"Do not, I beg you, be troubled by forces already dissolved. You have mistaken the hour of the night. It is already morning." (Hilaire Belloc)
Monday, May 9, 2016
In remembrance: Vietnam and the betrayal of a Catholic leader
Ngo Dinh Diem
Tom Pauken writes:
The Vietnam War was a long time ago for me – specifically, forty-seven years ago when I served as a Province Intelligence Officer in Chau Doc on the Cambodian border and as a senior analyst in the office of Strategic Research and Analysis in Saigon.
Yet, memories of that war, and what went wrong in our attempt to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam, came flooding back to me as I read Geoffrey Shaw’s book.
Shaw recounts in great detail the events leading up to the U.S.-orchestrated coup in 1963 to oust the first President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, and replace him with a military junta more acquiescent to American “direction” on how to wage the war in Vietnam against the Communists. The author names those U.S. officials directly responsible for that fateful decision – most notably, Undersecretary of State Averill Harriman and Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Roger Hilsman – and how they worked diligently to persuade John F. Kennedy to sign off on their proposals to remove Diem from power.
The author describes the strong opposition to the plan to replace President Diem by leading American advisers in Vietnam. U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Frederick Nolting (replaced as Ambassador only months before the coup), CIA Station Chief Bill Colby, Gen. Paul Harkins (head of the U.S. Military Mission in Vietnam), the legendary General Edward Lansdale and Sir Robert Thompson (the British expert on counter insurgency who had led the successful campaign to defeat the Communist insurgency in Malaysia), all expressed the view that President Diem was the best man to lead South Vietnam in combatting the Communist forces and that attempts to force him out would create more problems than they would solve. But, their advice went unheeded, and plans for the coup moved forward.
On November 1, 1963, Gen. Duong Van Minh (known as “Big Minh”) led the military junta that ousted President Diem. Shaw documents how one day later Big Minh ordered his soldiers to murder President Diem along with Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu (who was the President’s closest adviser). The soldiers carried out his orders and killed the Diem brothers as they were praying in a Catholic Church after attending Mass on the morning of November 2, 1963.
Ironically, President Kennedy – who had authorized the decision to depose President Diem – was himself downed by an assassin’s bullet weeks later, while on a trip to Texas.
Big Minh didn’t last long as President of South Vietnam. He was removed from office three months later in another military coup. Only, those coup leaders were more generous than Big Minh had been, and they let him live unlike what had been the fate of the Diem brothers.
The decision to oust, and eliminate, President Diem set in motion a revolving door of military leaders in charge until Gen. Thieu became President in 1967. Thieu lasted until 1975 when he resigned shortly before the fall of Saigon to the Communists. The man who took his place was none other than Big Minh who unconditionally surrendered to the Communist regime of North Vietnam days later.