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Viet Cong (Việt Cộng)

Vietnamese. ‘Viet Community’ Name of the political organization in Vietnam, known in English as the National Liberation Front. The organization had its own army, i.e. the People's Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam, fighting the South Vietnamese government, which was supported by the United States. It had operatives in South Vietnam and in Cambodia, both guerrilla and regular army units, either volunteers recruited in the South or attached to the People's Army of Vietnam, i.e. the regular North Vietnamese army, as well as the activation of southern Viet Minh cadres who had stayed behind in South Vietnam after the 1954 resettlement, yet all under a single command structure set up in 1958. Those who received military training in Hanoi were sent to the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a cross-border logistical supply route that ran from the North to the South through Laos and Cambodia, in order to bring about an insurgency in the South. After the unification of Vietnam in 1976, the organization merged with the Vietnamese Fatherland Front. In wartime, the Viet Cong, skilled at guerrilla warfare and often referred to by western soldiers as the VC, became known for their punji stick traps (fig.) and their use of extensive underground tunnel systems, which were of enormous strategic importance and crucial to the VC war effort. Some of their tunnels were built as a hiding place and shelter against enemy attacks, and had facilities such as a kitchen, a washing room, a health station, and a toilet. The often small-sized entrances, allowed easy and quick access to the local Vietnamese, they were more difficult to enter by the larger westerner soldiers. Enter, the so-called tunnel rat, i.e. volunteer western infantrymen, generally but not exclusively of smaller stature, that were deployed on underground search and destroy missions. These missions were extremely dangerous as, besides VC fighters laying in wait, the tunnels often had booby traps, as well as possible dangerous creatures, such as venomous snakes, scorpions and spiders, as well as bats, living in them (fig.), if not placed there by the VC as additional ward. To disguise their whereabouts, entrances to the tunnels were often camouflaged and underground kitchens had a subterranean bamboo pipe system that would divert the smoke hundreds of meters away from its origin, emerging elsewhere in a field or forest, ideally under some smouldering burned leaves (fig.) or a pile of manure, thus avoiding immediate detection by the enemy. Today, many of these VC tunnels are a major tourist attraction, including the Cu Chi tunnel complex (fig.) near Ho Chi Minh City; the Bach Ma tunnels (fig.), between the Hai Van Pass (fig.) and the city of Hue; and the Vinh Moc tunnel complex (fig.) in Quang Tri.