Where Are They Now? Dragon Lady of Vietnam Madame Nhu

About the Dragon Lady of Vietnam Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, first lady of South Vietnam, history and biography of her then and now.


Headline--1963: MADAME NHU

At the Peak: For a while, in the early 1960s, she was no stranger to the headlines. Anyone with even a casual awareness of the drumfire of news about the conflict in Southeast Asia was familiar with the beautiful face, exotic figure, and sharp tongue of the "Dragon Lady of Vietnam."

That was Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, the high born product of Asian feudalism and French elegance who reigned as first lady of South Vietnam when her widowed brother-in-law, Ngo Dinh Diem, was president of the troubled nation and her husband was chief of the secret police.

During the early stages of the war, she quickly blossomed as a major international figure, touring the world as a persuasive propagandist for her family's political cause. But though she could be charming, she was also considered ruthless, willful, and arrogant, and her spiteful tongue provoked worldwide outrage when she accused Buddhist monks who had burned themselves to death to protest the Diem regime of staging "a barbecue with imported gasoline."

Then, on Nov. 1, 1963, while she was on a speaking tour of the U.S., Madame Nhu's comfortable world was shattered. Both her husband and Diem were slain in a Saigon coup, and she went into bitter exile in Paris, accusing the U.S. government of engineering her downfall and vowing, "All the devils in hell are against us, but we shall triumph."

And Today: After a couple of years in Paris, the vengeful widow moved on to Italy, where she remains today, 53 years old in 1978, ensconced in a high-walled villa on the southeast outskirts of Rome, living comfortably but modestly, doing some writing, and avoiding contact with outsiders. Apparently the years have done nothing to mellow her anti-American feelings: she was quoted a few years ago on French television as claiming that the U.S. government had directed the bombing of South Vietnam's presidential palace in the 1963 coup in which President Diem was assassinated.

Why don't the news media carry more of her views?

Perhaps the price is too high. It is alleged that she charges a stiff fee for interviews.

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