A Viet Cong soldier, heavily guarded, awaits interrogation following capture in the attacks on Saigon during the festive Tet holiday period of 1968. (Tổng tiến công Tết Mậu Thân)
Viet Cong (Việt Cộng) was a name used by American and allied soldiers in Vietnam, as well as by much of the English language media to refer to the armed insurgents and political dissidents fighting against the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The name was derived from a contraction for the Vietnamese phrase Việt Nam Cộng Sản, or "Vietnamese Communist." The primary group covered by the term is the guerrilla army formally named the People's Armed Liberation Forces (PALF), the military of the National Front for the Liberation of Southern Vietnam (Vietnamese Mặt Trận Giải Phóng Miền Nam Việt Nam) or National Liberation Front (NLF). In areas under its control the NLF also included many non-military cadres, including villages chiefs, village clerks, and school teachers. Many consider the term Viet Cong fairly derogatory, although its widespread use in the United States and Europe since the Vietnam War has made the term better known than the proper name of the NLF.
This expression originated with and was used by the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) government of South Vietnam under President Ngo Dinh Diem. It was originally a general term used to describe his political opponents, many (but not all) of whom were Communists. Its use became widespread in Vietnam after the 1954 partition of the country between the RVN in the south and the communist-dominated Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the north. The NLF and its guerrilla army, the People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF), never used the name "Viet Cong" to refer to themselves, and always asserted that they were a national front of all anti-RVN forces, communist or not.
In U.S. military usage Viet Cong was the successor term to Viet Minh, which described the forces led by Ho Chi Minh against the French for the independence of Viet Nam in the First Indochina War, from 1945 to 1954; however, unlike the term Viet Minh, which described all of the forces fighting France, Viet Cong specifically referred only to the insurgent forces in South Vietnam. North Vietnam regular army forces were described as PAVN (People's Army of Viet Nam) or simply North Vietnamese Army (Quân đội Bắc Việt).
In 1969, the National Front formed a provisional Republic of South Vietnam which took power briefly after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and before the reunification of the country under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.
The U.S. military complained that the Viet Cong often appeared to be part of the civilian population, and thus U.S. troops could not tell the difference between the Viet Cong insurgents and peaceful civilians. During the Vietnam War, U.S. stated policy was to treat captured Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars as Enemy Prisoners of War under the Geneva Convention of 1949.
- Holmes Brown and Don Luce. 1973. Hostages of War: Saigon's Political Prisoners. Washington, DC: Indochina Mobile Education Project. ISBN none.
- Frances Fitzgerald. 1972. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316284238. (See the description in Chapter 4. 'The National Liberation Front'.)
- Douglas Valentine. 1990. The Phoenix Program. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 068809130X.
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