UNCOVERED: The Monks Who Committed Self-Immolation in South Vietnam (1963) Were Communist Operatives – Geoffrey Shaw

Vietnam Monk(Malcolm Browne)

One of the most shocking and enduring images of the Vietnam War is a photo of a monk who set himself on fire in the streets of Saigon. According to the leading journalists at the time (liberals), and the majority of historians who studied the event thereafter (more liberals), that particular monk, and a few others, committed these acts of self-immolation in protest of the widespread oppression experienced by Buddhists under the allegedly tyrannical, bigoted, and very mean governance of the bogeyman South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem.

However, as this article will show, there was no oppression, President Diem is neither a bigot nor a tyrant, and what the mainstream media led Americans to believe during the Buddhist Crisis of 1963 was far from what was really happening on the ground.

If one were to read and listen to the leftists’ popular coverage, the Buddhist Crisis of 1963 (where the infamous burnings occurred) would appear to be some spontaneous, grassroots movement, orchestrated by a willing and enthusiastic Buddhist majority. However, this mainstream narrative, cultivated by the leftists of that era, and carried on by the leftists of today, could not be further from the truth.

As with contemporary liberals’ coverage of issues they disagree with (e.g. President Trump, conservative views, border patrol, the police, the military, etc.), the liberals of the Vietnam era, in their coverage of the war, presented a very distorted, anti-South Vietnamese, and pro-communist spin on the tragic events of the communist-manufactured Buddhist Crisis of 1963, not to mention the war as a whole.

At that time, for reasons still beyond rational comprehension, the liberal media already wanted to see the fall of the Diem regime, and the prevalence of Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese. In pursuit of that objective, the U.S. media, dominated by an overwhelming liberal majority, sought to demonize South Vietnam and glorify the communist forces. As Geoffrey Shaw’s evidence will show, the Buddhist Crisis of 1963, while orchestrated by radical groups inside Vietnam, was facilitated greatly by major leftist media outlets such as the New York Times (p. 202-3) and the Washington Post (p. 209).

That famous photo of the burning monk, the main topic of our discussion here, was one of the ways in which the media shaped the American public perception of the Vietnam War. Looking at the picture, with headlines and captions telling them that Diem and the South were to blame for the tragedy, Americans at home were horrified by what they saw. As a result, public opinion in the U.S. greatly turned against South Vietnam, even before the U.S. government under Kennedy managed to force American troops into Vietnam.

Given how the Vietnam War ended, needless to say, the efforts by the liberal media to assist the communists and bring down the Diem regime were hugely successful. Tactically similar to the mainstream media today, the media of the Vietnam War era, leftist in their views, pursued their anti-Diem agenda with smears, lies, and fake news. In the end, in wanting Diem to fail, wanting South Vietnam to fail, and wanting America to fail, the liberal media accomplished their mission. However, to their unpleasant surprise, whatever lies and perjuries committed by the liberal media, then and now, are slowly coming to light.

In The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam (2015), new research by military historian Geoffrey Shaw reveals many groundbreaking revelations about the Buddhist Crisis of 1963. Many of the information presented by Shaw in his book were either missed or intentionally ignored (you can probably guess which one) by the mainstream media at the time, during their coverage of the crisis. These important facts were then buried in the historical archives, while the leftist narrative went on to dominate public thought and the history books.

One of the most illuminating revelations about the Buddhist Crisis of 1963, as reported in Shaw’s book, is that the monks who set themselves on fire (including the monk in the infamous photo) were not common or disgruntled citizens, nor did they in any way represent the majority Buddhist population in Vietnam. In actuality, these monks were part of a fringe group of radicalized Buddhists, who, in coordination with anti-Diem forces, orchestrated a fake crisis to tarnish the Government of Vietnam under President Diem. Even more shockingly, these monks were found to be agents of the North Vietnamese, committing what they viewed as martyrdom to further the communist cause.

From the foreword of The Lost Mandate of Heaven, Georgetown University professor James V. Schall reveals the following:

After the war, the North Vietnamese acknowledged that the bonzes [Buddhist monks] who burned themselves in supposed defiance of Diem’s “anti-Buddhist” policies were their agents within minority Buddhist monasteries in Vietnam. This information never appeared in the American press at the time (p. 13).

Clearly stated above, the North Vietnamese themselves admitted that the monks who set themselves on fire were indeed part of the communist forces. Deeper in The Lost Mandate of Heaven, Shaw himself brings to light the fact that two of the monks who led the demonstrations during the crisis, Thich Thien Hao and Thich Thom Me The Nhem, were members of the National Liberation Front (p. 199), otherwise known as the Viet Cong, the brutal southern communist network that has been repeatedly confirmed as subordinates of the North Vietnamese. These monks not only met with North Vietnamese communist leaders, but were doing so with communist leaders from China as well (ibid). Furthermore, the most prominent and influential figure of this crisis, the outspoken, subversive, conniving, and now disgraced monk Thich Tri Quang, was the leader of a “small, radicalized coterie” of Buddhists, and a disciple of a North Vietnamese monk who held approval among the communists (p. 197).

Unsurprisingly, knowing the pro-communist bias and dishonesty of the liberal media, these facts were never reported to the public, and thus, everyday Americans were led to believe that the self-burning monks were part of some national resistance, of which all Buddhists across Vietnam were in support of. In reality, the Buddhist majority did not support these radicals monks. As shown above, the self-burning monks were actually communists, manufacturing outrage to manipulate public opinion in Vietnam and the United States, a scheme that received full complicity and support by the U.S. liberal media.

This position is further affirmed in Shaw’s book, with an excerpt explaining the tactics of the North Vietnamese and their allies. In regards to the communists’ fabrication of the 1963 Buddhist Crisis:

This kind of political sophistication was well within the capacities of Ho Chi Minh and his backers in China and Russia. Stephen C. Y. Pan of the East Asian Research Institute in New York City met and interviewed Ho Chi Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, and other Southeast Asian leaders. This expert on Vietnamese politics concluded that the Buddhist crisis was indeed a communist front: “The communists knew how to cope with Diem’s appeals. Highly skilled at spreading false propaganda, they created incidents, and launched demonstrations. Masters of cold war strategy, they decided that the Achilles heel in Vietnam was the Buddhist associations. They realised the acute sensitivity of Americans, in particular, to the charge of religious persecution,” (p. 199-200).

The above explains the intricacy and skill in which the communists were able to manipulate American public opinion. Knowing what the average American cares about and is sensitive too, the communists manufactured a crisis, created fake outrage, and then used the willing and enthusiastic liberal journalist to deliver this fake outrage straight to the American public.

The New York Times, one of the most prominent U.S. news outlets covering the Vietnam War, is discovered to have falsely reported the situation in Vietnam during the Buddhist Crisis. According to Shaw, during the start of the crisis in May of 1963, reports by the New York Times blamed the South Vietnamese on explosions that occurred during a (staged) demonstration in Hue, an event claiming the lives of nine people (p. 204-5). Later on, the Time’s reporting of the incident was falsified and indicted as “based on ‘facts’ of highly doubtful authenticity,” (p. 202-3). Furthermore, the New York Times claimed that, during the crisis, President Diem imposed a discriminatory law that specifically targeted Buddhists, another accusation that turned out to be false. In researching the infamous incident, Ellen Hammer, a historian, and Marguerite Higgins, a reporter, had ruled that there was no such persecution of Buddhists by President Diem. From her discoveries, Higgins ruled that in all, the events of the crisis as described by the New York Times were completely false (p. 203).

Furthermore, it is essential to understand that the South Vietnamese security forces deployed to the protests in South Vietnam were only equipped with stun grenades and tear gas, weapons inconsistent with media coverage claiming that government forces fired on the crowd. After the demonstration ordeal, a doctor examining the dead clarified that the burns experienced by bomb victims were beyond the capacity of the government forces’ gear. He then attributed the cause to “homemade bombs… planted beforehand,” with signs that very much “indicate the handiwork of the Viet Cong,” (p. 204-5). Again, unsurprisingly, these facts were largely ignored by leftist “academics,” both journalists and historians alike.

In their coverage of the crisis, the leftist media not only lied to the American public, but repeated these lies over and over, day in and day out. According to Shaw, the distorted leftist reporting of the Buddhist Crisis was kept “on the front pages of the New York Times and other newspapers” for months (p. 210). One can only imagine the affect that these images and stories had on the American public, and how that affected the U.S.-South Vietnam war effort overall.

Though President Diem and his government, in the short term, survived the intricately crafted and viscerally effective outrage campaign of the communists and the liberal media, it would leave a permanent stain on his administration, of which he would never recover. This mark on Diem’s presidency, and the subsequent U.S.-led coup that caused the fall of his administration, was all built on a lie, concocted by the North Vietnamese, carried out by their Viet Cong wing in the south, and popularized by the liberal media.

Observing these liberal media tactics of the Vietnam era, one cannot help but think of the liberal media of today, manufacturing scandals and outrages such as Russian collusion, faux racism, “family” border separation, and Stormy Daniels against President Trump, in a concerted and coordinated attempt to bring down the Trump Administration. Make no mistake that historically, the media is a monumentally powerful entity. They have the power to shape public opinion, influence attitudes and behaviors, spur people to action, and bring down entire presidencies.

During the Vietnam War era, through lies, careful omissions, and the overall shameless dissemination of fake news, the liberal mainstream media turned the American public against the war, influenced the election of opportunist antiwar Democrats into the House and Senate, cut all funding to South Vietnam (even though the South was winning the war), and then celebrated the “victory” of the North Vietnamese.

In this era of Trump, through lies, careful omissions, and the overall shameless dissemination of fakes news, the liberal mainstream media has been trying relentlessly to turn the American public against President Trump, influence the election of impeachment-minded Democrats into the House and Senate, and all the while fantasizing about the leftist overthrow of a duly elected U.S. president, the complete undermining and erosion of American democracy, and spitting in the face of American voters. Unfortunately for the Left, after decades upon decades of unprecedented and unchecked power, the liberal media empire, the oligarchs of the western world, have finally overextended themselves. However, that is a discussion for another time.

Coming back to the Buddhist Crisis of 1963, one may benefit to know that in the midst of the crisis, President Diem reached out to the many Buddhist organizations in South Vietnam, working with Buddhist leaders, and even offering compensation to families whose loved ones died in the protests, even though his government was not responsible for the deaths. Furthermore, President Diem created a Buddhist-led commission to engage further with the Buddhist community in Vietnam, and even agreed to let an international investigation be carried out against his government (p. 206).

All of these initiatives were ignored by the liberal media (p. 207).

In their reporting of the outrage, the alleged discrimination and oppression, the liberal media, in all their boasted propensity for justice and truth, somehow conveniently failed to report any of the actions that the South Vietnamese President took to reach out to the community and soothe his people. Moreover, around this time, in the wake of the Buddhist Crisis, President Diem and his administration was soundly defeating the Viet Cong terrorist network in South Vietnam. The media conveniently failed to report this as well (p. 211).

Like the leftist journalists of today, who purposely omit President Trump’s accomplishments and noble actions (e.g. defeating ISIS, vastly cutting illegal immigration, bringing home U.S. soldier remains from North Korea, revitalizing the U.S. economy, achieving record-low African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and women unemployment, and donating virtually 100% of his salary to charity since taking office, just to name a few), the leftists of the Vietnam War era ignored the monumental accomplishments of President Ngo Dinh Diem, which include establishing a viable non-communist Vietnamese country, defeating the Viet Cong, keeping the North Vietnamese at bay, and building up essential national institutions such as the economy, the military, and the education system, just to name a few.

As the President of the Republic of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem was viewed by all Vietnamese, Christians and Buddhists alike, as their legitimate leader (p. 17). The “iconic” picture of the burning monk, and the narrative that both leftist journalists and historians painted of Diem was contradictory to the reality.

In Diem’s Vietnam, despite being forced to sometimes take extensive measures to combat terrorism, warlord-ism, and post-colonial factionalism, there existed freedom of religion, freedom of demonstration, freedom of non-political assembly, and some freedom of the press (p. 200). Moreover, President Diem deeply respected Buddhism, viewed Buddhism as a “means to reinvigorate Vietnamese identity” after the French ruined it, and hoped that Buddhism would be a strong counter to communist influence in the countryside (p. 39).

During his administration, President Diem oversaw a Buddhist renaissance that brought the religion back from the edge of extinction after a disastrous near-century of French colonialism (p. 194). Under Diem, substantial government funds were given to the development of Buddhist infrastructure such as pagodas and schools. These funds saw the renovation, rebuilding, and new construction of several thousand pagodas, as well as the organizing of large Buddhist communities in South Vietnam, which in-turn trained and provided access to more than one million Buddhist practitioners across the country. Along with all of this, the Government of Vietnam, led by the Diem administration, also “encouraged Buddhist programs, periodicals, conferences, lectures, and libraries,” (p. 195).

These are all important facts that somehow always seem to be conveniently absent in the liberals’ coverage of President Diem, in today’s history, and yesterday’s news. From the information presented in this article, it is not hard to understand why.

None of the facts above support the leftist claim that Diem was a bigoted, anti-Buddhist dictator. As a matter of fact, the evidence presented completely obliterates that claim, which is why it can never be found in any book or article written by a liberal on the matter.

For reasons still to be discovered, the liberal media and leftists in general had a vested interest in the failing of the U.S. and South Vietnam, and the prevalence of the communists. Their anti-American, anti-South Vietnamese, and pro-communist agenda compelled them to present a distorted and fabricated narrative on the Vietnam War, one in which the communists were the good guys, and the U.S. and South Vietnamese were the bad guys.

To push this false narrative, the powerful American liberal press used all of their clout and resources to slander South Vietnam and the U.S., while at the same time glorifying the communist enemy. One of the means in which the media advanced their agenda was the promotion of the Buddhist Crisis, and repeatedly displaying the infamous picture of the self-burning monk for all Americans at home to see.

In examining Shaw’s research, including facts such as the monk’s communist affiliation, how his radical group was unrepresentative of the Buddhist population, and that the Buddhist Crisis itself was a sham concocted by the communists, this article aims to dispel some of the many prevailing myths about the Vietnam War that resonate to this very day.

Many things we have been taught about the Vietnam War is wrong. But little by little, the truth will be told.

Consider this article one more step towards telling the full truth about the Vietnam War. Major themes for this thesis include the heroism and sacrifice of the South Vietnamese and the allied American soldiers, the brutal and murderous totalitarianism of the communists, and the lies, cowardice, and deceit of the liberal media, during Vietnam and thereafter.

As always, everyone is encouraged to read for themselves the sources presented, and come to a few conclusions of their own. Academic, peer-reviewed, and written by reputable experts in their respective fields, the sources examined are reliable for research and general learning. The source this week, to reiterate, is The Lost Mandate of Heaven, by Geoffrey Shaw. It is a great read, and definitely worth your time.

 

Work Cited:

Shaw, Geoffrey. The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2015.

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2 Responses to “UNCOVERED: The Monks Who Committed Self-Immolation in South Vietnam (1963) Were Communist Operatives – Geoffrey Shaw”

  1. Thich tri quang is a shame of Vietnamese people, particularly for Vietnamese Buddists

  2. I think while it is true, that almost certainly communists did influence the Buddhist movement, simplifying Diems reign and whitewashing what he did to the South Vietnamese people is doing an equal disservice to the reality of both the Vietnam war, and our wars abroad. As I grew up I read about the complex history of the Vietnam War and often struggled with the subject in my youth, my Father who was once in the ARVN told me little of his time served. But when talked to him of America, and how it was the most corrupt country on earth, it made me tilt my head a little.

    I think if my father is any indication, that view of the United States from a former ARVN soldier is telling, Ngo Diem’s corruption was a sort of open secret among the Vietnamese. There were a lot of people from Vietnam of course who did love him, or pretended to at least. Many of them drawn from the fearmongering tactics of Operation: Path to Freedom, where the United States began to exploit the Catholic base(Like my Father.) who were left over by the French to establish a firm basis for what was, essentially, a Dictatorship. If it was so simple as everyone loving him, he would of likely never been assassinated in the first place.

    I think this piece, and Shaws analysis understates a core facet of the Vietnam War and a mythology that persists to this day in a way. The Media of the Americans was *critical* of the effectiveness of the American war effort, but it was not in fact anti-war. The Media, even now is not liberal or leftest, it’s just shades of Right leaning and at it’s most extreme centrist. Perhaps 5% or less of all media coverage was from an enemies point of view, and extreme elements within the American community(Such as people imitating the above mentioned Buddhist monks and the extreme actions of the Weather Underground.) generated an extreme sense of panic about communism within the American system.

    This is not to say Ngo was stupid however(Or, not as stupid as we like to portray.) after we assassinated him, the NK high command said something along the lines of “I could scarcely believe you could be so dumb.” but those reasons had nothing to do with his tactical prowess, because he endorsed some fanciful tale of freedom of religion and speech for everyone and anyone. Anyone with eyes at the time, even among his staunchest supporters, could see that simply was not the case.

    Rather it was because Ngo provided a valuable means to enforce control around the country, to keep people in a perpetual state of stasis and misinformed about a lot of the goings on of the war. As time progressed I think it became more and more obvious that America did not have our best interests at heart, their support for the Khmer Rouge along with Margret Thatcher wasn’t really about suppressing communism in Vietnam so much as it seemed an attempt to get revenge on the Vietnamese for the rooftops of Saigon. Pol Pot’s tribalistic proto-society was founded on the principles of a more extreme marcism, devoted to ethnically cleansing the Vietnamese, a victory for him would not of resulted in anything save mass murder.

    i would, as a counter example, encourage people to read and listen to the historical works published by Alfred Mccoy, if they want a true unbiased perspective of the war through the lens of history. Alfred himself is a supporter of American Hegemony as a positive thing for our modern society, seeing the context of the wars we wage through the context of empire rather then the arbitrary ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ of the Vietnam Conflict, and he doesn’t sugar coast what happened or why.

    Similarly there are too many stories to count to single one out when discussing American cover-ups in the media of Vietnamese coverage, but if I had to pick one the various videos on the Battle of Ong Thanh are a good start. They really hammer home the fact that Vietnamese opposition was often distorted by the Media and that the most iconic pieces of Ant-War news were produced by Freelancers, not mainstream journalists.

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