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Viet Cong Soldier
A Viet Cong soldier crouches in a bunker, 1968.
Photo: National Archives

The Vietcong

During the Cold War (1947-1991), the U.S. and Russia avoid nuclear annihilation by waging "proxy wars," supporting opposing sides in regional conflicts. Vietnam is a classic proxy war, with the Viet Cong substituting for the Soviet bloc, and the U.S. providing aid and air support (bombing) to a puppet regime.

Vietnam's internal conflict begins in 1954, when the nation wins freedom from French colonial rule. The resulting treaty, shaped by the U.S. and Soviets, includes a two-year division of Vietnam. In the North, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) gets aid and guidance from Communist Russia and China. In the South, the U.S. gives support to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).

Killed Wounded
U.S. 58,202 304,704
South 223,748 1,169,763
North/VC 1,100,000 600,000
Civilians est 2-4 million unknown

Insurgents fighting in the South are called Viet Nam Cong San, meaning Vietnamese Communists-later shortened to Viet Cong (also Vietcong) or simply VC. Not all Viet Cong are Communists; many just want all foreigners to withdraw. But the U.S. views the VC, and their sympathizers, as extensions of the Communist threat.

In the NATO radio alphabet used for U.S. radio messages, VC is pronounced Victor-Charlie. Soon, Charlie is being used as derogatory slang for the enemy, reflecting U.S. efforts to dehumanize the Vietnamese.

The VC never win a major battle, but their will to win exceeds that of the U.S. In 1975, Vietnam is reunited under a Communist government.

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