Where, he would portray himself as a staunch anti-communist that supported the ideas of liberty. Yet, when he had taken control of the country he immediately began to rule with an iron fist. This authoritarian rule and the way that Diem was able to single-handedly throw elections, would set the tone as to what kind of President he would be. Then, when you combine this with the fact that just 10% of the country was Catholic; and that the Catholics held a position of privilege in the country. Meant that the actions by Diem; would be seen as even more illegitimate by the people. This is especially troubling when the French had raised concerns about a rising Buddhist threat, as 70% of the population was Buddhist. These two elements allowed for the overall actions against the Diem government to increase during his reign as President. Where, both the North and the people of the South became frustrated with Diem.
The Presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem
Diem was often hailed throughout much of the Western world as a staunch anti-communist, who supported the basic ideas of democracy. Yet, beneath the surface, it is obvious that his government was nothing more than a brutal dictatorship, which was fascist leaning. His most trusted confidant was his brother, Ngo Dihn Nhu. He was known for being an admirer of Adolph Hitler and was addicted to opium. Diem, then put a second younger brother, Ngo Dinh Can, in charge of the city of Hue. A third brother, Ngo Dinh Luyen, was appointed ambassador to Great Britain. While, Ngo Dinh Thuc (his older brother) was appointed archbishop of Hue. Together, the nepotism shown by Diem and his anti-communist stance would be the main drivers of policy for the South Vietnamese government. As Diem, would create numerous institutions that would support his control of power. An example of this occurred, with the establishment of the secret police and the creation of private armies. Where, his brother Nhu, modeled both organizations after the SS of Nazi Germany by: mirroring the tactics, methods and the way they marched. While Nhu never held an official position, he was considered to be an unofficial advisor to Diem. However, the way the government was established and the large amounts of nepotism would lead to large amounts of corruption.
As various South Vietnamese government officials and Diem's own relatives, would engage in numerous activities for their own benefit. The most notable would include: the trafficking of opium, the smuggling of rice into North Vietnam, nationalizing the countries cinnamon industry and the seizing funds of foreign investors as well as wealthy Vietnamese who did not support him. This would then be augmented with a twisted tax system that would benefit Deim and his family. The way that it worked was the government would compete for U.S. rice contracts; while at the same time seeking out "donations" from various business people, church officials and wealthy Vietnamese. Those who paid these donations received a portion of the U.S. rice contracts and favorable treatment from Vietnamese officials.
The people who refused to pay these donations were often subject to violence, arrest and possibly death. To help achieve this objective, Diem would use the secret police and the South Vietnamese army. Where, they would work to conduct a number of lucrative and illegal enterprises for Diem. The intelligence service would provide Diem with information about political opponents, which he would use to exert power and influence over them. He would also use the various resources of the South Vietnamese Army; to work on a number of different personal projects for himself and various family members. Together, these different elements would create a system that would turn Diem in a multi-millionaire, within a few short years.
Diem was never married, in the 1920's he was rejected in a romantic relationship and never sought out the company of a woman again.
To keep up appearances, he had his brother's wife, Madam Nhu, appointed as first lady. Her objective was to impose strict Catholic values on South Vietnamese society. Where, she would close down brothels, opium dens, made abortion / divorce illegal and created strict laws for adultery....
These policies were then enforced by: the secret police and army; who would attack different organized crime gangs that were engaging in such activities. After being able to successfully destroy the longest organized crime syndicate, the Binh Xuyen (which ran brothels for centuries under colonialism); Diem, focused his attention on destroying all of the different private armies that existed throughout South Vietnam. This was accomplished using a two tear approach of extortion and terror. Where, the government would tell the different entities to disband. Those organizations that refused to do so; were arrest by the secret police or the South Vietnamese Army, for being collaborators with the Viet Cong or the communists. This created a situation where torture became common, as the death toll of these various activities was placed at around 50,000 to 75,000 people. The reign of terror of government would not stop at these groups.
Instead, it would morph into a hit squad that would go after anyone who was viewed to pose a threat to Diem's power including: anti-corruption whistleblowers and anti-communist allies, who were accused of collaboration with the communists.
What all of this shows; is that Diem was working under the illusion that he is supporting various democratic and anti-communist efforts in Vietnam. However, underneath the surface he was nothing more than brutal dictator, who was a fascist and would use the government resources for his own personal gain. Together, these different elements would delegitimize the South Vietnamese government, as the various institutions created would oppose what Diem claimed he publically stood for. This was problematic for the West and the United States; because he was viewed as someone they could work with. Yet, the only reason he was able to hold remain in power was because of his anti-communist stance that he took and the ties that he formed with the West, during his years in exile. Then, when you combine this with the overall brutality and the unpopular way of life, meant that it would only be a matter of time until Diem's policies would lead to civil unrest and coups.
The corruption, brutally, imposing of religion upon the people and the ability to hold onto power at all cost helped fuel anti-government activity in the South. This started out slowly, as a low level insurgency in 1957. However, as the secret police and army were targeting communist officials led the creation of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF). This was a political party started by the North Vietnamese, with the intention of: building support to over throw of the South Vietnamese government. To counter this action Diem, would order the consolidation of 14,000 villages into 11,000.
These were to be called hamlets, with the promise of providing citizens with their own homes and a watch tower for protection. The reason why such a policy was implemented was because of the increasing threat taking place in the rural parts of the country. As the North, would go into various rural villages, where they were able to receive large amounts of support. The idea of the Diem government was: to isolate the NLF by not giving them access to key villages in the South (where they were able to find support). What made NLF so popular was not the fact that they were communist, instead, they appealed to nationalist ideals of ordinary people. This is significant because, it allowed the NLF to find a broad range of support in rural villages and among the opposition. As those people who are opposed to communism; would band together against the unpopular Diem government.
Then when you combine this with the fact that Diem perused pro-Catholic policies; meant that 70% of the country would feel alienated, as they were Buddhist. The reason why this angered so many is: a sense of entitlement was created for anyone who was Catholic. As the only way: to serve in government, to be an officer in the military or have any kind of economic opportunity; meant that you must be Catholic. Then, when you combine this with the fact, that Diem would distribute weapons to fellow Catholics in the rural villages. So that they could defend themselves against the Viet Cong (while ignoring Buddhists); created disenfranchisement in the country that would only add to the overall amounts of unrest
As a result, this would only stoke the fuels of discontent among Buddhists. Where, Buddhists monks would attempt to hold on to their religious traditions. However, any display of their symbols or flags in public was banned. While Catholics were able to celebrate and fly whatever flags they wanted in public. This created a situation where the different monks would protest an obvious unfair policy against them. When they attempted to voice their…
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