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People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front

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  • 0:02 Why They Fought
  • 1:44 Operations of the NLF
  • 2:56 Operations of PAVN
  • 3:44 Combat Strategy of…
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front represented North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. This lesson will focus on the overall ideology, the respective operations of the groups and the tactics employed against the United States.

Why They Fought

The People's Army of Vietnam, or PAVN, and the National Liberation Front, or NLF, shared responsibilities as the fighting and political forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam. It is important to understand the ideology of both PAVN and the NLF during the Vietnam War because it was vastly different from any opponent the United States had previously engaged. The failure of the United States to comprehend why the Vietnamese fought led to a long, costly and unsuccessful American engagement in Vietnam.

Unification was the foremost objective of North Vietnam. After the Geneva Conference in 1954 split the nation into two states, North Vietnam battled to reunite the country. The notion of 'one country, one leader' stemmed directly from the deeply rooted Vietnamese tradition of family, village and state. In a family, there should only be one father. The Vietnamese applied this idea of one father to their struggle for unity. In other words, one father represented one unified nation; only one unified nation would bring lasting peace.

In addition to Vietnamese tradition, PAVN and the NLF developed a campaign comprised of an 'armed' and 'political' struggle. The 'armed' struggle was the battle against the United States and the Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam. The United States, combined with South Vietnamese, or Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), forces, were able to defeat the majority of the 'armed' struggle. The 'political' struggle was the doctrine of winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese while forcing a prolonged conflict with the United States. North Vietnam's determined goal to outlast the United States proved to be the key to success in the Vietnam War, simply because the North Vietnamese knew that the American home front would not allow an extensive conflict.

Operations of the National Liberation Front

The NLF represented the insurgency, sponsored by North Vietnam, in the southernmost sections of South Vietnam. Most members of the NLF received their orders directly from the Central Office of South Vietnam, or COSVN, which was the primary political and military planning and coordinating unit for the insurgency. The NLF was expected to carry out two basic missions: interdiction and harassment of United States and South Vietnamese forces and winning the support of the Vietnamese through a 'people's war' in order to turn them against the South Vietnam government.

The NLF had a mix of results in battles against the United States and South Vietnamese forces. Its real success came in undermining the United States' program of rural pacification in South Vietnam. Members of the NLF were able to infiltrate into South Vietnamese villages and provide aid and support to the struggling Vietnamese. The result was the increased protection of NLF soldiers in South Vietnamese villages as well as the Vietnamese support of the battle for unification. This was a great example of the notion of the 'political' struggle. The United States eventually avenged its years of complications against the insurgency when, in 1968, the NLF was decimated in the Tet Offensive. Following the offensive, the NLF could not muster the strength and prowess it once enjoyed.

Operations of the People's Army of Vietnam

PAVN, under the primary leadership of General Vo Nguyen Giap, was the regular force and spent much of the pre-Tet Offensive portion of the war fighting in select battles and providing logistics support to the NLF insurgency. PAVN operated primarily in the northern sections of South Vietnam. It picked its battles carefully, as the NLF was expected to be the main fighting force in the war.

PAVN helped to develop vital pathways on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, pressure civilians, coordinate the movement of troops into and out of South Vietnam and provide weapons and materials to the NLF. PAVN was also responsible for supplying and supporting the communist Pathet Lao in Laos and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in its respective battles. Following the loss of the NLF in the Tet Offensive, PAVN assumed the role as the primary combat force of North Vietnam. Let's switch gears and take a look at the fighting strategy of PAVN and the NLF.

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