Revealing the Viet Cong's Hidden History: Uncovering Forgotten Acts of Terrorism

Revealing the Viet Cong's Hidden History: Uncovering Forgotten Acts of Terrorism

Editorial Commentary: Last month, Vietnam commenced legal proceedings against 75 suspects under Article 113 of its Penal Code, charging them with "conducting terrorism aimed at opposing the people's administration," following the deadly attacks on June 11, 2023, in Dak Lak Province, near Buon Ma Thuot's city center. As the nation addresses current cases of terrorism, it cannot escape the historical reality that the Vietnamese government harbors a dark secret - a past involving numerous terrorist attacks perpetrated in the South during the Vietnam War (1954-1975).

In the shadows of history lie the past and forgotten acts of terrorism, which preceded the world's formal definition of such atrocities in international law. The people of South Vietnam bore the brunt of these heinous acts, leaving lasting injuries and indelible memories etched within their collective consciousness. Though concealed, these stories must be documented and shared, serving as a poignant reminder of the suffering endured by civilians who witnessed these tragedies. By shedding light on this dark past, we gain valuable insights into the current regime in Vietnam through its historical conduct.

The scene of the 1965 terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Photo: Graphics: Luat Khoa Magazine.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly issued its Resolution 49/60 [1] to define terrorism titled "Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism" as follows:

"Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."

Nearly 20 years after the Vietnam War, international law intensified efforts to combat and eliminate terrorism globally. Regrettably, during that war, acts of terrorism were employed as a method of engagement in this war-torn nation by the Communist forces. [2]

When discussing the Vietnam War (1964-1975) and the preceding period (1954-1963), many Westerners and native Vietnamese believe that the United States and the Republic of Vietnam committed numerous war crimes and other reprehensible acts against civilians. Luat Khoa Magazine previously published some articles related to these incidents, specifically the series about the My Lai Massacre. [3]

Despite the abundance of evidence, many people often overlook the extensive sources documenting organized terrorist acts committed by the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLF), commonly referred to as the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong received support and operated under the auspices of the government in the North, known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

1954-1960: Targeting State Officials, the Extrajudicial Killings of Teachers, and the Persecution of "Class Enemies."

The Viet Minh, a nationalist organization at the forefront of Vietnam's fight for independence from French colonial rule, served as a precursor to the Vietnamese Communist Party, which later gained power in North Vietnam and continued to do so for the entire country after 1975. Although vehemently condemning Ngo Dinh Diem's Law 10-59 for being oppressive and lacking judicial appeal rights, they conveniently overlooked the historical context that led to the law's enactment, which was in response to the terrorist activities the Communist forces had been carrying out in the South since 1954.

Despite decrying the law for being oppressive, brutal, and a form of domestic terrorism due to the absence of judicial appeal rights, the Communists conveniently omitted their share of the historical context that led to Law 10-59's implementation.

Một góc Sài Gòn những năm 1950. Ảnh: Flickr/Chưa rõ nguồn.
The Continental Palace in Saigon in the 1950s. Photo: Flickr/Unknown source.

After 1954, in compliance with the Geneva Agreement, Viet Minh forces in South Vietnam relocated to the North. Still, they left behind a network of underground organizations with a strong base, armed forces, and a well-equipped military system. The North Vietnamese government kept its financial and material support to these groups limited and secretive, fearing direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War could hinder the unification of Vietnam under Communist control. Nevertheless, pursuing their armed terrorist activities caused confusion and immense pressure on the Republic of Vietnam's national security system, especially as the South Vietnamese state, infrastructure, villages, and social systems were not as well-established as those in the North.

Robert G. Scigliano's research titled "Political Parties in South Vietnam Under the Republic" provides some insights into the terrorism landscape in this region. [4]

Scigliano documented individual acts of sabotage and terrorism that historians often overlook. From death threats and the kidnapping of family members to the assassination of local officials, village chiefs, and other influential figures, his research compiles all the worst acts of terrorism committed during this period.

He also states that the Viet Minh attacks disrupted many activities of the South Vietnamese government, such as collecting population information, land reform, and even promoting education for children in rural areas. Even simple, non-violent civil tasks often carried the risk of death for officials and social workers of the South Vietnamese government. Scigliano estimated that, on average, one Southern government employee was killed by Communist insurgents every day from 1955 to 1959.

This statement is confirmed in the Saigon Daily News Round-up reports, compiled and reported by the United States Operation Missions. These files are archived by a Michigan State University project that preserves documents from the Vietnam War era. [5]

These news reports confirmed the prevalence of terrorist activities in the South. For instance, in the news bulletin on July 27, 1956, it was reported that the Viet Cong beheaded a 65-year-old landowner named Vo Van Meo in Can Tho and that Viet Cong forces killed a police officer in Soc Trang while he was on patrol. Incidents like this gradually became "ordinary occurrences in the district." [6]

Supporters of these actions will argue that the Viet Minh only targeted "village tyrants and villains." Yet, what gives them the right to pass judgment without due process or legal oversight? How did they conclude who deserved which judgment if there were no trials?

It seemed that the Viet Minh did not distinguish between killing innocent individuals or those they deemed as guilty, as the terrorist nature of their actions remained constant.

In another comprehensive study by Anthony James Joes, a political scientist at Saint Joseph's University in the United States, which focused on guerrilla warfare and its political consequences, the author dedicates a chapter to the cruelty and horrific damage not only to human lives and property but also to the welfare programs initiated by the Republic of Vietnam in rural regions. Local Communist factions targeted these programs during their terrorist campaigns. [7]

In his research, Joes discusses victims who were village and commune officials in rural areas. According to his data, armed Viet Cong groups did not discriminate when kidnapping and killing local officials or village chiefs. He commented that the Communists killed corrupt and abusive officials to gain attention and support from the masses. However, the Viet Cong also executed diligent and clean officials and talented community leaders to convey that the Saigon government could not protect anyone. As a result of these killings, the Communists simultaneously severed local governance capacity and left local communities without leaders.

According to HistoryNet, these tactics were initiated to eliminate anyone who dared resist and enabled Viet Cong members to infiltrate villages to collect "taxes." [8]

In time, the Communist targets expanded to include middle-class individuals from Southern Vietnam, including healthcare workers, social workers, teachers, college lecturers, and others who were completely innocent and posed no threat to the Viet Cong's "struggle for independence."

Joes notes that teachers were among the most targeted because they often held nationalist sentiments, possessed knowledge, did not believe in communism, and often had influence in the communities where they lived.

He also documented that by 1958, the Viet Cong had killed up to 25,000 civil servants, teachers, and village chiefs - not including casualties from official military campaigns. Other documents suggest that the Viet Cong's strategy completely drained the vitality and self-governance ability of local communities in Southern Vietnam, which would take several generations to recover. [9]

At times, the Viet Cong would even kill the entire families of officials or teachers to prove they were severe and make their message more "clear" and "far-reaching." The horrific massacre of 17 children, adults, and elders from a civil servant's family in Chau Doc in 1957 is evidence of this senseless terrorism.

Blurring the line between "combatants" and "non-combatants," the Communists brought an endless war to South Vietnam. Civil programs such as the national anti-malaria program, poverty reduction initiatives, and literacy campaigns for children all came to an end when Viet Cong soldiers senselessly killed social workers.

1960 - 1968: Indiscriminate Attacks Against the Entire Populace

Many individuals argue that war is inherently cruel and violent, yet often fail to question the underlying reasons for its perpetual state of brutality. Since the 17th-18th centuries, international law began to impose limits on weapons that cause unnecessary physical pain or indiscriminately target combatants and civilians, such as cluster munitions, poisons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, mines, lethal traps, and the like. [11]

The conflict in  Southern Vietnam was classified as an insurgency rather than an armed conflict. Hence, the use of terrorist actions by the NLF against "soft targets" cannot be justified by any legal or political means.

Hiện trường vụ đánh bom khủng bố Tòa Đô Chánh tại Sài Gòn ngày 26/10/1962. Ảnh: Chưa rõ nguồn.
The scene of a terrorist bombing at the Hôtel de Ville in Saigon on October 26, 1962. Photo: Unknown source.

After the establishment of the NLF in 1960, the frequency and scale of terrorist attacks increased.

Of particular note is the establishment of the "Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Region Special Action Group" (code name F100) that specialized in detonating bombs attached to bicycles in front of buildings, carrying out grenade attacks in markets, and other widespread acts of terrorism in bars, restaurants, cinemas, and hotels. At this point, the Viet Cong's campaign of terror in Southern Vietnam considered everyone a potential target because the Communists no longer identified specific individuals and shifted their focus to causing as much destruction and fear as possible.

If the objective of the 1954-1960 phase was to sever the administrative connection between urban and rural areas in South Vietnam, the terrorist acts after 1960 were aimed at creating an atmosphere of chaos, confusion, and undermining confidence in the security capabilities of the Republic of Vietnam's military. According to the language used in the study "Viet-Cong Strategy of Terror," the Viet Cong in the South transformed itself into "full-time terrorist soldiers." [12]

The publication "Viet Cong Terror Tactics in South Viet-Nam" sheds light on these allegations. [13] It also provides an example of the Viet Cong's terrorist activities against the press: the attack on two individuals connected to the Chinh Luan newspaper.

Chinh Luan was an anti-war newspaper that aimed to bring the truth to readers in Southern Vietnam. American observers called it an independent newspaper because it criticized the Republic of Vietnam but also condemned the activities of the Viet Cong. In response to the newspaper's reporting, the Viet Cong sent death threats to the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Dang Van Sung, and an editor, Tu Chung.

In early December 1965, Vo Cong Minh, leader of the NLF's Detachment 618 in the Saigon-Gia Dinh area, issued a stern warning to Sung and Chung, threatening consequences should they continue their criticism of the Viet Cong; their defiant response, refusing to yield to the threat of violence, was promptly published in the Chinh Luan newspaper along with the letter from Minh.

On December 30, 1965, as Tu Chung stepped out of his car in front of his house, two terrorists shot him four times at close range, killing him on the spot.

Hiện trường vụ đánh bom khủng bố tòa đại sứ Mỹ ở Sài Gòn năm 1965. Ảnh: Chưa rõ nguồn.
The scene of a terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon in 1965. Photo: Unknown source.

Among the Viet Cong's numerous non-selective terrorist attacks in the South of Vietnam, a few notable incidents include:

  • The deaths of two state employees, Phan Van Hai and Nguyen Van Thach, who served in the national anti-dengue project. They were slashed to death in Bien Hoa in 1962;
  • The grenade attack on a cinema in Can Tho in 1962 resulted in the deaths of 108 people, including 24 women and children;
  • The bombing of Kinh Do cinema in 1964, which led to 32 Vietnamese casualties and three American casualties; and
  • The bombing of the Cong Hoa National Stadium in 1965 killed 11 people and injured 42 others.

Many other acts of terrorism took place, including artillery attacks on crowded areas, markets, and schools.

Even the New York Times, one of the staunchest anti-war newspapers in the United States, had to admit that the Viet Cong's actions could never be justified. [14]

On December 5, 1967, Viet Cong insurgents, in coordination with regular North Vietnamese forces, launched a dawn attack with gunfire, grenades, and flamethrowers on a Montagnard village, killing anyone who tried to flee. Over 200 villagers were killed, and dozens were reported missing.

Hoạt động khủng bố của lực lượng Việt Cộng đã được dựng thành phim "Biệt động Sài Gòn". Ảnh: Người Đưa Tin.
The terrorist activities of Viet Cong forces were made into the movie "Saigon Rangers,” praising those acts in Vietnam for many decades. Photo:

In 1968, the Tet Offensive unfolded with the Viet Cong's ambitious objective of "liberating" major provinces and cities in Southern Vietnam. It marked a pivotal moment as the Viet Cong transitioned from terrorist strategies to the utilization of regular military units and large-scale direct warfare. However, this strategic shift did not signify a complete abandonment of terrorist tactics; they persisted in using these tactics whenever deemed necessary. In essence, the Tet Offensive itself emerged as a significant act of terrorism on a grand scale.

Regrettably, the casualties resulting from the Viet Cong's activities, supported by the North Vietnamese government, have often been overlooked by historians and observers both within Vietnam and worldwide. It is our hope that by providing this information, supported by substantial evidence, we can contribute to the archival records and stimulate thoughtful discussions surrounding the Vietnam War. Additionally, it is crucial to reassess the legitimacy of the current government through an analysis grounded in historical context.

This article was written in Vietnamese and previously published in the Luat Khoa Magazine on April 19, 2020. Lee Nguyen and Karie Nguyen translated this into English.


1. 1. Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism (1994). (n.d.). United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law.

2. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2008, July). Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism.

3. Võ Văn Quản. (2019, March 16). Thảm sát Mỹ Lai và một phiên tòa không bao giờ tới. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí.

4. Scigliano, R. G. (1960). Political Parties in South Vietnam Under the Republic. Pacific Affairs, 33(4), 327–346.

5. Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections. (n.d.). Vietnam Project (UA MSU Vietnam Group Archive. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from

6. United States Operations Mission, & Radford, A. W. (1956, July 27). Saigon Daily News Round-Up, No. 166, July 27, 1956. MSU Vietnam Group Archive.

7. Joes, A. J. (2001). The War for South Viet Nam, 1954–1975. Praeger Publishers. Google Books

8. Ward, R. (2014, February). A Study in Terror. HistoryNet.

9. Pike, D. (1970). The Viet-Cong Strategy of Terror. United States Mission, Viet-Nam.

10. Dooley, T. (1961). Deliver Us from Evil. Signet.

11. Weapons. (2011, November 30). International Committee Of The Red Cross.

12. See [9]

13. Office Of Media Services, Bureau Of Public Affairs, Department Of State. (1967, July 7). Viet Cong Terror Tactics in South Viet-Nam [Press release]. Google Books.

14. Stur, H. (2017, December 19). The Viet Cong Committed Atrocities, Too. The New York Times.

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