Why the Viet Cong Were Called “Charlie”
First, because I suspect there are at least a few people curious and it pertains to how the name “Charlie” ultimately came about, let’s discuss how the term “Viet Cong” came about at all. It comes from “Việt Nam Cộng-sản”, which just means “Vietnamese Communists”. This, in turn, was shortened to just Việt Cộng, with the first documented instances of such appearing in various Saigon newspapers in 1956.
From here, “Viet Cong” was commonly further shortened to “VC”, which in the NATO phonetic alphabet is pronounced “Victor-Charlie”, which gave rise to the further shortened, “Charlie” designation.
It’s also interesting to note here that “Vietnamese Communists” is possibly something of misnomer, at least partially. Even though the Viet Cong, or “National Liberation Front for South Vietnam”, were in some ways an arm of the People’s Army of Vietnam in the North, fighting the same cause (against the U.S. and the Southern Vietnamese government the U.S. was supporting), in fact some members of the Viet Cong were not themselves necessarily communists. They were just people who joined the National Liberation Front because they weren’t happy with the foreign influence on their government and the presence of foreign soldiers. However, due to rampant war propaganda on both sides, it’s difficult to ascertain just what percentage (significant or not) of the National Liberation Front was actually South Vietnamese people who simply were fed up with their government and the U.S. interference, and what percentage was made up of Northern forces or otherwise supplied or directly under Northern control.
Whatever the case, as the United States and the South Vietnamese government’s official stance during the war was more of the latter “Arm of the People’s Army”. Thus, amongst U.S. soldiers and South Vietnamese allies, “Viet Cong” (and “Charlie” for the U.S. soldiers) came to commonly refer not just to the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, but also to the North Vietnamese army soldiers- basically, any enemy Vietnamese troops were slapped with the label.
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- The name “Vietnam” derives from “Nam Việt”, which literally means “Southern Viet”, with “Viet” simply being a name for a group of people living in present day Vietnam and southern China all the way as far back as 200 BC. The name “Vietnam” itself didn’t first pop up until around the 16th century, with the first documented instance of it in the poem Sấm Trạng Trình, meaning “The Prophecies of Trang Trinh” by Nguyen Binh Khiem, with “Trang Trinh”, simply being a nickname of the author, Khiem.
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