A reader of this blog has asked again why I always refer to the communists in Vietnam as the North Vietnamese and never the Việt Cộng (VC). To repeat in part a post of several years ago, here is the answer.
First of all, “Việt Cộng” is short for the Vietnamese Việt Nam Cộng-sản which simply means Vietnamese Communist. The communists themselves never used the term. Americans used Việt Cộng or VC to mean the communists native to South Vietnam, independent of the north, as opposed to the North Vietnamese army regulars who infiltrated South Vietnam. The Americans who used the term bought into the fiction North Vietnam had created that an independent movement developed in South Vietnam that rebelled against the South Vietnamese government. That movement, according to the fiction, was named the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam), shortened to National Liberation Front or NLF. The front was never a real organization. It was a cover for North Vietnamese operations in South Vietnam.
Second, the entire effort to defeat the South Vietnamese government and the American forces was a North Vietnamese endeavor. Every aspect of it was controlled by Hanoi. There was no independent rebellion in the south. So the American distinction between “North Vietnamese Army” (NVA) and “Việt Cộng” (VC) addressed a difference that never existed. The North Vietnamese army, called the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) by the north, included three categories of forces: regulars, regional forces, and guerrillas. The latter two were what we Americans called Việt Cộng, but troops in these categories were neither independent of the north nor native to south Vietnam. All three types of PAVN soldiers included northern, central, and southern natives.
The evidence that southern communist forces were an integral part of the North Vietnamese armed forces and under the iron control of Hanoi was apparent in the communications structure of the communists. The entire operation, both military and political, was controlled from Hanoi. Confirmation of Hanoi’s control came from messages we intercepted and decrypted in the early 1960s. In those messages, the politburo of the Vietnamese Workers Party (Đảng lao động Việt Nam—the name of the communist party) in Hanoi transmitted to covert party members operating in South Vietnam the manifesto of the Liberation Front, proclaiming it was an independent southern organization opposed to the legitimate government of South Vietnam. The front never existed. It was a propaganda invention of Hanoi.
Therefore, the most accurate term for the forces fighting the South Vietnamese and the Americans is the North Vietnamese. That’s who they were, and that’s what I call them.