NGO DINH DIEM
CIA ASSASSINATED PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM
BETRAYED ALLY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
PRESIDENT NGO DIEM
THE AMERICAN LEADERS WHOSE CIA MURDERED
THREE YEARS LATER UNDER PRESIDENT KENNEDY...
BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL... WATCH WHOM YOU BEFRIEND...
NEVER TRY TO BE FRIENDS WITH AMERICA...
Ngô Đ́nh Diệm (Vietnamese:
Ngô Đ́nh Diệm,
ɗîɲ zjə̂ˀm], Saigon: [ɗîn
listen)), (January 3, 1901 – November 2,
1963) was the first President of
Vietnam (1955–1963). In the wake of the French
withdrawal from Indochina as a result of the
1954 Geneva Accords, Diệm led the effort to create the
Republic of Vietnam. Accruing considerable U.S. support
due to his staunch
anti-Communism, he achieved victory in a
1955 plebiscite that was widely considered fraudulent.
Proclaiming himself the Republic's first President, he
demonstrated considerable political skill in the
consolidation of his power, and his rule proved
authoritarian, elitist, nepotistic, and corrupt. A
Roman Catholic, Diệm pursued policies that rankled and
oppressed the Republic's
Montagnard natives and its
Buddhist majority. Amid
religious protests that garnered worldwide attention,
Diệm lost the backing of his
U.S. patrons and was
Nguyễn Văn Nhung, the aide of
Dương Văn Minh on November 2, 1963, during a
coup d'état that deposed his government.
Family and childhood
Ngô Đ́nh Diệm was born in
original capital of the
Diệm came from the village of Phu Cam in central Vietnam.
Portuguese missionaries had converted his family to Roman
Catholicism in the 17th century so Diệm was also given a
name, following the custom of the Catholic Church.
Diệm's full name thus became Jean Baptiste Ngô Đ́nh Diệm.
Diệm would often claim that he had descended from a
blue-blooded family of
mandarins who were so revered that people believed that
it was a great honour and good luck to be buried alongside
his ancestors. Most historians dismiss this as false and
believe that his family were of low rank until his father
passed the imperial examinations.
Khả, scrapped plans to become a Roman Catholic priest
and became a mandarin and counselor to Emperor
during the French colonisation. He rose to become the
minister of the rites and
chamberlain, and keeper of the
eunuchs. Khả had six sons and three daughters by his
second wife, whom he married after his first died childless.
Devoutly Roman Catholic, Khả took his entire family to Mass
every morning. The third of six sons, Diệm was christened
Jean-Baptiste in the cathedral in Huế. In 1907, the French
deposed the emperor on the pretext of insanity because of
his complaints about the colonisation. Khả retired in
protest and became a farmer. Diệm laboured in the family’s
rice fields while studying at a French Catholic school, and
later entered a private school started by his father. Aged
fifteen, he followed his elder brother,
Ngô Đ́nh Thục, later to become Vietnam’s highest ranking
Catholic bishop, into a monastery. After a few months, he
left, finding monastic life too rigorous.
At the end of his secondary schooling, his examination
results at the French
lycée in Huế saw him offered a scholarship to Paris
but declined to contemplate becoming a priest. He dropped
the idea, believing it to be too rigorous. He moved to
study at the School of Public Administration and Law, a
French school that trained Vietnamese bureaucrats. It was
there that he had the only romantic relationship of his life
when he fell in love with one of his teacher’s daughters.
After she herself persisted with her vocation entering a
convent, he remained celibate.
After graduating at the top of his class in 1921, Diệm
followed in the footsteps of his eldest brother,
Ngô Đ́nh Khôi, joining the civil service. Starting from
the lowest rank of mandarin, Diệm steadily rose. He first
served at the royal library in Huế, and within one year was
the district chief, presiding over seventy villages. Diệm
was promoted to be a provincial chief at the age of 25,
overseeing 300 villages. Diệm's rise was helped by Khôi's
marriage to the daughter of
Nguyễn Hữu Bài, the Catholic head of the Council of
Ministers. Bài was highly regarded among the French and
Diệm's religious and family ties impressed him. The French
were impressed by his work ethic but were irritated by his
frequent calls to grant more autonomy to Vietnamese. Diệm
said that he contemplated resigning but encouragement from
the populace convinced him to persist. He first encountered
communists distributing propaganda while riding horseback
through the region near
Quảng Trị. Diệm involved himself in anti-communist
activities for the first time, printing his own pamphlets.
In 1929, he helped to round up communist agitators in his
administrative area. He was rewarded with the promotion to
the governorship of
Phan Thiết Province, and in 1930 and 1931 suppressed the
first peasant revolts organised by the communists, in
collaboration with French forces. During the violent events,
many villagers were raped and murdered.
In 1933, with the return of
to ascend the throne, Diệm was appointed by the French to be
his interior minister following lobbying by Bài. After
calling for the French to introduce a Vietnamese
legislature, he resigned after three months in office when
this was rejected. He was stripped of his decorations and
titles and threatened with arrest.
For the next decade, Diệm lived as a private citizen with
his family, although he was kept under surveillance. He was
to have no formal job for 21 years. He spent his time on
reading, meditating, attending church, gardening, hunting
and amateur photography. Being a conservative, Diệm was not
a believer in revolutions and confined his nationalist
activities to occasional trips to Saigon to meet with
Phan Bội Châu. With the start of the Second World War in
the Pacific, he attempted to persuade the invading Japanese
forces to declare independence for Vietnam in 1942 but was
ignored. He founded a secret political party, the
Association for the Restoration of Great Vietnam. When its
existence was discovered in the summer of 1944, the French
declared Diệm to be a subversive and ordered his arrest. He
fled to Saigon disguised as a Japanese officer. In 1945, the
Japanese offered him the premiership of a puppet regime
under Bảo Đại which they organised upon leaving the country.
He declined initially, but regretted his decision and
attempted to reclaim the offer. Bảo Đại had already given
the post to another candidate and Diệm avoided the stigma of
being a collaborationist. In September 1945 after the
Hồ Chí Minh proclaimed the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam, his
Việt Minh began fighting the French. Diệm attempted to
travel to Huế to dissuade Bảo Đại from joining Hồ, but was
arrested by the Việt Minh along the way and exiled to a
highland village near the border. He might have died of
malaria, dysentery and influenza had the local tribesmen not
nursed him back to health. Six months later, he was taken to
meet Hồ in Hanoi, but refused to join the Việt Minh,
assailing Hồ for the death of his brother Khoi. Khoi had
been buried alive by Việt Minh cadres.
Diệm continued to attempt to gather support for himself
on an anti-Vietminh platform. Despite having little success,
Ho was sufficiently irritated to order his arrest. Diem
narrowly evaded arrest but was given respite in November
1946 when clashes between the French and Vietminh escalated
into full scale war, forcing to Vietminh to divert their
resources to fighting. Diem then moved south to the Saigon
region to live with Thuc. Diem then jointly founded the
Vietnam National Alliance, which called for France to
grant Vietnam dominion status similar to the
Commonwealth of Nations. The alliance was sufficient to
generate support to fund newspapers in Hanoi and Saigon
respectively. Both were shut down; the editor in Hanoi was
arrested and hit men were hired to kill his Saigon
counterpart. Diem's activities had gained him substantial
publicity and when France decided to make concessions to
placate nationalist agitators, they asked him to lobby Bảo
Đại to join them. Diem gave up when Bảo Đại made a deal
which he felt to be soft, and returned to Huế. In the
meantime, the French had started the
State of Vietnam and Diem refused Bảo Đại's offer to
become the Prime Minister. He then published a new manifesto
in newspapers proclaiming a third force different to
communism and French colonialism, but raised little
interest. In 1950, the Vietminh lost patience sentenced him
to death in absentia, and the French refused to protect him.
Ho's cadres tried to kill him while he was traveling to
visit his elder brother
Ngo Dinh Thuc in the
Delta, where he was the bishop of the Vĩnh Long diocese.
Diem then left Vietnam in 1950.
Diem applied for permission to travel to Rome for the
Holy Year celebrations at the Vatican. After gaining French
permission he left in August with Thuc, apparently destined
to become a politically irrelevant figure. Before going to
Europe, Diem went to Japan, where he intended to meet
to enlist support to seize power. Neither this nor an
attempt to woo help from General
Douglas MacArthur, the American supreme commander in
occupied Japan, yielded meetings.
A friend managed to organise a meeting with
Wesley Fishel, an American academic who had done
consultancy work for the US government. Fishel was a
proponent of the anti-colonial, anti-communist third force
doctrine in Asia and was impressed with Diem. He helped Diem
to organise contacts and meetings in the United States to
It was an opportune time for Diem, with the outbreak of the
McCarthyism helping to make Vietnamese anti-communists a
sought after commodity in America. Diem was given a
reception at the State Department with the Acting Secretary
James Webb. Possibly intimidated, he gave a weak
performance in which Thuc did much of the talking.
As a result, no further audiences with notable officials
were afforded to him. However, he did meet Cardinal
Francis Spellman, regarded as the most politically
powerful cleric of his time. Spellman had studied with Thuc
in Rome in the 1930s and was to become one of Diem's most
powerful advocates. Diem managed an audience with Pope
Pius XII in Rome before further lobbying across Europe.
Diem also attempted to convince Bảo Đại to make him the
Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam but was turned down.
Diệm returned to the United States to continue lobbying and
in 1951 was able to secure an audience with Secretary of
During the next three years he lived at Spellman's
Maryknoll seminary in
Lakewood Township, New Jersey and occasionally at
another seminary in
Ossining, New York.
Spellman helped Diệm to garner support among right wing and
Catholic circles such as that of
Joseph McCarthy. Diem toured the east of America
speaking at universities, arguing that Vietnam could only be
saved for the "free world" if the US sponsored a government
of nationalists who were opposed to both the Vietminh and
the French. He was appointed as a consultant to
Michigan State University's Government Research Bureau,
where Fishel worked. MSU was administering
government-sponsored assistance programs for cold war
allies, and Diệm helped Fishel to lay the foundation for a
program later implemented in South Vietnam, the
Michigan State University Vietnam Advisory Group. As
French power in Vietnam declined, Diệm's support in America
made his stock rise.
With the fall of
Bien Phu in 1954 to the Vietminh, French control of
Vietnam collapsed and Bảo Đại needed foreign help to sustain
his State of Vietnam. Realising Diệm's popularity among
American policymakers, he chose Diệm's youngest brother
Dinh Luyen, who was studying in Europe at the time, to
be part of his delegation at the 1954 Geneva Conference to
determine the future of Indochina. Luyen represented Bảo Đại
in his dealings with the Americans, who understood this to
be an expression of interest in Diệm. With the backing of
Eisenhower administration, Bảo Đại named Diệm as the
Prime Minister. The appointment was widely condemned by
French officials, who felt that Diệm was incompetent, with
the Prime Minister Mendes-France declaring Diệm to be a
The Geneva accords resulted in Vietnam being partitioned
temporarily at the 17th parallel, pending elections in 1956
to reunify the country. The Vietminh controlled the north,
while the French backed State of Vietnam controlled the
south with Diệm as the Prime Minister. French Indochina was
to be dissolved at the start of 1955. Diệm's South
Vietnamese delegation chose not to sign the accords,
refusing to have half the country under communist rule, but
the agreement went into effect regardless.
Diệm arrived at
Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon on June 26, where only a
few hundred people turned out to greet him, mainly
Catholics. Diệm managed only one wave after getting into his
vehicle and did not smile. He was not a man of the people
and did not intend to become one, being more interested in
commanding respect than popular affection.
Consolidation of power
The accords allowed for freedom of movement between the
two zones until October 1954; this was to put a large strain
on the south. Diệm had only expected 10,000 refugees, but by
August, there were over 200,000 waiting in Hanoi and
Haiphong to be evacuated; the migration helped to
strengthen Diệm's political base of support. Before the
partition, the majority of Vietnam's Catholic population
lived in the north. After the borders were sealed, this
majority was now under Diệm's rule. The US Navy program
Operation Passage to Freedom saw up to one million North
Vietnamese move south, most of them Catholic.
Edward Lansdale, who had been posted to help Diệm
strengthen his rule,
led a propaganda campaign to encourage as many refugees to
move south as possible. This effort was twofold: to
strengthen the Catholic population specifically and the
population generally to help win the 1956 reunification
elections. This included sending South Vietnamese agents
into the north to spread rumours of impending doom, such as
Chinese invasion and pillaging, hiring soothsayers to
predict disaster under communism, and claiming that the
Americans would use nuclear weapons on North Vietnam. Diệm
also used slogans such as "Christ has gone south" and "the
Virgin Mary had departed from the North", alleging
anti-Catholic persecution under Ho Chi Minh. Over 60% of
northern Catholics moved to Diệm's South Vietnam, providing
him with a source of loyal support.
Diệm's position at the time was weak; Bảo Đại disliked
Diệm and appointed him mainly to political imperatives. The
French saw him as hostile and hoped that his rule would
collapse. At the time, the French Expeditionary Corps was
the most powerful military force in the south; Diệm's
Vietnamese National Army was essentially organised and
trained by the French. Its officers were installed by the
French and the chief of staff General
Nguyen Van Hinh was a French citizen; Hinh loathed Diệm
and frequently disobeyed him.
Diệm also had to contend with two religious sects, the
and Hoa Hao,
who wielded private armies in the
Delta, with the Cao Dai estimated to have 25,000 men.
The Vietminh was also estimated to have control over a third
of the country. The situation was worse in the capital,
Binh Xuyen organised crime syndicate boasted an army of
40,000 and controlled a vice empire of brothels, casinos,
extortion rackets, and opium factories unparalleled in Asia.
Bảo Đại had given the Binh Xuyen control of the national
police for 1.25 m USD, creating a situation that the
Americans likened to Chicago under
in the 1920s. In effect, Diệm's control did not extend
beyond his palace.
In August, Hinh launched a series of public attacks on
Diệm, proclaiming that South Vietnam needed a "strong and
popular" leader; Hinh bragged that he was preparing a coup.
This was thwarted when Lansdale arranged overseas holiday
invitations for Hinh's officers. Fearing Diệm's collapse,
nine members of his government resigned during Hinh's
abortive bid for power. Despite its failure, the French
continued to encourage Diệm's enemies in an attempt to
Establishment of the Republic of Vietnam
Diệm's appointment came after the French had been
defeated at the
Battle of Dien Bien Phu and were ready to withdraw from
At the start of 1955,
French Indochina was dissolved, leaving Diệm in
temporary control of the south.
A referendum was scheduled for October 23, 1955 to determine
the future direction of the south. It was contested by
the Emperor, advocating the restoration of the monarchy,
while Diệm ran on a republican platform. The elections were
held, with Diệm's brother and confidant
Ngô Đ́nh Nhu, the leader of the family's
Can Lao Party, which supplied Diệm's electoral base,
organising and supervising the elections.
Campaigning for Bảo Đại was prohibited, and the result was
rigged, with Bảo Đại supporters attacked by Nhu's workers.
Diệm recorded 98.2% of the vote, including 605,025 votes in
Saigon, where only 450,000 voters were registered. Diệm's
tally also exceeded the registration numbers in other
Three days later, Diệm proclaimed the formation of the
Republic of Vietnam, naming himself President.
1954 Geneva Accords, Vietnam was to undergo elections in
1956 to reunify the country. Diệm, noting that South Vietnam
was not a party to the convention, canceled these.
Criticising the Communists, he justified the electoral
cancellation by claiming that the 1956 elections would be
"meaningful only on the condition that they are absolutely
free", despite his numerically impossible tally in the 1955
After coming under pressure from within the country and
the United States, Diệm agreed to hold legislative elections
in August 1959 for South Vietnam. Newspapers were not
allowed to publish names of independent candidates or their
policies, and political meetings exceeding five people were
prohibited. Candidates were disqualified for petty reasons
such as acts of vandalism against campaign posters. In the
rural areas, candidates who ran were threatened using
charges of conspiracy with the Vietcong, which carried the
Quang Dan, the government's most prominent critic, was
allowed to run. Despite the deployment of 8,000
ARVN plainclothes troops into his district to vote, Dan
still won with a 6–1 ratio. The busing of soldiers occurred
across the country, and when the new assembly convened, Dan
Diệm's rule was
nepotistic. His most trusted official was his brother,
Ngô Đ́nh Nhu, leader of the primary pro-Diệm
Can Lao political party, who was an
addict and admirer of
Hitler. He modeled the Can Lao secret police's marching
style and torture styles on Nazi designs.
Cẩn, his younger brother, was put in charge of the
former Imperial City of Huế. Although neither Cẩn or Nhu
held any official role in the government, they ruled their
regions of South Vietnam, commanding private armies and
Ngô Đ́nh Luyện, was appointed Ambassador to the United
Kingdom. His elder brother,
Ngô Đ́nh Thục, was the
of Huế. Despite this, Thuc lived in the Presidential Palace,
along with Nhu, Nhu's wife and Diệm. Diệm was
nationalistic, devoutly Catholic,
anti-Communist, and preferred the philosophies of
Diệm's rule was also pervaded by family corruption. Can
was widely believed to be involved in illegal smuggling of
Vietnam on the black market and
throughout Asia via
well as monopolising the
trade, amassing a fortune stored in foreign banks.
With Nhu, Can competed for U.S. contracts and rice trade.
Thuc, the most powerful religious leader in the country, was
allowed to solicit "voluntary contributions to the Church"
from Saigon businessmen, which was likened to "tax notices".
Thuc also used his position to acquire farms, businesses,
urban real estate, rental property and rubber plantations
for the Catholic Church. He also used
Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel to work on his
timber and construction projects. The Nhus amassed a fortune
by running numbers and lottery rackets, manipulating
currency and extorting money from Saigon businesses. Luyen
became a multimillionaire by speculating in piasters and
pounds on the currency exchange using inside government
Madame Nhu, the wife of his brother Nhu, was South
First Lady, and she led the way in Diệm's programs to
reform Saigon society in accordance with their Catholic
values. Brothels and
opium dens were closed, divorce and abortion made
illegal, and adultery laws were strengthened. Diệm also won
a street war with the private army of the
organised crime syndicate of the Cholon brothels and
gambling houses who had enjoyed special favors under the
French and Bảo Đại. He further dismantled the private armies
of the Cao
Hoa Hao religious sects, which controlled parts of the
Delta. Diệm was also passionately anti-Communist.
Tortures and killings of "communist suspects" were committed
on a daily basis. The death toll was put at around 50,000
with 75,000 imprisonments, and Diệm's effort extended beyond
communists to anti-communist dissidents and anti-corruption
As opposition to Diệm's rule in South Vietnam grew, a
low-level insurgency began to take shape there in 1957.
Finally, in January 1959, under pressure from southern
cadres who were being successfully targeted by Diệm's secret
police, Hanoi's Central Committee issued a secret resolution
authorizing the use of armed struggle in the South. On 20
December 1960, under instruction from Hanoi, southern
communists established the
National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam in
order to overthrow the government of the south. The NLF was
made up of two distinct groups: South Vietnamese
intellectuals who opposed the government and were
nationalists; and communists who had remained in the south
after the partition and regrouping of 1954 as well as those
who had since come from the north, together with local
peasants. While there were many non-communist members of the
NLF, they were subject to the control of the party cadres
and increasingly side-lined as the conflict continued; they
did, however, enable the NLF to portray itself as a
primarily nationalist, rather than communist, movement.
The cornerstone of Diệm's counterinsurgency effort was
Strategic Hamlet Program, which called for the
consolidation of 14,000 villages of South Vietnam into
11,000 secure hamlets, each with its own houses, schools,
wells, and watchtowers. The hamlets were intended to isolate
NLF from the villages, their source of recruiting
soldiers, supplies and information.
The communists in southern Vietnam resolved that "if we
are able to kill Ngo Dinh Diem, the leader of the current
fascists dictatorial puppet government, the situation would
develop along lines more favourable to our side."
Accordingly, on February 22, 1957, when Diem made a visit to
an economic fair in
Ban Me Thuot, a communist cadre named Ha Minh Tri
carried out a directive to assassinate the president. He
approached Diem and fired a pistol from close range, but
missed, hitting the Secretary of Agrarian Reform's left arm.
The weapon jammed and security overpowered Tri before he was
able to fire another shot. Diem was unmoved by the incident.
There was an additional attempt to assassinate Ngo (as
well as his family) in 1962 when two air force officers
—acting in unison —bombed the presidential palace.
In 1957, Diệm visited the United States and Australia,
where he was hailed as a "leader of the free world". He was
widely feted by the media and politicians of both major
parties for his anti-communist convictions.
Diệm was the subject of a failed coup, which occurred in
During the 1946–54 war against the
Union forces, the
Vietminh, having gained control of parts of southern
Vietnam, initiated land reform. During the period of war,
rent collection, which hovered at around 50–70%, was
impossible in some parts of the country, or the Vietminh had
compelled landlords to seek safety in the city and
confiscated their land, distributing it to the peasants.
When Diệm came to power, he reversed these reallocations as
upper-class landowners were part of his ideological support
base. In the Mekong Delta, 0.025% of landowners owned 40% of
the land; most of the land was owned by absentee landlords
and worked by tenant farmers.
This generated resentment among the populace, as land
ownership was highly valued by Vietnamese society. Diệm
declared that landlords could collect no more than 25%, but
this was not enforced and in some cases the rent levels were
higher than those under French colonisation. Under U.S.
pressure, in 1956, he limited individual land holdings to
1.15 km², and reimbursed the landlords for the excess, which
he sold to peasants. Many landlords evaded the
redistribution by transferring the property to the name of
family members. In addition, the ceiling limit was more than
30 times that allowed in
Taiwan, and the 370,000 acres (1,500 km2) of
Catholic Church land were exempted. As a result, only 13% of
the South Vietnam's land was redistributed, and by the end
of his regime, only 10% of the tenants had received any
land, at a high cost. This policy failure generated anger,
and in turn sympathy to the Vietminh who had given the
peasants free land. At the end of Diệm's rule, 10% of the
population owned 55% of the land.
Believing that the central highlands may be of strategic
importance to the
Vietcong or in a potential invasion by
Vietnam, Diệm decided to construct a
Line of settlements. The area, inhabited by
Montagnard indigenous people, had been largely allowed
local autonomy in previous times, and the locals distrusted
ethnic Vietnamese. Diệm initiated a program of internal
migration where 210,000 Vietnamese, mainly Catholics, were
moved to Montagnard land in fortified settlements.
When the Montagnards protested, Diệm's forces confiscated
their spears and bows, which they used to hunt for daily
Since then, and to the present day, Vietnam has been faced
with a Montagnard insurgent separatist movement.
Government policy towards Buddhists
In a country where surveys of the religious composition
estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90
Diệm's policies generated claims of religious bias. As a
member of the
Catholic Vietnamese minority, he is widely regarded by
historians as having pursued pro-Catholic policies that
antagonized many Buddhists. Specifically, the government was
regarded as being biased towards Catholics in public service
and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land,
business favors and tax concessions.
Diệm also once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that
he was a Buddhist, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive
places. They can be trusted." Many officers in the
Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Catholicism
in the belief that their military prospects depended on it.
Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village
self-defense militias intended to repel Vietcong guerrillas
saw weapons only given to Catholics, with Buddhists in the
army being denied promotion if they refused to convert to
Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies,
and in some areas forced conversions, looting, shelling and
demolition of pagodas occurred.
Some Buddhist villages converted en masse in order to
receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diệm's
The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the
country, and the "private" status that was imposed on
Buddhism by the French, which required official permission
to conduct public Buddhist activities, was not repealed by
The land owned by the Catholic Church was exempt from land
Catholics were also de facto exempt from the
labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform;
U.S. aid was disproportionately distributed to Catholic
majority villages. Under Diệm, the Catholic Church enjoyed
special exemptions in property acquisition, and in 1959,
Diệm dedicated his country to the
The white and gold Vatican flag was regularly flown at
all major public events in South Vietnam.
U.S. Aid supplies tended to go to Catholics, and the newly
Dalat universities were placed under Catholic authority
to foster a Catholic-skewed academic environment.
The regime's relations with the U.S. worsened during
1963, as well as heightening discontent among South
Vietnam's Buddhist majority.
In May, in the central city of
Diệm's elder brother was the archbishop, Buddhists were
prohibited from displaying Buddhist flags during
Vesak celebrations commemorating the birth of
Gautama Buddha when the government cited a regulation
prohibiting the display of non-government flags.
A few days earlier, Catholics were allowed to fly religious
flags at another celebration where the regulation was not
This led to a protest led by
Tri Quang against the government, which was suppressed
by Diệm's forces, killing nine unarmed civilians. Diệm and
his supporters blamed the
Vietcong for the deaths and claimed that the protesters
were responsible for the violence.
Although the provincial chief expressed sorrow for the
killings and offered to compensate the victims' families,
they resolutely denied that government forces were
responsible for the killings and blamed the Vietcong.
The Buddhists pushed for a five point agreement: freedom
to fly religious flags, an end to arbitrary arrests,
compensation for the Huế victims, punishment for the
officials responsible and religious equality. Diệm labeled
the Buddhists as "damn fools" for demanding something that,
according to him, they already enjoyed.
Diệm banned demonstrations, and ordered his forces to
arrest those who engaged in civil disobedience. On June 3,
1963, protesters attempted to march towards Tu Dam Pagoda.
Six waves of ARVN tear gas and attack dogs failed to
disperse the crowds, and finally brownish-red liquid
chemicals were doused on praying protesters, resulting in 67
being hospitalised for chemical injuries. A curfew was
The turning point came in June when a Buddhist monk,
Quảng Đức, set himself on fire in the middle of a busy
Saigon intersection in protest of Diệm's policies; photos of
this event were disseminated around the world, and for many
people these pictures came to represent the failure of
A number of other monks publicly
self-immolated, and the U.S. grew increasingly
frustrated with the unpopular leader's public image in both
Vietnam and the United States. Diệm used his conventional
anti-communist argument, identifying the dissenters as
As demonstrations against his government continued
throughout the summer, the special forces loyal to Diệm's
brother Nhu conducted
an August raid of the Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon. The
Pagodas were vandalised, monks beaten, the cremated remains
of Thích Quảng Đức, which included a heart which did not
disintegrate, were confiscated.
Simultaneous raids were carried out across the country, with
Dam Pagoda in Huế being looted, the statue of
Gautama Buddha demolished and a body of a deceased monk
When the populace came to the defense of the monks, the
resulting clashes saw 30 civilians killed and 200 wounded.
In all 1400 monks were arrested, and some thirty were
injured across the country. The U.S. indicated their
disapproval of Diệm's administration when their ambassador
Henry Cabot Lodge visited the Pagoda ex post facto.
No further mass Buddhist protests occurred during the
remainder of Diệm's rule.
During this time, Madame Nhu, who was the de facto
first lady because of Diệm's bachelor life, inflamed the
situation by mockingly applauding the suicides, referring to
them as "barbecues" while Nhu stated "If the Buddhists want
to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the
The pagoda raids stoked widespread public disquiet in the
previously apolitical Saigon public. Students at
Saigon University boycotted classes and rioted, which
led to arrests, imprisonments and the closure of the
university; this was repeated at Huế's University. When high
school students demonstrated, Diệm arrested them as well;
over 1,000 students from Saigon's leading high school, most
of them children of Saigon public servants, were sent to
re-education camps. Children as young as five were also sent
to these camps on charges of anti-government graffiti.
Diệm's foreign minister
Vu Van Mau resigned, shaving his head like a Buddhist
monk in protest.
When he attempted to leave the country on a religious
pilgrimage, Diệm had him jailed.
Coup and assassination
The body of Diệm in the back of the APC, having
been executed on the way to military
On orders from
Henry Cabot Lodge, the American
to South Vietnam, refused to meet with Diệm. Upon hearing
coup d'état was being designed by
ARVN generals led by General
Dương Văn Minh, the United States gave secret assurances
to the generals that the U.S. would not interfere. Dương Văn
Minh and his co-conspirators overthrew the government on
November 1, 1963.
The coup was very swift. On November 1, with only the
palace guard remaining to defend President Diệm and his
Ngô Đ́nh Nhu, the generals called the palace offering
Diệm exile if he surrendered. However, that evening, Diệm
and his entourage escaped via an underground passage to
Cholon, where they were captured the following morning,
November 2. The brothers were executed in the back of an
armoured personnel carrier by Captain
Nguyen Van Nhung while en route to the Vietnamese Joint
General Staff headquarters.
Diệm was buried in an
unmarked grave in a
next to the house of the U.S. ambassador.
Upon learning of Diệm's ouster and death,
Minh is reported to have said, "I can scarcely believe
the Americans would be so stupid."
The North Vietnamese Politburo was more explicit,
predicting: "The consequences of the 1 November coup d'état
will be contrary to the calculations of the U.S.
imperialists ... Diệm was one of the strongest individuals
resisting the people and Communism. Everything that could be
done in an attempt to crush the revolution was carried out
by Diệm. Diệm was one of the most competent lackeys of the
U.S. imperialists ... Among the anti-Communists in South
Vietnam or exiled in other countries, no one has sufficient
political assets and abilities to cause others to obey.
Therefore, the lackey administration cannot be stabilized.
The coup d'état on 1 November 1963 will not be the last."
After Diệm's assassination, South Vietnam was unable to
establish a stable government and numerous coups took place
during the first several years after his death. While the
U.S. continued to influence South Vietnam's government, the
assassination bolstered North Vietnamese attempts to
characterize the South Vietnamese as supporters of
d Karnow, pp. 229–233.
^ Jacobs, pp. 18–20.
^ Warner, p. 89.
c Jacobs, pp. 20–25.
University Project Cloaked C.I.A. Role In Saigon,
New York Times - April 14, 1966
"The Beleaguered Man",
Time (magazine), April 4, 1955. Accessed
March 27, 2008. "For the best part of two years
(1951-53) he made his home at the Maryknoll Junior
Seminary in Lakewood, N.J.. often going down to
Washington to buttonhole State Department men and
Congressmen and urge them not to support French
^ Jacobs, pp. 25–34.
^ Jacobs, pp. 37–41.
^ Jacobs, pp. 42–43.
^ Borthwick, p. 388.
^ Maclear, pp. 65–68.
b Karnow, p. 223-224.
^ Langguth, p. 99.
^ Jacobs, p. 95.
^ Gettleman, p. 203.
^ Langguth, p. 108.
^ Jacobs, pp. 112–115.
^ Olson, p. 65.
^ Karnow, p. 326.
^ Moyar,p. 36.
^ Buttinger, pp. 954–955.
^ Langguth, p. 258.
^ Karnow, p. 246.
^ Jacobs, p. 89.
^ Olson, p. 98.
^ Maclear, pp. 70–90.
^ Moyar, p. 67.
^ Moyar, pp. 66–67.
^ Jacobs, pp. 93–96.
^ Jacobs, pp. 90–92.
^ Langguth, pp. 184–185.
^ Far Eastern Economic Review, 1991.
The 1966 Buddhist Crisis in South Vietnam
^ Gettleman, pp. 275–76, 366.
^ Moyar, pp. 215–216.
"South Viet Nam: The Religious Crisis". Time.
^ Tucker, pp. 49, 291, 293.
^ Maclear, p. 63.
SNIE 53-2-63, "The Situation in South Vietnam, 10
^ Tucker, p. 291.
^ Gettleman, pp. 280–282.
Vietnam: Whose funeral pyre?".
The New Republic. 1963-06-29. p. 9.
^ Warner, p. 210.
^ Fall, p. 199.
^ Buttinger, p. 993.
^ Karnow, p. 294.
^ Buttinger p. 933.
^ Jacobs p. 91.
^ "Diem's other
The New Republic. 1963-06-22. pp. 5–6.
Halberstam, David (1963-06-17). "Diệm and the
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^ Topmiller, p. 2.
^ Karnow, p. 295.
^ Moyar, pp. 212–213.
^ Gettleman, pp. 64–83.
^ Gettleman, pp. 264–283.
"South Viet Nam: The Crackdown". Time.
"South Viet Nam: The Crackdown". Time.
^ Gettleman, pp. 278–283.
^ Moyar, pp. 212–216, 231-234.
^ Tucker, pp. 292–293.
Vu Van Mau, Last Premier Of South Vietnam, Dies at
New York Times - September 14, 1998
The Pentagon Papers, Vol. 2 Ch. 4 "The Overthrow
of Ngo Dinh Diem, May–November, 1963", pp. 201–76,
^ G. Herring, America's Longest War,
1996, p. 116.
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Vietnam & Iraq: Bitter Lessons of Backing The Right
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