Profile: Ngo Dinh Diem
Positions that Ngo Dinh Diem has held:
- President of Vietnam (1955-1963)
Ngo Dinh Diem was a participant or observer in the following events:
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles says of the upcoming Vietnam elections, “I don’t believe Diem wants to hold elections and I believe we should support him in this.” Dulles is referring to the scheduled 1956 elections between Vietnam’s president, Ngo Dinh Diem, recently installed by US intervention, and Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Both Dulles and Diem believe that if the elections go off as planned, Ho Chi Minh will win in a landslide. [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 5]
Ngo Dinh Diem returns from exile in the US to head the South Vietnamese government. The CIA office in Saigon, under the leadership of Colonel Edward Lansdale, conducts a propaganda campaign aimed at creating the perception that North Vietnam is plagued with massive civil unrest and disorder while there is stability in South Vietnam and widespread popular support for its newly installed leader. [Herring, 1986, pp. 44; Pilger, 1986, pp. 192] “Paramilitary groups infiltrated across the demilitarized zone on sabotage missions, attempting to destroy the government’s printing presses and pouring contaminants into the engines of buses to demobilize the transportation systems. The teams also carried ‘psywar’ operations to embarrass the Vietminh regime and encourage emigration to the South. They distributed fake leaflets announcing the harsh methods the government was prepared to take and even hired astrologers to predict hard times in the north and good times in the south.” [Herring, 1986, pp. 44] “[Landale’s team] stimulated North Vietnamese Catholics and the Catholic armies deserted by the French to flee south. SMM teams promised Catholic Vietnamese assistance and new opportunities if they would emigrate. To help them make up their minds, the teams circulated leaflets falsely attributed to the Viet Minh telling what was expected of citizens under the new government. The day following distribution of the leaflets, refugee registration tripled. The teams spread horror stories of Chinese Communist regiments raping Vietnamese girls and taking reprisals against villages. This confirmed fears of Chinese occupation under the Viet Minh. The teams distributed other pamphlets showing the circumference of destruction around Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities should the United States decide to use atomic weapons. To those it induced to flee over the 300-day period the CIA provided free transportation on its airline, Civil Air Transport, and on ships of the US Navy. Nearly a million North Vietnamese were scared and lured into moving to the South.” [Pilger, 1986, pp. 192]
The US helps arrange a national referendum between Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem and Emperor Bao Dai. Diem “wins” 98.2 percent of the vote. Interestingly, a total of 605,000 votes are cast despite there being only 405,000 registered voters. [Herring, 1986, pp. 55]
South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, backed by the US, successfully blocks the unifying elections that had been set by the 1954 Geneva Accords, which the US refused to sign (see 1954). It is widely believed that Ho Chi Minh would have easily carried the elections (see 1954). This would have been an unacceptable outcome for the US. [Herring, 1986, pp. 55]
Buddhist clerics begin immolating themselves in protest of South Vietnamese President Diem’s prosecution of Buddhists. [Herring, 1986, pp. 95]
The policies of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem create concern in Washington when Diem’s government intensifies its repression of the Buddhists and clamps down on the press. Also worrisome to his US backers are rumors that he is considering unification with the North. [Herring, 1986, pp. 96; National Security Archives, 11/5/2003] When the Kennedy administration learns that a group of South Vietnamese generals are planning a [second] coup attempt, the decision is made to provide them with support. [National Security Council Staff, 8/28/1963 ; US Department of State, 10/25/1963 ; National Security Council Staff, 10/29/1963 ; US President, 11/1/1963 ; National Security Archives, 11/5/2003] “President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall, by giving initial support to Saigon military officers uncertain what the US response might be, by withdrawing US aid from Diem himself, and by publicly pressuring the Saigon government in a way that made clear to South Vietnamese that Diem was isolated from his American ally. In addition, at several of his meetings Kennedy had CIA briefings and led discussions based on the estimated balance between pro- and anti-coup forces in Saigon that leave no doubt the United States had a detailed interest in the outcome of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning.” [National Security Archives, 11/5/2003]
President Nixon tries to come up with ways to use the recently leaked “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971) to his own advantage. If the papers contain anything about former president John F. Kennedy’s supposed role in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, “I want that out,” he tells aide Charles Colson. “I said that [Diem] was murdered.… I know what those b_stards were up to.” Did former President Lyndon B. Johnson stop the US bombings of Vietnamese targets just before the 1968 elections to try to prevent Nixon from being elected? “You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff and it might be worth doing,” chief of staff H. R. Haldeman suggests (see June 17, 1972). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 334-335]
President Nixon’s aides have diligently tried to find evidence linking former President John F. Kennedy to the 1963 assassinations of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu (see June 17, 1971), but have been unsuccessful. “Plumber” E. Howard Hunt (see July 7, 1971) has collected 240 diplomatic cables between Washington, DC, and Saigon from the time period surrounding the assassinations, none of which hint at any US involvement in them. White House aide Charles Colson, therefore, decides to fabricate his own evidence. Using a razor blade, glue, and a photocopier, Colson creates a fake “cable” dated October 29, 1963, sent to the US embassy in Saigon from the Kennedy White House. It reads in part, “At highest level meeting today, decision reluctantly made that neither you nor Harkin [apparently a reference to General Paul Harkins, the commander of US forces in Vietnam at the time] should intervene on behalf of Diem or Nhu in event they seek asylum.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 371]
White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/2/1973] Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 501-502] Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 30-31]
Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, Charles Colson, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, L. Patrick Gray, John Ehrlichman, John F. Kennedy, Ngo Dinh Diem, Edward Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray burns key documents in the Watergate case. He has had the documents, originally kept in the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, in his possession for about five months. The two Nixon aides who gave him the documents, John Ehrlichman and John Dean, warned Gray that they were “political dynamite” and should never see the light of day. Gray dithers over what to do with the documents for that entire time period before finally burning them with his Christmas trash. The documents include falsified diplomatic cables that implicated former President John F. Kennedy in the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and a dossier on Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy’s troubled personal life. Gray will later tell investigators that he destroyed the papers because they had no relation to Watergate, and in 2005 will admit that he destroyed them on direct orders from White House officials. He will say that he had no idea “that these guys are trying to sandbag me,” and will add, “I know it’s hard for people to think somebody could be so stupid, but I believed them.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Gray will reveal his destruction of evidence during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973).
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
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