The NLF and the VC

I am astonished that a fiction created by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam war persists. North Vietnam pretended—and the U.S. accepted—that the Viet Cong (VC) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, also called the National Liberation Front (NLF), were independent groups opposed to the U.S. and the South Vietnamese government. Neither was real.

The term Vit Cng is an abbreviation of the Vietnamese Vit Nam Cng Sn, which means Vietnamese communist. Neither the North Vietnamese nor the communists in the south ever used the term. U.S. personnel in Vietnam used Việt Cộng, and its abbreviation, VC, to designate southern Vietnamese who were communists independent of but allied to the North Vietnamese. No such group ever existed. All the Vietnamese Communists, whether natives of north, central, or south Vietnam, were loyal to and completely under the control of North Vietnam. There was no distinction.

The NLF was equally unreal. It was purported to be an alliance of all patriotic southerners who opposed the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. In fact, it was fabrication invented by North Vietnam. The declaration of the NLF was written by the Lao động (Workers) Party, the communists, in Hanoi in 1960 and then promulgated throughout South Vietnam under the pretense that it was composed by southerners in opposition to the rulers of South Vietnam and the U.S. In fact, the NLF never existed.

I was taken aback while reading Brian VanDeMark’s Road to Destruction (see my review at to see that the author referred to both groups as if they were real and independent. I’m now reading Robert McNamara’s In Retrospect. He, too, speaks of both groups as genuinely autonomous players.

I’ve written at length elsewhere (see my New York Times article at about the failure of the U.S. to believe its own intelligence during the Vietnam war. Surely anyone reading my reporting and that of other analysts from the National Security Agency beginning 1961 would have known beyond doubt that the VC and NLF were North Vietnamese creations. VanDeMark notes that one of our failures during the Vietnam war was our ignorance of Vietnam, its history, and its culture. We didn’t call on the few experts we had in the government. I add that we ignored our own intelligence. Little wonder we were surprised that we won all the major battles but lost the war.

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