Archive for May 5, 2010

Diem’s Mistakes

Posted in Modern History with tags , , on May 5, 2010 by Ian Pham

South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated on November 2, 1963.  The coup d’etat was orchestrated by the U.S. government and carried out by Duong Van Minh, a former general of South Vietnam.  Being the President of South Vietnam is definitely not an easy task.  Ngo Dinh Diem faced substantial foreign pressures from other nations, the most obvious push came from the United States.  It is without a doubt that President Diem’s odds were not in his favour in opposing America, but there were some actions that he could have taken that may have saved his life.


A Buddhist monk protests against discrimination by self-immolation.


One mistake that Diem made under his presidency was his discrimination towards Buddhists.  Due to his unjust treatment of the Buddhist population, Ngo Dinh Diem had to deal with a large population who strongly opposed his government.  As a result, many of the Buddhist population turned to the Vietcong’s side for salvation.  Ironically, when the militant population switched sides, they were treated exponentially worse by the North.  The reason being that the Communists do not tolerate any form of religion, since religion provided ideas and philosphies contrary to the teachings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.  The Buddhist population could have been a powerful entity to the South.  Unfortunately, Ngo Dinh Diem failed to utilize their potential.  This discrimination is also the main target of  the American media and journalists in the west.

Diem’s second critical error is his nepotistic approach in forming his government, giving important posts to his brothers and relatives.  His main advisor was Ngo Dinh Nhu, while his brother Ngo Dinh Can was put in charge of Hue, a city located in Central Vietnam.  Other government positions were also handed to his family members.  Ngo Dinh Nhu was a competent advisor and excellent political strategist; many of his ideas helped keep the Communists at bay.  Ngo Dinh Can, on the other hand, was not only incompetent, but made a critical error that arguably contributed to the fall of Diem.  Under Can’s command, the Buddhist flag in Hue was taken down and replaced with a Catholic flag, thus alienating the substantial Buddhist population in the city.  Can was not an able commander.  His appointment, along with some others, caused significant problems for President Diem.


Duong Van Minh was responsible for the death of President Diem.


The third misstep taken by Diem is his failure to control his American opponents.  This step is crucial, but it’s also the most difficult to accomplish.  U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the C.I.A. had tremendous influence over many government officials in South Vietnam. President Diem managed to sideline many who opposed him, but failed to take out some of the key players who would later end up being the pawns of the U.S government.  The most notable being Duong Van Minh, the former general who had deep hatred for Ngo Dinh Diem and was also a Buddhist.  This man would be the key instrument in the C.I.A headed assassination of the first South Vietnamese President.

It should be clear by now the three fatal flaws in Ngo Dinh Diem’s policies: the first being religious discrimination, followed by nepotism, and the final is failure to control the staggering American influence in Saigon (although the third factor is more or less out of his hands).  If President Diem were careful enough to avoid these dangerously problematic actions, one could argue that his assassination may never have taken place.