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Vietnam War: The Vietcong

America was on a ego-trip when it sent its soldiers into Vietnam. "Our democracy is best for everybody in the world. These poor Vietnamese have to be saved from these commies" was the thinking. The Vietcong have come to have a negative image of sly little Vietnamese fighters who attacked and disappeared and killed good American soldiers. 

Viewed in another sense....

The Vietcong were freedom-fighters who believed in a better Vietnam. May be yes. Who knows what is best for humankind? American style capitalist democracy? Or Chinese capitalist communism? Who were the bad guys in Vietnam? The Americans? Or the Vietcong and the NVA?

Tough to say...

A Vietcong lays a mine


The Viet Cong, or National Liberation Front (NLF), was a leftist, political and military insurgent movement which was created in 1960 in South Vietnam and Cambodia to fight against South Vietnamese and American forces during the Vietnam War (1959-1975). The Viet Cong had both guerrilla and regular army units, as well as a network of cadres who organized and armed peasants in the territory it controlled. Many soldiers were recruited in South Vietnam, but others were attached to the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), which was the regular North Vietnamese army. The Viet Cong was a tool used by the communist government of North Vietnam to overthrow the South Vietman government and unite the country as one communist nation. Many of the Vietcong’s core members were "regroupees," southern Viet Minh guerrillas who had resettled in the North after the Geneva Accord (1954). Hanoi gave the regroupees military training and sent them back to the South along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the early 1960s. Northerners and southerners communist guerrillas were always under the same command structure.

The name "Viet Cong" derives from "Viet gian cong san", which means "Communist Traitor to Vietnam." It was a derogatory term that Ngo Dinh Diem gave to his communist opponents. The word appeared in Saigon newspapers for the first time in 1956. However, the earliest citation for "Vietcong" in English is from 1957. American soldiers referred to the Vietcong as Victor Charlie or VC. "Victor" and "Charlie" are both letters in the NATO phonetic alphabet. "Charlie" referred to communist forces in general, both Vietcong and North Vietnamese.


Viet Cong dead after an attack on the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut Air Base 


Vietnam, May 1968. With fear and apprehension showing on their faces, and at the urging of South Vietnamese troops, women and children scurry past the bodies of three Viet Cong killed in the fighting. (The stall in the backgound is an ice cream stand.)



This picture showing Viet Cong prisoners being loaded into a South Vietnamese Jeep was taken in 1962

It was perhaps the most controversial cover for LIFE magazine, which usually steered clear of controversy. Paul Schutzers captured this image of a VietCong prisoner gagged and bound, being taken prisoner by American forces during the Vietnam War. Photography and news coverage like this helped to turn the American public against the Vietnam war.

Schutzer, one of LIFE’s best photographers, worked frequently in the Middle East during his short career and there he would perish too: he was killed on assignment on June 5, 1967, the first day of the Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

It is almost dehumanizing to personally witness the execution, no matter what the victim had done. It mattered a little that the person about to be executed was a Viet Cong Guerrilla named Bay Hop responsible for killing twelve only that fateful morning. It matter a little that his group of guerillas had slaughtered the family of his executioner’s best friend in a house just up the road. America–a nation that still supports death penalty by overwhelming numbers (for various reasons)–was shocked to its core. In the picture, its framing, its lighting and its depth mattered little. For instance, picture was cropped again and again just to display the general and his victim. However, the act, ‘the thing itself’ spoke directly–the general is the personification of America’s hidden hand and her dirty involvement in the Vietnam Quagmire. The fact that the executioner was American-educated and trained Brig. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (then South Vietnam’s National Chief of Police) did not help either.

In Adams’s photograph, we see Loan firing a bullet point blank into Hop’s head; Hop, wincing, appears to be receiving the bullet. Ironically enough, it has been argued that Ngoc Loan was only interested in publicly assassinating the Viet Cong prisoner because there were AP press corps there to capture the image. For him, the photographic evidence of the execution was meant to teach the Vietcong what would happen to their forces if caught.

The photograph was published on the front page of the New York Times and, along with the NBC film of the same event, is credited with having provoked the civilian outrage that lead to massive demonstrations against the war. Although the above photo was not as graphically violent an ending as shown by the television footage of the same incident, for many viewers, the picture was a climactic moment, proclaiming the horror and immorality of the war, signifying its barbarity and its incoherence. Within two months, President Johnson would be announcing his desire not to pursue a second term.
Source: iconicphotos


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