Why I Don’t Use the Designation Viet Cong

Readers point out that in my postings about why we lost the Vietnam war, I didn’t mention the Viet Cong (VC). That was deliberate.

It was clear to me from signals intelligence, beginning in 1960, that the communist forces in Vietnam, north and south, were under the iron control of Lao Dong (Workers) Party (that is, the communist party) Central Committee in Hanoi. The party ran the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), as the communists called the country, and commanded the whole effort to conquer South Vietnam. In other words, there was no independent communist resistance to the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. All of it was directed by North Vietnam.

For reasons I never understood, the U.S. government bought into North Vietnamese propaganda that the anti-government communist forces in South Vietnam were independent, not under North Vietnamese direction. We termed those supposedly independent forces “Viet Cong” to distinguish them from “North Vietnamese Army” (NVA). We assumed, without evidence, that the guerrilla and local forces were VC, not NVA. Despite that, we never doubted that the VC and NVA cooperated as allies.

The term Việt Cộng in Vietnamese simply means “Vietnamese Communist.” Hence, the term could apply to all the communist forces ranged again the U.S., not just to southerners. The North Vietnamese never used the term.

Another fiction created by North Vietnam was that resistance to the U.S. and the government of South Vietnam was an organization that united all those in opposition, both communist and non-communist. That imaginary organization was named the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, or, for short, the National Liberation front (NLF). The manifesto declaring the creation of the NLF was drafted by the Lao Dong Party in Hanoi in the early 1960s and transmitted to the communists in South Vietnam who then announced the front’s establishment. The NLF never existed.

An accurate system for labeling different military units of the NVA would have been to call them main force, local force, and guerrilla. In the ranks of all these units were people from the north, central, and southern regions of Vietnam. Their region of origin was not what distinguished them. Their participation in the NVA did.

The misidentification of the southern communists as VC has withstood the test of time. Virtually every book I have read on Vietnam preserves the distinction between the NVA and the VC and refers to the NLF as a real organization. To this day, we haven’t grasped that the enemy in Vietnam was a single entity, all of it under the firm control of the Vietnamese Communists in North Vietnam.

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