Also in 1960, in an effort to present a united front, southern Communists formed the National Liberation Front(NLF), which the North Vietnamese government officially recognized and sanctioned. Immediately, the NLF began a program to both train and arm guerrilla soldiers. Over the course of the next few years, the terms “NLF” and “Viet Cong” began to be used interchangeably, and ultimately the once-derisive “Viet Cong” became common parlance that was used throughout the war, especially by the U.S. military.
Although the Ngo family was universally hated in South Vietnam, Diem, despite his Catholic faith and dictatorial tendencies, had been widely respected as a sincere nationalist in the years before he came to power. Indeed, he was in many respects just as nationalistic as Ho Chi Minh. It was for these reasons that the United States felt that Diem represented the best hope for a strong South Vietnamese government that could resist Communist influence.
As it turned out, Diem’s regime was undemocratic, corrupt, and extreme from the beginning, and, as evidenced by the formation of ARVN, dependent on U.S. strength. Though Diem was popular among Catholics and had some influence in South Vietnam’s cities, his regime was universally hated in rural areas, which proved a perfect hiding and training ground for Communist forces. And in a nation as undeveloped as Vietnam was at the time, power in the cities meant far less than it would have in a developed country.
Indeed, though the United States established Diem as leader to halt Communist expansion, his repressive techniques, corrupt government, and inept public relations—such as his decision to grant his hated sister-in-law, Madame Nhu, a public stage—had the opposite effect. Under Diem, the number of active southern Communists increased dramatically. To the United States, operating under the domino theory, this Communist expansion posed a massive threat.