us speak of them no more. I shall tell you instead of several more recent events that have taken place during the years of the Tong and Nguyen dynasties.Who was Vuong Cong Kien? And who was his lieutenant Nguyen Van Lap? They were the ones who defended the great citadel of Dieu Ngu against Mong Kha's immense army; Therefore, the Tong people will be eternally grateful to them.Who was Cot-Ngai Ngot-Lang? And who was his lieutenant Xich Tu Tu? They were the ones who drove deep into an unhealthful country in order to put down the Nam-Chieu bandits and they did it within the space of a few weeks; therefore, their names have remained rooted in the minds of the Mongol military chieftains.You and I were born in a period of troubles and have grown up at a time when the Fatherland is in danger. We have seen the enemy ambassadors haughtily traveling over our roads and wagging their owlish tongues to insult the Court. Despicable as dogs and goats, they boldly humiliate our high officials. Supported by the Mongol emperor, they incessantly demand the payment of pearls, silks, gold and silver. Our wealth is limited but their cupidity is infinite. To yield to their exactions would be to feed their insatiable appetites and would set a dangerous precedent for the future.In the face of these dangers to the Fatherland, I fail to eat during the day and to sleep at night. Tears roll down my cheeks and my heart bleeds as if it were being cut to shreds. I tremble with anger because I cannot eat our enemy's flesh, lie down in his skin, chew up his liver, and drink his blood. I would gladly surrender my life a thousand times on the field of battle if I could do these things.You have served in the army under my orders for a long time. When you needed clothing, I clothed you; when you lacked rice, I fed you; when your rank was too low, I promoted you; when your pay was insufficient, I increased it. If you had to travel by water, I supplied you with vessels; if you had to travel by land, I supplied you with horses. In time of war, we shared the same dangers; at the banquet table our laughter resounded in unison. Indeed, even Cong-Kien and Ngot-Lang did not show more solicitude for their officers than I have displayed for you.And now, you remain calm when your emperor is humiliated; you remain indifferent when your country is threatened! You, officers, are forced to serve the barbarians and you feel no shame! You hear the music played for their ambassadors and you do not leap up in anger. No, you amuse yourselves at the cockfights, in gambling, in the possession of your gardens and rice fields, and in the tranquility of family life. The exploitation of your personal affairs makes you forget your duties to the State; the distractions of the fields and of the hunt make you neglect military exercises; you are seduced by liquor and music. If the enemy comes, will your cocks' spurs be able to pierce his armor? Will the ruses you use in your games of chance be of use in repulsing him? Will the love of your wives and children be of any use in the Army? Your money would neither suffice to buy the enemy's death, your alcohol to besot him, nor your music to deafen him.All of us, you and I together, would then be taken prisoner. What grief! And not only would I lose my fief, but your property too would fall into enemy hands. It would not be my family alone that would be driven out, but your wives and children would also be reduced to slavery. It would not be only the graves of my ancestors that would be trampled under the invader's heel, but those of your ancestors would also be violated. I would be humiliated in this life and in a hundred others to come, and my name would be ignominiously tarnished. Your family's honor would also be sullied forever with the shame of your defeat. Tell me: Could you then indulge yourselves in pleasures?I say to you in all frankness: Take care as if you were piling wood by the fire or about to imbibe a hot liquid. Exercise your soldiers in the skills of archery until they are the equals of Bang Mong and Hau Nghe, those famous archers of olden times. Then we will display Tat-Liet's head at the gates of the Imperial Palace and send the King of Yunnan to the gallows.After that, not only my fief will be safe forever, but your privileges too will be assured for the future. Not only my family will enjoy the comforts of life, but you too will be able to spend your old age with your wives and children. Not only the memory of my ancestors will be venerated from generation to generation, but yours too will be worshipped in the spring and autumn of every year. Not only will I have accomplished my aspirations in this life, but your fame too will endure for a hundred centuries to come. Not only will my name be immortalized, but yours too will find a place in our nation's history. At that moment, would you not be perfectly happy even if you did not expect to be?I have studied every military treatise in order to write my manual entitled "Principles of Military Strategy". If you will make an effort to study it conscientiously, to instruct yourselves in its teachings, and to follow my directions, you will become my true companions-in-arms. On the other hand, if you fail to study it and ignore my advice, you will become my enemies. Why? Because the Mongols are our mortal enemies; we cannot live under the same sky with them.If you refuse to fight the Mongols in order to wash away the national shame, if you do not train your soldiers to drive out these barbarians, it would be to surrender to them. If that is what you want, your names will be dishonored forever. And when the enemy has finally been defeated, how will you be able to hold your head high between Heaven and Earth? The purpose of this proclamation is to let you know my deepest thoughts.


1257: General Tran Hung Dao leads the Vietnamese armies to resist the first Mongol invasion. The Mongol armies of Kublai Khan invaded Vietnam who had anticipated their attacks and evacuated the city beforehand. Disease, shortage of supplies, the climate, and the Vietnamese strategy of harassment and scorchedearth tactics foiled their invasions.

1285: Second Mongol invasion. Kublai Khan demanded passage through the Kingdom of Dai Viet (in northern Vietnam) for his Yuan army on their invasion of the kingdom of Champa. When Dai Viet’s Emperor Tran Nhan Tong refused, the Mongol army, led by Prince Toghan, attacked Dai Viet and seized the capital Thang Long (modern day Hanoi). The Vietnamese retreated to the south after burning off most of their crops and facilities. Tran Hung Dao and other generals escorted the Royal Court, staying just ahead of the Mongol army in hot pursuit. When the Mongol army had been worn down with tropical diseases and lack of supplies, Tran Hung Dao launched a counter-offensive. Most of the battles were on the waterfronts, where the Mongols could not use their cavalry strength. Mongol commander Sogetu of the southern front was killed in the battle. In their withdrawal from Dai Viet, the Mongols were also attacked by the Hmong and Yao minorities in the northern regions.

1287: Third Mongol invasion. The third Mongol invasion, of 300,000 men and a vast fleet, was also defeated by the Vietnamese under the leadership of General Tran Hung Dao. Borrowing a tactic used by Ngo Quyen in 938 to defeat an invading Chinese fleet, the Vietnamese drove iron-tipped stakes into the bed of the Bach Dang River (located in northern Vietnam in present-day Ha Bac, Hai Hung, and Quang Ninh provinces), and then, with a small Vietnamese flotilla, lured the Mongol fleet into the river just as the tide was starting to ebb. Trapped or impaled by the iron-tipped stakes, the entire Mongol fleet of 400 craft was sunk, captured, or burned by Vietnamese fire arrows. The Mongol army retreated to China, harassed enroute by Tran Hung Dao's troops. The entire Mongol fleet was destroyed, and Omar, the Mongol fleet admiral was captured and executed. The ground force of Prince Toghan was more fortunate. They were ambushed along the road through Noi Bang, but managed to escape back to China by dividing their forces into smaller retreating groups.

Vietnam is the only nation to defeat the Mongols, who at their peak swept out of remote northern Asia on horse cavalry and conquered China, much of Southeast Asia, Russia, and on into present day Poland and Germany.


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We gonna fight until the last Vietnamese fall down, Người Việt còn Việt Nam còn .

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