Readers regularly ask me why I refer to Vietnamese Communist forces during the Vietnam war as North Vietnamese and not Viet Cong or VC. To answer that question, I resurrected a blog post from a couple of years ago. Here it is with some updating:
First of all, “Viet Cong” is short for the Vietnamese Việt Nam Cộng-sản which simply means Vietnamese Communist. The communists themselves never used the term. Americans used Viet Cong or VC to mean the communists native to South Vietnam, independent of the north, as opposed to the North Vietnamese 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 “Viet Cong” (VC) assumed a reality that never actually 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 Viet Cong, 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.
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.