Assassination of Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem Part 1

About the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, history of the coup and resulting murder.


The Victim: NGO DINH DIEM, who from 1954 was premier, then president, of South Vietnam.

The Date: Nov. 2, 1963.

The Event: The wonder is not that Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated, but rather that the end did not come much sooner than it did. Almost from the day he was installed as South Vietnam's first president, Diem was roundly reviled by the electorate as an American lackey, a despot, a bigot, and a callous patrician. As the 1950s waned and the guerrilla movement snowballed, Diem sneered at pleas for land reform, turned his back on government corruption, threw his critics into airless cells, and succeeded in incurring the enmity of major blocks of the Vietnamese populace--the Buddhists, the military, the peasantry, and the intelligentsia--and ultimately of the U.S. as well.

To be sure, the coup that was Diem's undoing was not the first attempt on his life. Battalions of air force pilots and paratroopers had advanced on the presidential palace in November, 1960, but were handily rebuffed. Still, the brush with death drove Diem further into isolation from the people and led him to distrust even his closest advisers, his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, and Nhu's notorious wife, Madame Nhu, referred to as "the Dragon Lady" by American journalists. Fighter jets strafed the palace two years later, damaging it badly. Diem again survived, but he was a shaken man.

The end seemed merely a matter of time. The chief architect of Diem's downfall was Gen. Duong Van Minh--"Big Minh" to his American friends in Saigon. He and other top brass had been parleying for months on just how to unseat the Ngos; Buddhist monks had been immolating themselves in the streets of Saigon with terrifying frequency, and antigovernment riots were growing increasingly common. This most recent wave of unpleasantness, continuing through the summer of 1963, provided the prelude to the president's fall.

In late August, Minh urged Diem and Nhu to declare martial law in Saigon and then, with their OK, mobilized troops in the countryside. But Nhu was nobody's fool. He entrusted the military contingent in Saigon itself, not to Minh, but to Gen. Ton That Dinh, an opportunist who had no particular ideological bias toward Diem, but who figured that loudly proclaiming his allegiance to the still potent leader would pay off handsomely.

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