Diem Betrayed - Anti-Diem Propaganda leaflets

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: The article is depicted as a source document on the website VIETNAM VETERANS FOR FACTUAL HISTORY.

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President Ngo Dinh Diem

I will give the reader a very brief review of Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam. I could write 10,000 words, and depending on my politics could make him into a great or a despised leader. This opening section is just meant to show the reader that Diem was fully supported by the United States until it became politically convenient to let him be killed.

Ngo Dinh Diem was born 3 January 1901 in Hue, Vietnam, the son of a minister. His family was Roman Catholic and his father was a counselor to the Vietnamese emperor. In September 1945, Diem was kidnapped by Viet Minh agents and taken to see Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh offered Diem a position in his Communist government, but Diem refused. Diem then traveled to the United States. He returned to Vietnam in 1954 where he was appointed Prime Minister.

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President Diem with President Eisenhower – May 1957
Eisenhower called Diem the “miracle man of Asia.”

After the French retreated from Vietnam as a result of their defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the 1954 Geneva Accords, Diem led the effort to create the Republic of Vietnam. Because of his strong anti-Communist philosophy, the United States backed him with money and later, massive military support.

Mervyn Roberts makes some of the following points in his paper entitled: United States psychological operations in support of counterinsurgency: Vietnam, 1960 to 1965:

Edward G. Lansdale as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary Defense for Special Operations noted that without mobilizing their total resources, the South Vietnamese could do little more than postpone defeat. This mobilization required the assistance of expanded psychological operations. Lansdale noted that American criticism of Diem’s leadership caused the president to feel isolated and that this led Diem to withdraw into a shell. In Lansdale‘s mind, Diem was the indispensable man. As Lansdale wrote:

The next time we have become holier than thou, we might find it sobering to reflect on North Vietnam. Do the Soviets and the Chinese Communists give Ho Chi Minh a similar hard time, or do they aid and abet him?

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In order to unify the country, we need President Ngo Dinh Diem

This banner hung on the southern side of the Hien Luong Bridge on Highway 1, over the Ben Hai River, near the 17th parallel. This was the symbolic passage between North and South Vietnam after 1954.

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The official logo of the President of Vietnam when Diem was in office

Ngo Dinh Diem was the first president of South Vietnam. He took power on 26 October 1956 after a disputed 1955 plebiscite. At first he was popular as the economy of the country prospered. However, Diem was a Roman Catholic and this led to problems with the Republic's Montagnard natives and its Buddhist majority. The Buddhists had a political agenda, and after several set themselves on fire, Diem gradually lost the backing of the United States. There were several attempts on Diem’s life by his own military. From 1954 onwards, the Americans had been urging political reforms upon Diem, who repeatedly promised that reforms would be made but never enacted any. With the support President Eisenhower of the United States, he refused to hold countrywide elections in 1956 (a stipulation of the 1954 Geneva Accords), fearing, almost certainly correctly, that he would lose to Ho Chi Minh.

Diem could justify his decision by saying that the Republic of Vietnam was democratic, made up of many different parties that would split the vote. The North, under Ho Chi Minh, was a dictatorship. The votes would be along party lines as directed by the party leadership. To hold a free election was to give away the nation. The United States, now operating under the “Domino Theory,” and fearful of a Communist takeover of all of Southeast Asia, supported him. In late 1957, with American aid, Diem counterattacked his critics. He used the help of the American Central Intelligence Agency to identify those who sought to bring his government down and arrested thousands. In 1959, Diem passed a series of acts known as Law 10/59 that allowed the government to hold someone in jail without formal charges if they were suspected of being a member of the Communist Party.

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Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem (front left), is greeted upon his arrival at the airport of the capital city of Taiwan, Taipei, by Chinese Nationalist President Chiang Kai-shek on 22 January 1960. The Vietnamese president was making an official five-day state visit to the Republic of China.

Photograph by Bettmann / CORBIS

Diem is discussed in a 26 January 1962 Draft Memorandum by the American Assistant to the Director for Regional Affairs (Far East):

The Government of Vietnam directly reflects the personal characteristics and philosophy of President Diem. It is allegedly a corrupt government, but charges of high-level corruption have not been substantiated. Corruption may exist, but with the possible exception of Malaya, it is probably the least corrupt government in Southeast Asia...President Diem is a man of notable strengths, admired for his austere dedication and courage, but he is also handicapped by several unswerving convictions which are critical weaknesses in the present phase of the emergency... A series of experiences wherein he has rejected advice outright and later been proven right left a lasting impression with Diem. Some observers believe that he now is convinced that he enjoys something close to divine guidance.

As a result of these experiences, he is cautious of U.S. advice. He is also probably incapable of concluding that the best interests of Vietnam would be served if he relinquished power...Replacement of Diem would gravely risk chaos at a time when chaos can only benefit the Communists. Though a replacement could be found in Vietnam, as in every nation in every age, the stakes involved in engineering a change that could not be directly controlled to ensure smooth transition are too great to risk now.

Lansdale replied:

While you have included some hints of it in your paper, the main U.S. failure in working with President Diem has been our many attempts to squeeze him into an American-type mold labeled "Chief of State." Most of the Americans who attempted to do this had only the foggiest notion of what is needed in a Chief of State, not only in Vietnam, but elsewhere (including the U.S.). Thus, Diem has come to view most Americans as meddlers and quite naive meddlers.  His real American friends, the ones he trusts, have always been able to speak to him with naked honesty about local problems, as long as they speak from first-hand knowledge.

March depicts a large picture of the King of Laos reviewing his troops. The picture on the actual calendar page shows a female Social Worker honoring a former Pathet Lao who returned to the Government side. She places a garland around the former guerrilla’s neck.

Roberts adds that by 1962, problems with training, indoctrination and manning plagued the ARVN and Diem was adamant that he needed Vietnamese Ranger companies to fight the growing Communist insurgency. South Vietnamese military and administrative leadership was improving. Diem’s cohort of young nationalists had replaced many of the French-era officials. Along with the increase in U.S. military aid, this new generation of leaders brought about startling progress. In order to encourage Viet Cong desertion, Diem announced the Chieu Hoi program in 1963. This program encouraged VC to rally to the government. Throughout the summer of 1963 Diem dealt with a growing Buddhist crisis. Diem’s refusal to allow Buddhist temples to fly flags during Buddha’s birthday celebrations in May 1963 began a wave of riots and self-immolations by monks. This turmoil was seized on by the international press to portray Diem‘s government as illegitimate. Unwittingly, this supported a North Vietnamese propaganda effort.

North Vietnamese histories make clear the extent to which this movement was organized and agitated by Communist agents within the Buddhist movement. It also had the effect of helping lead Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to begin working with coup plotters immediately after his arrival in Vietnam that August.

Prior to the November coup, the North admitted that the South had gained control over more than two-thirds of the rural population and established more than 3,500 strategic hamlets. They further claimed that over 40,000 cadre and soldiers had entered the South by the end of 1963. Diem was fighting the Army of North Vietnam and winning.

Generals in the Vietnam Army plotted a coup with the approval of U.S. officials. The impetus for the coup occurred on the night of 21 August 1963. Government forces throughout the country attacked Buddhist pagodas throughout South Vietnam. Thousands of Buddhists were arrested and more were beaten and injured. The United States blamed Ngo Dinh Nhu and his special forces for this attack, but wondered if he had the blessing of Diem. Ngo Dinh Nhu was the younger brother and chief political advisor of President Diem. He commanded the ARVN Special Forces, a paramilitary unit which served as the Ngo family's private army, and the Can Lao political apparatus which served as the regime’s secret police. The people blamed the government and the United States who supported Diem and had trained the Special Forces troops used in the attack. Almost immediately, Kennedy was approached by his people who wanted to remove Nhu from power, and if Diem would not follow orders, the president himself.

Brendan Kelly mentioned the plots against Diem in his 2014 masterís paper Edward Lansdale and the Saigon Military Mission: Nation Building and Counterinsurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1956. The French were putting obstacles in front of any action by Diem, and the U.S. Army seemed to have believed that getting rid of Diem was the easy way out of political problems. Only Lansdale seems to have believed in the Vietnamese President. Kelly also points out that the hated Nhu was a CIA asset, and it was in part the CIAís assistance in building a clandestine organization for Diem that eventually led to his downfall. Kelly goes into detail in his paper, so I have severely edited this to make it short and concise.

The main source of opposition to Diem's government now lay with the sects. Two of the sects, the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai, were indigenous religions while a third, the Binh Xuyen, having begun life as a nationalist social club for laborer's had essentially become the leading 'Mafia' organization in Saigon. The Binh Xuyenís power base was in Saigonís sister city of Cholon where they had a network of vice, narcotics, and gambling facilities. In an outrageously venal move, Bao Dai had transferred control of the National Police to the Binh Xuyen in mid-1954, for which the absentee emperor received an annual kickback calculated at $1.25 million. The Cao Dai and Hoa Hao each sought administrative control over the territories held by their forces.

On March 4, in response to moves by Diem aimed at attacking their financing, the Binh Xuyen, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao formed a 'United Front.' On March 21 the United Front issued an ultimatum to Diem. Acceptance would have effectively reduced Diem to figurehead status as premier of a state governed by the sect leaders. At midnight on March 29, Binh Xuyen troops attacked the headquarters of the Saigon police and the Vietnamese National Army but were quickly repulsed by the defending units. Diem brought up reinforcements for a counterattack but was thwarted by the French who blocked off the streets in Saigonís European quarter with tanks and enforced a truce. As Diem and Lansdale battled the Binh Xuyen, efforts are made by the French to frustrate them.

Binh Xuyen mortars lobbed fragmentary shells into the grounds of the Palace. This was followed an hour later by mortar shelling of the Vietnamese National Army headquarters. The garrisoned troops returned fire, and a firefight soon broke out. Diem then ordered an offensive to clear out the Binh Xuyen, and four battalions of Vietnamese National Army paratroopers led by General Duong Van Minh battled Binh Xuyen gangsters in positions around Cholon and Saigon. By the afternoon of the following day, the Vietnamese National Army were mopping up.

Diem has resisted the French. His nationalist credentials were as good as Ho Chi Minhís and perhaps better. He could compete for the people and Lansdale tried to assist him to do so. But as Diem became more firmly entrenched in his power after the defeat of the Binh Xuyen and the withdrawal of the French, he began to rely less on Lansdale for advice and increasingly followed the counsel of his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. Nhu had become a CIA asset in 1953. He continued to receive advice and funding from the regular CIA station while Lansdale dealt with Diem. Convinced that Diem needed a national party movement, the regular station helped Nhu in the formation of a secret political organization called the Can Lao. Lansdale had seen the danger in advance, travelling to Washington in early 1956 to present his objections to the Can Lao. He was met with deaf ears. Lansdale would write several years later, ďI cannot truly sympathize with Americans who help promote a fascistic state and then get angry when it doesnít act like a democracy."

Thomas L. Ahearn says in the formerly classified, CIA and the House of Ngo that there were two missions in Vietnam, the regular station, and the covert station, one helping Diem, the other Ngo. There often contradicted each other. Diem was not the first choice to rule South Vietnam, but eventually became the best choice. Nhu said he would take no position in the Diem government but would stay close to Diem. The CIA felt comfortable with Nhu, found him to be more personable and charming that Diem. Meanwhile Lansdale impressed Diem who agreed to him becoming a personal advisor. The CIA decided to build support for Diem by forming a Can Lao (Labor) Party. It would act when the government was found to be inadequate. In those early days, Diem, Lansdale, and Nhu saw the sects and the French as greatest danger.

For the CIA, as well as for Diem and Nhu, defense against the regime's enemies claimed priority. It is indeed likely that without CIA intervention on his behalf Diem would not have survived six months in office. As time went on Lansdale became annoyed by Nhu who he saw as whispering in Diemís ear and refuting his suggestions. Lansdale believed that Diem acted on about 10% of his recommendations. He though Nhu loved this secret life of control of the people and was a fascist at heart. Lansdale twice asked to be transferred but apparently that was denied because there was still some belief that Diem listened to him.

One theme that runs through the book is the lack of efficient people in the Diem administration. We see many comments about Diem wanting loyal people rather than competent people. Since he was fighting the sects, the French and the Communists, loyalty does seem a factor. By 1959, the Communist Party in Hanoi decided that political action was not working in the south and authorized military actions. Hanoi formed the 559th Transportation Group to handle infiltration of personnel and materiel into South Vietnam. On 26 January 1960, Vietnam became a hotspot when some 200 Viet Cong troops overran a Vietnamese Army (ARVN) regimental headquarters. The military and CIA seemed surprised since they believed the Viet Cong had lost all ability to fight in the south. There was belief that Nhu had kept Diem from taking actions to destroy the Viet Cong earlier and many wanted Nhu out of the picture. In fact, we see some of the first thoughts of replacing both brothers.

On 4 July 1963, CIA officer Lucien (Lou) Conein, first heard of the Generalís coup against Diem when he went for drinks with some generals at a downtown hotel. On 11 July, there was a rumor that Nhu was planning a coup against Diem. On 22 July, Nhu was ruled out as an acceptable replacement for Diem. The CIA would promote Vice President Tho as his successor. On 28 August, both Lodge and Richardson confirmed their intention to remove Ngo Dinh Nhu even if it meant overthrowing Diem. On 29 August Ambassador Lodge was determined to instigate a coup d'etat. Early in the evening, he sent a cable which began:

We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable turning back: the overthrow of the Diem government.

On 2 September, Nhu's English-language mouthpiece, the Times of Vietnam, sported the banner headline "CIA Financing Planned Coup d'Etat.Ē On 5 October, the conspirators said they did not need any American support for the coup, but they needed assurances that the US would also not move to thwart them. They also wanted a promise of continued economic and military aid at the existing level, which was $1.5 million per day.

The last few page of the book mention the murder of the brothers but goes into no great detail. Perhaps the author did not want to show any further involvement of the CIA.

The American press and fellow travelers have claimed that Nhu was some sort of an evil manipulator behind the Diem dictatorship. To this day he is considered the power behind the throne. In fact, according to Professor Duy Lap Nguyen's THE UNIMAGINED COMMUNITY: IMPERIALISM AND CULTURE IN SOUTH VIETNAM, Manchester University Press, 2022, Nhu was a rather exceptional man:

While Diem, moreover, during his exile in the early 1950s, succeeded in establishing contact with prominent American leaders, his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, would become an important political figure in the South. Contrary to the pervasive image of the Vietnamese leader as "a proto-Fascist and mentally unstable drug addict," a Vietnamese Rasputin," who had "something frightening in his face, an air of Machiavellian mystery and cynical vanity, wicked intelligence and calculated malice," Nhu had lived an ascetic existence prior to beginning his political career. Trained at the prestigious Nationale des Chartes, Nhu, who was the school's first Annamite student, graduated third in his class. While working as an archivist in Hanoi, he was evaluated by Paul Boudet, director of the Indochinese Archives and Libraries Department, as "a young civil servant of the highest quality, combining the virtues of resoluteness and straightforwardness with a wide culture and impeccable professional abilities."

In the 1950s, Nhu, inspired by the writings of French syndicalist thinkers, would become as one of the most effective political organizers in the country, establishing the Can Lao Party, which would play a significant role in Diem's ascendance to power. As the British correspondent Michael Field recalled, Nhu "was undoubtedly one of the most astute Vietnamese politicians of his generation. It was probably Ngo Dinh Nhu who created the situation in 1954 in which his elder brother was the most obvious candidate for the premiership."

Despite its undemocratic beginnings, moreover, Diem's "Personalist" Republic, according to the US Ambassador Frederick Nolting, was not a fascist dictatorship. Rather, it was a government that employed authoritarian measures to create the conditions for a modern democracy: "I never felt that [Diem] wanted to maintain an autocracy." He "was dedicated to the long-range aim of a self-representative democratic system," while recognizing that "you had to build the infrastructure of democracy before [democracy] would mean anything and strangely enough, I think his brother Nhu was even more anxious to introduce self-government measures, although he had the reputation of being just the reverse.

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Ambassador Lodge pleads ignorance - Diem decides to stay and fight

The American participation in the assassination plot is told in some depth in the classified “Secret” Thomas L. Ahern book CIA and the House of Ngo.

We see Ambassador Lodge trying to convince the U.S. Government to get rid of Diem and also egging on the conspirators:

General Khanh was in Saigon on 25 August and sought out the CIA liaison officer, Al Spera, to express his dismay, and that of other unnamed officers, with the recent course of events. He claimed to fear that the regime might cut a deal with North Vietnam rather than accept US pressure to accommodate the Buddhists. Khanh said that he and his friends would then rebel…Ambassador Lodge moved to bring Washington into line with his determination to instigate a coup d'etat. Early in the evening of 29 August, he sent a cable which began, “We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable turning back: the overthrow of the Diem government.” American prestige, already committed, and the impossibility of winning with Ngo Dinh Diem, required an “all-out effort” to get the generals to move without delay.

President Kennedy agrees but hopes for a changeover without bloodshed. On 29 August 1963, he sends Lodge a message that says in part:

Top secret, Eyes only. No department or other distribution whatsoever…I have approved all the messages…Everything in these messages has my complete support…There is one point on my Constitutional responsibilities as President and Commander in Chief…Until the very moment of the Go signal for the operation by the Generals, I must reserve a contingent right to change course…When we go we must go to win, but it will be better to change our minds than fail….

On 13 September, Lodge wrote to Rusk asking him to get the President to approve dispatching Major General Edward Lansdale “to take charge, under my supervision, of all US relationships with a change of government here.”

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The CIA’s Secret Plot is not so Secret
Associated Press Photo by Horst Faas

The headline on the front page of The Times of Viet Nam, published in Saigon on 2 September 1963 reads “CIA FINANCING PLANNED COUP D'ETAT,” (Sub title: “Planned for Aug 23, Falls Flat, Stillborn”). The story alleges a scheme by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow the government of President Diem. Two months later President Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were assassinated.The Times of Vietnam was an English-language newspaper regarded as the official mouthpiece of the Diem regime. The newspaper's last publication was the 1 November morning edition, as its offices were set ablaze by anti-Diem rioters during the coup that began later that afternoon.

Meanwhile, Diem’s brother Nhu seems to be well aware of the plot and doing everything to stop it.

While the anti-Diem conspirators wove their various plots, Ngo Dinh Nhu devised one of his own. As the Station later pieced it together, Nhu instructed Dinh to prepare a raid on Saigon by units based outside the city. The apparent insurrection, which was to include terrorist-style attacks on Americans, would then be put down by loyal forces commanded by Nhu and Dinh. The US would then see that the alternative to Diem was anarchy and endorse the government's hard line against the Buddhists.

Geoffrey Shaw mentions the plotters in The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2015. He says that while everyone else realized the value of Diem, Kennedy was surrounded by a small group of Democrats and Liberal newsmen who wanted a change in the regime in South Vietnam. He points out that everyone else knew the value of Diem:

Philippine Foreign Secretary Salvador said his government backed President Diem and was willing to act as an agent of reconciliation between him and the United States…Lopez warned that without Diem the U.S. Could not succeed.

The Australian government said…There was no alternative to Diem…The radical Buddhists had shot their bolt and the Australians were hopeful that the calm would allow the fight to be refocused on the Communists.

The British ambassador to South Vietnam said the Diem Government has overcome the Buddhist problem…In other words, an attempt to get another government will probably fail and therefore should not be undertaken.

Chiang Kai-shek is alleged to have said: “It's been 100 years since Vietnam had anyone like Ngo Dinh Diem. When will Vietnam produce another? He was the Confucius of Vietnam."

Even Secretary of Defense McNamara was against the change. He expressed contempt for the generals plotting against their president and claimed they had no plan for a replacement government.

Vice President Johnson never had any sympathy for the idea of changing the Vietnamese government by plotting with ARVN generals. He recommended that the White House backtrack immediately, reestablish amicable relations with Diem, and then get on with the real fight, which was against the Communists. After the murders, Johnson told Senator Eugene McCarthy, [This comment is found on White House Tapes] “They started on me with Diem, you remember. That he was corrupt, and he ought to be killed. So we killed him. We all got together and got a goddamn bunch of thugs we went in and assassinated him. Now, we’ve really had no political stability since then.”

Martin J. Manning and Clarence R. Wyatt edited the 2-volume set titled Encyclopedia of Media and Propaganda in Wartime America. They wrote about the various wars that the United States was involved in and I have added a brief part of what was written about President Diem in the Vietnam War in this article (edited for brevity):

Ngo Dinh Diem was the President of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) from June 1954 to November 1963. Diem entered the School of Law and Public Administration in Hanoi, graduating four years later at the top of his class and becoming a provincial governor at age 25. Diem became both an ardent nationalist and anticommunist in this position. Early in 1933 newly crowned Emperor Bao Dai appointed Diem as interior minister, but Diem discovered that the position was powerless. In September 1945, following the Japanese surrender, Diem was kidnapped by the powerful Viet Minh forces of Ho Chi Minh. After six months, Diem was taken to Hanoi, where he met Ho Chi Minh, who asked him to join the Communists. Diem refused, but Ho still released him. Later, Communist leaders realized this had been a mistake and sentenced Diem to death in absentia. In October 1955, Diem engineered a referendum between himself and Bao Dai in which he won over 98 percent of the vote, using that mandate to declare himself president.

In late August 1963, new U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge reported to Washington that a faction of South Vietnamese generals wanted to overthrow Diem. Administration officials, with Kennedyís approval, told Lodge that, while they were "prepared to tell the appropriate military commanders we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown of the central government mechanism." Just over an hour after midnight on 1 November 1963, the generals began their coup. Diem phoned Lodge to ask, "What is the attitude of the U.S." Lodge feigned ignorance and replied, "I do not feel well enough informed to be able to tell you." He assured Diem that he would do anything possible to guarantee Diemís personal safety.

Diem and Nhu fled the presidential palace through a tunnel and took refuge in Cho Lon, the Chinese section of Saigon. About 6 a.m. the next morning, the two men agreed to surrender. The generals leading the coup guaranteed them safe passage out of the country, but the brothers were shot to death and Nhuís body was repeatedly stabbed.

Washington never found a viable alternative to Ngo Dinh Diem. Certainly, no subsequent leader of the Republic of Vietnam had his air of legitimacy. As a result, U.S. leaders, who had seen Diem as an alternative to Ho Chi Minh and an agent to stop the spread of communism, soon found themselves taking direct control of the war in Vietnam.

As Sean Fear said in The Ambiguous Legacy of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnamís Second Republic (1967-1975):

As the southern Catholic journalist and politician Vo Long Trieu recalls:

In the last months and days of the First Republic, many members of the Catholic intellectual Pax Romana Movement, me included, were constantly discussing the Southís leadership crisis, in which the mass of public opinion was discontent that the brothers of President Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu and Ngo Dinh Can, were enforcing an undemocratic system of nepotism that had lost the peopleís faith...However, there were also many brothers among us who supported President Ngo Dinh Diem, who often posed the question: apart from President Ngo Dinh Diem, who is more worthy of the task of administrating the country? It was a question that nobody could answer decisively.

Vietnamese Generals Nguyen Duy Hinh and Tran Dinh Tho wrote a monograph on South Vietnamese Society for the U.S. Army Center of Military History in 1980. They point out the assets and liabilities and assets of President Diem. They say in part:

An objective assessment of various leaders who succeeded him to power after 1963 indicated that Mr. Diem at least possessed certain invaluable leadership qualities that no one else had. The people's respect for his person was evident in the fact that he was addressed and referred to as Cu (Venerable) Diem or Tong Thong (President) Diem but not the belittling Ong (Mr.) Diem as some leaders had come to be called later.

President Johnson, when still a senator, praised him as "the Winston Churchill of Asia." He had earned this respect or eminence, whether one criticized him for his errors or disapproved of his policies. No one, however, dared accuse him of corruption because he was a man of moral excellence totally impervious to worldly pleasures, and his religiously ascetic life was too well known. Mr. Diem also had certain traits of character which some elderly persons enjoyed comparing with those of Ho Chi Minh. Like Ho, for example, he was imbued with revolutionary ideals, gave up position and wealth, and led a life of celibacy. The personal prestige of a leader was paramount in Vietnamese society whether North or South. For this reason, Ho Chi Minh had created several myths about his person to win the respect and trust of the Northern population. But Mr. Diem hardly needed any myths to win his.

In short, President Ngo Dinh Diem had proved to be a leader who showed much concern for his country and who had depth of vision and the ability to foresee political moves in his encounter with Communist North Vietnam. However, his mistake of over relying on members of his family had led certain among them to excesses, especially Madame Nhu, who was so hated by the people that his own prestige was adversely affected. In the years 1971-1973, when the situation became more difficult and society more divided, people remembered him, visited his grave, and held religious services in his memory on the anniversary of his death. This was probably the most eloquent commentary on his leadership. In these times when talking about Mr. Diem few referred to him as a dictator and many agreed that he and his actions were right.

The coup took place on 1 November 1963. General “Big” Duong Van Minh’s soldiers arrived…He gave his bodyguards a direct order to murder them…Major Nguyen Van Nhung cut out the gall bladders while they were still alive and then shot them.

Duy Lap Nguyen adds:

The coup was carried out by members of the officer corps, who belonged to an elite urban minority, demanding more "talented men to the cabinet," as the basis for creating a truly popular government. During the coup, however, the conspirators, ironically, would be compelled to assassinate Diem precisely because he had too much popular support from the peasant majority, because he was "too much respected among simple, gullible people in the countryside" The top generals who decided to murder Diem and his brother were scared to death. The generals knew very well that having no talent, no moral virtues, no political support whatsoever, they could not prevent a spectacular comeback of the president and Mr. Nhu if they were alive.

In an effort, moreover, to ensure that the coup was perceived by the public as an act undertaken in the name of democracy, the generals...Immediately after the coup, with the help of US intelligence, carried out a psychological warfare campaign to defame the early Republic and to proclaim a new era of liberal democracy. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets, distributed throughout the countryside, announced that the "dictatorial, family ruling regime of Ngo Dinh Diem is being replaced by a truly free and democratic regime." A new page of our people's history begins.

Speaking of the generals, a paper prepared by an unknown person and organization dated 19 August 1981 titled "Plotting Vietnamese Generals" was found in the records of William B. Colby, a former Director of the CIA.

Major General Tran Van Don, acting army commander under the August 20 martial law decree, used his position to travel throughout the country and coordinate the coup plans of plotting military officers. Don was also the principal contact with the Americans. His meetings with Lou Conein of the CIA were often held in improbable surroundings, including the office of Don's dentist, who kept a set of dental charts for Conein and worked on his teeth. After the November coup, Don became minister of defense and army commander in chief. He was deposed three months later in a bloodless coup led by General Nguyen Khanh.

Major General Duong Van Minh, nicknamed "Big" Minh for his imposing size, was President Diem's military adviser. Although a popular and capable military officer, Minh had no command responsibility. Diem and Nhu had been suspicious of "Big" Minh since November 1960, when he called a meeting of all regional commanders on the day of the unsuccessful army coup d'etat. During the November I, 1963, coup, Minh oversaw military operations. After deposing Diem, Minh became chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee, a position he held until his arrest by General Khanh in January 1964.

Brigadier General Nguyen Khanh, the aggressive II Corps commander, also helped rescue Diem in 1960. He supported the 1963 coup after learning of Nhu's possible accommodation with North Vietnam. Khanh overthrew the ruling Military Revolutionary Committee in January 1964. After a year in power, he was sent into exile by Generals Ky and Thieu.

Brigadier General Ton That Dinh, III Corps commander and the military governor of Saigon, commanded combat forces in Saigon and was the key officer for both the plotting generals and the Diem regime. Vain and arrogant, General Dinh boasted of saving the Diem regime in August 1963. He joined the coup plotters after being denied a position in Diem's government.

Brigadier General Le Van Kim, Donís deputy, and brother-in-law, was in charge of political planning for the coup committee. Considered one of South Vietnam's most capable military officers, Kim had been denied a field command because of his criticism of the Diem regime. A member of the Military Revolutionary Committee until his arrest in January 1964, Kim later left the army and became a successful businessman.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History Indochina monograph Leadership by General Cao Van Vien adds:

For all its flaws, the Diem administration must be credited with strong national leadership and laudable achievements. It restored national authority, developed the economy, reorganized the Armed Forces, and turned South Vietnam into a nation of world stature in Southeast Asia. To combat communist insurgency activities, which increasingly threatened the nation's survival since 1959, the GVN instituted an antithetic national ideology culminating in the Strategic Hamlet program. Despite criticisms and excesses, this strategic concept was sound enough to provide the foundation for pacification and development in the years ahead.

As an individual, President Diem was widely recognized as a deeply patriotic, highly ethical, honest, and rather austere national leader who abhorred luxury and devoted all his time and energy to state affairs. The "eminence grise" of the regime, however, was his younger brother, Mr. Nhu. A silent and meditative scholar, Mr. Nhu distinguished himself by his vast knowledge, sharp intelligence, and innovative ideas. He helped President Diem overcome serious challenges and solve thorny problems of national importance. He was consulted on every aspect of government, and no important decision was ever made without his participation. His influence was such that all cabinet ministers sought his guidance before acting. It was also Mr. Nhu who gave birth to personalism and the Strategic Hamlet program. During indoctrination sessions, he gave lectures to cabinet ministers and high-ranking military and civilian officials on subjects relating to strategy and even tactics. With the death of the Ngo brothers, South Vietnam had lost two prominent leaders whose stature and capabilities had enabled the nation to face its communist foes with self-assurance. The death of President Diem resulted in such a void in leadership that no one among the victorious generals could take his place. National leadership, therefore, broke down into factions that fought among themselves for ascendancy.

General Cao Van Vien and Lieutenant General Dong Van Khuyen mention a Vietnamese view Diem in an Indochina Monograph published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, titled Reflections on the Vietnam War. The book was translated by Phillip Tran.

In retrospect the regrettable death of President Diem, a leader with enough stature to oppose Ho Chi Minh, was a great disaster for South Vietnam in time of war. The three years of political instability that followed edged South Vietnam toward the brink of collapse which was averted only when the U.S. committed its combat troops to fight the ground war. North Vietnam and its servants, the Viet Cong, took advantage of South Vietnam's turmoil to step up subversion of the rural areas and aggregate South Vietnam's political vulnerabilities by advocating the policy of neutrality. This proposal caused concern among the U.S authorities that South Vietnam could come under Communist control if the U.S. were invited to leave. On the other hand, North Vietnam increased the infiltration of personnel, war materials and major units into South Vietnam to prepare for a takeover by force. On the RVN side, political instability dispirited and confused the ranks of civil servants and servicemen and diluted its war efforts.

Mervyn Roberts mentions Diem in Propaganda and Influence: Russian and Chinese Targeting of America:

The transition to a modern country was painful in South Vietnam for several reasons, and wide debate existed over the correct path to follow. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem stifled all dissent and fostered anger and resentment among many South Vietnamese as he tried to implement his vision for the nation. As the remaining communist cadre in the South were decimated by Diem's government forces by 1961, North Vietnamese created a front group to revitalize the movement. Though not pro-communist, they may not have agreed to Diem's plans. Thus, hiding behind the fasade of the National Liberation Front, some Southerners unwittingly joined a resistance group that was controlled by the communists.

Martin F. Herz

Martin F. Herz served the United States Government in Paris, Cambodia, and Vietnam. He knew the area intimately.

The Vietnam War in Retrospect

He said about Diem in his School of Foreign Service book, The Vietnam War in Retrospect (edited for brevity):

In the South, a virtually unknown politician, a mystic nationalist mandarin name Ngo Dinh Diem, became prime minister and then president. He lacked the most elementary control over the country. There were religious sects who were waiting to take over territory abandoned by the Viet Minh. The Binh Xuyen, which was like a Mafia with its own uniformed army, was in control of the Saigon police. Refugees from the north placed an enormous burden on the government at the very time French administrators were leaving. It was no secret that part of the Viet Minh went underground and established arms caches throughout the country. 3,000 arms caches were found by the South Vietnamese between 1954 and 1959.

South Vietnam, contrary to all expectations, turned out to be a viable entity. Diem got rid of the French; he held a plebiscite and got rid of Bao Dai; he promulgated a new constitution; he asserted control over the sects and broke the back of the Binh Xuyen gangster fraternity. He gave the South Vietnamese some confidence in an independent future.

So, we got rid of Diem, but the situation deteriorated further. Diem's organization in the countryside came apart; the North Vietnamese pushed more men into South Vietnam; the South Vietnamese military continued to flounder in their efforts to control the guerrillas; and President Kennedy was once more confronted with the choice of increasing the American effort of support or cutting it and getting out. Not long after that he was himself assassinated.

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Vietnamese Troops Attack Presidential Palace

Troops under the command of rebel generals fire heavy machine guns at presidential
palace in Saigon during the battle to overthrow the regime of President Ngo Din Diem.
Associated Press Wirephoto November 10, 1963

Max Boot mentions the quality of the plotters against Diem in The Road Not Taken, Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York, 2018:

Tran Van Don, for one, was aggrieved that Diem had delayed his formal promotion to lieutenant general until the day after a fellow coup plotter, Duong Van Minh, had been elevated to that rank, thereby vaulting “Big” Minh ahead of him in seniority. Another coup plotter, Brigadier General Ton That Dinh, the military governor of Saigon, was upset that the president had refused to appoint him interior minister, a post he coveted. The coup leader, Big Minh, was yet another spurned job seeker. He took command of the conspiracy in large part because the president had removed him from a combat command and made him head of a meaningless field command.

During the attack on the palace, Diem called offering a peaceful surrender. Conein was a WWII veteran of the OSS who had served in Vietnam for decades. It was not to be.

At 0620 hours, Diem called offering to surrender if promised safe conduct out of the country. Generals Don and Khiem told Conein they would need a US aircraft for this, and Conein called the Embassy, where David Smith said that France seemed the country most likely to promise asylum, and it would take 24 hours to bring in an aircraft with enough range to avoid any intermediate stops between Saigon and Paris.

Then, in the afternoon, Generals Big Minh, Don, and Kim separately offered to let Conein view the bodies of Diem and Nhu. Conein declined, fearing the "generals would think he was taking grisly relish in his part" in the coup. Conein now accepted as fact, however, that the President and his brother were dead.

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St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church

The brothers eventually got to St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the Cholon district where they waited and talked to the leaders of the coup. As practicing Catholics, they probably felt they had sanctuary there. After being promised safe passage, they surrendered. Instead, they were betrayed, stabbed multiple times and shot in the head. Inside the church today there is a plaque that states:

This is the pew in which the President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu had sat before they were taken on the tank and were killed on the way to Saigon on November 2, 1963.

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President Diem Killed by Vietnamese Soldiers in Military Armed Personnel Carrier

A Report on the death of the Diem Brothers

The Saigon newspaper Lap Truong ran an expose of the Diem coup and murder in June and July 1971. The author is unknown but believed to be someone on the inside of the plot. It is interesting that the author did not say who gave the order to kill the brothers. This was left up to the reader to determine. It also seems evident that many of the generals did not expect the deaths, and they seemed to be in a state of panic when they first heard. I am not going to go into detail about the machinations before the coup and the various Vietnamese generals and American diplomats and CIA who were involved. I will just mention some of the things said about the murders:

We know that when Diem called General Don he was told:

To avoid disturbances, we request you to make a temporary stay abroad. We will guarantee absolute security for you and your family.

A decision was made to use an M-113 armored personnel carrier to transport the President and his brother because:

This is the best way of guaranteeing their safety.

General Duong Van Minh (Big Minh) went to the office of his aide-de-camp, Captain Nguyen Van Nhung, guided him to a corner of the office and told him something. Later, near the M-113, General Minh pointed one finger, then 2 fingers upward while looking at his bodyguard Captain Nguyen Van Nhung.

General Don was dressed in a military uniform as he awaited the arrival of Diem. He would personally welcome them at the parking lot, then guide them to General Le Van Ty's office for a rest before they boarded an airplane to leave. Meanwhile, General Mai Huu Xuan, Colonel Duong Ngoc Lam and Colonel Nguyen Van Quan arrived at the church grounds at the edge of which stood two men. The general and colonels greeted the two men and saluted. President Diem and Nhu shook hands with them in turn. The convoy of jeeps and the M-113 started back and there was no expectation of danger to anyone. General Don went into an office while awaiting the two and found six generals in a panic, General Le Van Kim (pounding a desk in anger):

We are finished! Everything's finished! Why are they dead? How could they have been killed? It doesn't make sense! We must shed some light on this. If we don't, our whole plan will be ruined.

General Duong Van Minh broke in:

Where are they? Why they're done for! Finished, so accept it! What we must do now is find some explanation for it. Let's not get all worked up. Let's say they committed suicide."

General Minh asked Captain Nguyen Van Nhung to explain what happened:

General! While I was sitting in the APC, Ngo Dinh Nhu unexpectedly snatched the pistol I was wearing on my hip. I always keep my pistol loaded, ready for action."

Captain Nhung was known as a ferocious officer, liked to show off his Colt .45 and carried a knife with 48 notches carved in the handle. The generals continued to argue, some left the room, others worried about the international reactions to the brothers being killed. They decided to claim the two Catholics committed suicide, knowing that was a lie and would not be accepted by the people, but figured they would come up with a better story later. Nhung had quietly left, and General Xuan said about what happened when the M-113 doors were opened:

Nhung ran over and reported to me that the two men were dead. I asked him how and he said that Nhu had snatched his gun, shot Diem dead, and then pointed the gun at his own head and pulled the trigger. Nhu's action was so quick that he couldn't intervene."

The arguments went on, people were rioting in the streets, and eventually the nation went back to normal. Nobody ever took credit for ordering Nhung to kill the brothers. The insider who wrote the report certainly seems to be hinting that it was General Duong Van Minh. The generals achieved none of the things they claimed to want, life got worse, and the war was lost. Big Minh lasted only three months before being toppled by Nguyen Khanh but assumed power again as the fourth and last President of South Vietnam in April 1975, two days before surrendering to North Vietnamese forces. Captain Nhung, sometimes called ďa professional military assassinĒ executed President Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. An investigation determined that Nhung had repeatedly stabbed and shot the Ngo brothers while escorting them back to military headquarters after having arrested them. Following Nguyen Khanh's successful January 1964 coup against Minh's military junta, Nhung died in mysterious circumstances, the only fatality in the otherwise bloodless regime change.

History tells us that when generals overthrow a duly elected government, things always go from bad to worse.

On 20 June 1965, the United States Senate questioned former CIA officer Lucien Conein about his time in Vietnam and what he knew about the Generalís plots to overthrow the government. Some of the comments from the report are mentioned here, greatly edited for brevity.

The CIA and the Department of Defense took an official position in Opposition to toppling Diem, but the State Department took a contrary view that Diem had to go. Conien met with Big Minh in October 1963 and the assassination of Diem was brought up as one of three options. Conien was told on 28 October that the coup would happen. When the coup started, Conien had a military jeep, a Vietnamese driver, two radio sets, a bag, an extra-large briefcase, and a .38 revolver. The briefcase held about 3 million piasters (US $73,000) at the request of General Don to pay any commanders that hesitated about moving forward on the day of the coup, and payment for the families of any men killed, apparently a Vietnamese tradition. When Conien was asked who killed Diem his answer was:

When Big Minh found out that they were prisoners, he gave an order to his aide, Captain Nhung and Captain Nhung killed them in the armored car. On the way back, Big Minhís group crossed the column, halted it, and Captain Nhung stepped into it and killed them.

The Vietnamese generals offered to show the bodies to Lucien Conein a CIA officer. He refused to look at them because he felt that would somehow lead the Vietnamese people to believe this was an American assassination. Bringing money to the Generals to bribe recalcitrant unit leaders seems to point to some American involvement.

Max Boot adds:

The brothers' killer was Captain Nguyen Van Nhung, a bodyguard to Big Minh and a "professional assassin who liked to keep a record of the people he killed by scratching a mark on his pistol for each victim." Before the convoy left for the church, Minh had given a hand signal to Nhung, who had carried out his orders with ruthless efficiency.

According to my friend and expert on Vietnamese War history Nguyen Ky Phong:

After General Minh was ousted, Nhung was captured and sent to Hoang Hoa Tham Airborne Camp for interrogation. He hanged himself there using his shoelaces.

Graham A. Cosmas says about the assassination of Diem and the American responsibility for the overthrow in MACV The Joint Command in the Years of Escalation, 1962Ė1967, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 2006:

For three or four years after the tumultuous events of 1955, it seemed that the United States, through Diem, was achieving its goal. Bolstered by some $190 million a year in American military and economic aid, Diem enforced at least a degree of governmental authority throughout South Vietnam. His regime resettled the refugees, achieved a measure of economic prosperity, and promulgated what was, on paper, a progressive land reform policy. By means of a series of harsh and indiscriminate but effective anti-Communist "denunciation" campaigns, Diem made progress in destroying the remaining Viet Minh organization in the countryside. His troops kept the surviving sect and Communist guerrillas on the run, and his government attempted to establish mass organizations of its own to control and indoctrinate the people.

Cosmas goes on to talk about the problems with Diem as seen by U.S. officials and eventually gets to the plan to oust the President (edited for brevity).

On 24 August, while Kennedy, Rusk, McNamara, and CIA Chief McCone all were out of Washington, a group of mid-level State Department and White House officials led by Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Roger Hilsman and Under Secretary for Political Affairs W. Averell Harriman acted. Harriman and Hilsman drafted a cable to Lodge, secured the presidentís clearance for it with the aid of Michael Forrestal, a member of the White House staff, and dispatched it without concurrence of the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the CIA. Establishing what amounted to a new American policy toward Diem, the instructions declared that the United States no longer could tolerate Nhu's dominance of Diemís government. Diem, the cable declared, "must be given chance to rid himself of Nhu and his coterie and replace them with best military and political personalities available." If Diem failed to do so, "then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved."

When President Kennedy and his senior officials returned to work on Monday, many were dismayed by the implications of the action taken in their absence. For the better part of the week, Kennedy, and his senior national security advisers, with Ambassador Nolting also sitting in, argued over the merits of promoting Diemís overthrow. The State Department people, except for Nolting, who passionately took the opposing side, defended the policy set by the cable. McNamara, General Taylor (now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and McCone expressed outrage that the policy change had been initiated behind their backs and pointed out that the government was proposing to support an alternative leadership, the composition and even the existence of which were at best highly uncertain. Nevertheless, when directly polled by Kennedy, none of the senior officials favored countermanding Lodge's instructions.

On 5 June, MACV had ordered its personnel to "stand aloof" from the controversy and avoid statements and actions supporting either side. In the event of prolonged fighting between pro-and anti-Diem forces, his command could assist the rebels with military advice and could furnish unarmed American aircraft for troop transport, supply, reconnaissance, and liaison while withholding such aid from the loyalists. Lodge allied himself with the anti-Diem faction in the State Department and the White House. General Harkins agreed that Nhu should be removed from power and supported U.S. pressure on Diem, including aid reductions or cutoffs, to bring about that and other needed changes in the regime. However, to the end, he insisted that the United States should seek to save the president, whom Harkins regarded as a dedicated patriot, who "knew more about his country than anybody I knew and was doing a lot of good."

Lodge excluded Harkins from his contacts with the plotters, conducted almost entirely through a CIA officer. President Kennedy was irritated at the lack of concerted action by the two principal officials of his Vietnam country team. On 29 and 30 October, he instructed Lodge to include Harkins as well as the CIA station chief in supervision of the American agentís contacts with the rebels. Following the war, General Harkins would harshly criticize the American officials who helped bring down Diem. "It was a shame," he declared in 1974, "to have Diem go when things were going so well, it wasnít worth the price, period." The elimination of Diem did nothing to remedy the fundamental political, social, and institutional deficiencies of South Vietnam. Instead, the fall of the government simply swept away most of what administrative machinery the nation had. At the same time, the Kennedy administration, by associating itself publicly with the anti-Diem forces, left the U.S. government deeply implicated in both the murders of Diem and Nhu and the failings of subsequent regimes.

The CIA wrote a 1964 classified secret report about the situation in Vietnam after the assassination. It shows how bad it was and all the internal fights going on. It said in part: The Khanh regime was under public pressure to punish supposed malefactors of the Diem era. This could compromise the war effort and turn into a witch hunt. There was competition between General Khanh and members of Deputy Prime Minister Loanís Dai Viet Party. Interior Minister Ky wanted to fire the National Police Director, perhaps to put his own people in that position. The Buddhist leadership is divided. The Northern Dai Viet Party called Khanh a dictator as bad as Diem. General Nguyen Van Thieu might be preparing a coup against General Thanh. Other possible plots might involve the Joint General Staff, the Commandant of the Armor School, the Special Forces, and the armored brigade. General Khanh also seems to have gone after Madame Nhu. He apparently asked that she be extradited from France but was told she was a French citizen and extradition was impossible. Madame Nhu retaliated by writing a letter to Ambassador Lodge in which she attacked him personally and the United States in general. She accused the US of drowning South Vietnam In "bloody death" when it was close to victory, and it implies that victory is now impossible. It turns out she was right.

It appears that the assassination of Diem did nothing but throw the country into turmoil.

The Henderson Film

Soldiers and Armor advances toward the Palace

When President Kennedy was assassinated there was a "Zapruder film" that depicted the shooting. There is a "Henderson tape" that depicts some of the attack on the Diem palace though it does not show Diem killed. United States Air Force Pilot Captain H. "Mel" Henderson filmed this 12-minute Saigon Coup D‚'etat film on 1 and 2 November 1963, depicting the attack, the inside of the bullet-scarred palace, and the armored personnel carrier where the assassination eventually occurred. Captain Henderson was an early advisor in Vietnam, sent to help clear the way for the thousands of troops to follow.

Trying to figure out who took part in the overthrow of the government, American senior officers gathered to scrutinize this movie on 2 November 1963 to discern the identities of the rebel forces and any CIA operative who might have been present. The film was shot free-hand and is shaky and blurry in places. The film identifies two of the leaders as Lieutenant General Duong Van Minh and Major General Tran Van Don.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that after the coup the people pulled down a statute of the Trung sisters. They were historical figures beloved by the Vietnamese as leaders of the first Vietnamese independence movement who headed a rebellion against the Chinese Han-dynasty overlords and briefly established an autonomous state. It is hard to understand why the statue would have been pulled down except that it was sponsored by Madame Nhu, the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. Perhaps the Vietnamese hated her and anything she had been involved in. One also wonders if there were Viet Cong among the crowd that wanted to destroy the symbol of Vietnamese independence. The mob also burnt a bookstore belonging to Madame Nhu and sacked the Parliament building, which reminds one of those "peaceful demonstrations" we see in the streets of America so often that somehow lead to stores stripped of their wares.

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The Graves of the Brothers

The brothers were initially secretly buried in Saigon's Mac Dinh Chi cemetery in unmarked graves. Years later the bodies were moved to Lai Thieu cemetery in the Binh Duong Province. President Nguyen Thieu was a converted catholic. After he was elected, Thieu ordered the bodies of the Diem brothers to be moved and allowed his followers to hold a proper death anniversary for them.

Paul Blizard visited the Binh Duong Province to visit the graves of Diem and Nhu on 7 January 2019. As pictured, there are three graves together. The brothers are buried on either side of their mother who died in 1964. Each of their graves bear their Catholic names, rather than their Vietnamese names inscribed on their tombstones. So, without knowing the Catholic names, it would be impossible to identify the graves. When arriving to the cemetery five men led Paul to the grave and stayed with him until he left. They were workers and security people at the cemetery.

Ngo Dinh Can

If killing the two Diem brothers was not enough for the generals, Paul Blizard later told me that they killed a third brother:

Six months after the military coup of the Diem regime, with the murder of President Diem and brother Advisor Nhu, a third brother, Ngo Dinh Can, who was in central Vietnam with his own secret police force, had to be eliminated. He was arrested and after a kangaroo court trial was sentenced to death. Ngo Dinh Can was a diabetic and even before his trial and execution he was denied insulin and almost died. He had a heart attack during his trial, and they had to call two soldiers to walk him to the place of execution and prop him up to be shot. He was considered a "warlord" in the Diem regime and was accused of atrocities.

After visiting the two brother's graves, as I was leaving one of the security men pointed out the grave of the third brother Ngo Dinh Can. The brothers are buried on either side of their mother who also died in 1964. Ngo Dinh Can is buried in the same line of graves but not with his brothers or mother. Ngo Dinh Can's headstone has his Catholic name and his first name: "Can."

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Francis Leahy adds in his Master of Military Art and Science paper entitled: Why did the Strategic Hamlet Program Fail?

Frederick Nolting, U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1961 to 1963, drew the conclusion that the inability of the U.S. administration to accept Diem's style of government resulted in the coup of I November 1963. Diem failed to match the standards of democratic government set by the United States and in spite of earlier pledges to refrain from interfering in the internal politics of South Vietnam, U.S. officials “encouraged dissident generals to revolt.”

According to Stanley Karnow, President Kennedy gave the new Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, the complete discretion to suspend U.S. aid to Vietnam. In a situation where the Diem regime was almost entirely dependent on U.S. financial support, this gave Lodge the mandate to manage U.S. policy in Vietnam, “and the policy as Lodge defined It, was to topple the Diem regime.”

We should add that former Ambassador Nolting was considered a friend of Diem and in August, JFK had decided to replace Nolting with a Republican from Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge.

It has been reported that Lucien Conein, a CIA operative, provided a group of South Vietnamese generals with $40,000 to carry out the coup with the promise that US forces would make no attempt to protect Diem. Other reports say that U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge assured the Generals that the U.S. would not stand in their way. A top secret, three-page, eyes-only Ambassador Lodge, Department of State Telegram dated 24 August 1963 says in part:

US Government cannot tolerate situation in which power lies in Nhu’s hands…If, in spite of your efforts, Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved…We must at same time also tell key military leaders that US would find it impossible to continue support GVN militarily and economically unless above steps are taken immediately which we recognize requires removal of Nhu’s from the scene…We recognize the necessity of removing taint on military for pagoda raids and placing blame squarely on Nhu…If he remains obdurate…we can no longer support Diem. You may also tell appropriate military commanders that we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown central government mechanism…Needless to say; we have held knowledge of this telegram to minimum essential people and assume you will take similar precautions to avoid any premature leaks.

So, being careful not to commit itself, the telegram sent months before Diem’s murder wants the Nhu family fired from their various appointed government positions and if this is not done, tells the Vietnamese military there will be no more cash…but if it is necessary to remove Diem, the US will provide support. It is what we call a “smoking gun.” The South Vietnam Army generals have been given freedom to do whatever they want with Diem and the U.S. will take no action and continue to finance the new government.

Another ARVN general told Conein that October 26th had been set as the date of the planned coup. To further isolate Diem, CIA Chief of Station Jocko Richardson was recalled from Saigon and sent back to Washington at the request of Ambassador Lodge.

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The Secret Diem Escape Tunnel
Photo by Paul Blizard

Diem learned about the coup and he and his brother fled to Cho Lon through a tunnel. After spending a day in the tunnel, they agreed to surrender to the generals. Diem had ordered the construction of three separate tunnels leading from Gia Long to remote areas outside the palace. About 10 p.m. on the night of the coup, Diem and Nhu allegedly packed American banknotes into a briefcase and escaped through one of the tunnels.

The generals said they would have a safe passage out of the country; but, on their way to get out of the country on 2 November 1963, the two were killed by troops who had their own agenda. Diem and his brother were assassinated in the rear of a personnel carrier.

According to Max Boot:

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara confirmed, “When President Kennedy received the news, he literally blanched. I had never seen him so moved.” Rather naively, Kennedy had not expected that a plot which he had sanctioned would lead to the death of a fellow Catholic president.

There could be some truth to that. The CIA Daily Intelligence briefing immediately following the overthrown and assassinations said:

It would appear that the brothers either committed suicide or were done in after they surrendered. We suspect the latter.

President Kennedy made a Dictaphone recording on 4 November 1963 that mentions his distress about the killing of Diem just days earlier. He mentions an earlier “cable 243” to Ambassador Lodge on 24 August, but unfortunately does not go into detail. Clearly it was a go-ahead for the overthrow of Diem. It has been reported that the cable basically said:

If Diem remains obdurate and refuses to remove his brother, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved.

The Kennedy tape says in part:

Over the weekend, the coup in Saigon took place, culminated three months of conversation about a coup, conversation which divided the government here and in Saigon. Opposed to the coup were General Taylor, the Attorney General, Secretary McNamara and John McCone. In favor of the coup was the State Department led by Averill Harriman, George Ball, and Roger Hilsman, supported by Mike Forrestal at the White House. I feel that we must bear a good deal of responsibility for it, beginning with our cable of early August, in which we suggested the coup. In my judgment, that wire was badly drafted, it should never have been sent out on a Saturday, I should not have given my consent to it without a round-table conference in which McNamara and Taylor could have presented their views. While we did redress that balance in later wires, that first wire encouraged Lodge along a course to which he was in any case inclined.

Harry Rothmann says in Warriors and Fools: How America's Leaders Lost the Vietnam War and Why It Still Matters:

In a private dictation for his memoirs in the Oval Office, now part of the Presidential Recordings, he lamented the entire affair. In a somber tone, JFK implied that it might have been a mistake. To a friend who tried to console Kennedy by saying that Diem and Nhu had been tyrants, Kennedy snapped back, “No. They were in a difficult position. They did the best they could for their country.”

Historians have viewed the Diem assassination as a turning point in the US involvement in Vietnam. Gordon Goldstein, in his work on McGeorge Bundy aptly called Lessons in Disaster, noted that the affair demonstrated the weakness of JFK’s mode of national security policy-making process. The President, Goldstein argues, “allowed the bureaucracy to elude his firm command.”

History professor Mark Moyar adds:

“Lodge had overridden a much larger and better informed group of Americans who had opposed a coup, including most of Kennedy’s top advisers, the top CIA and military officials in Vietnam, and veteran American journalists, and he had disregarded orders against encouraging a coup from President Kennedy, who himself was torn by serious doubts about removing Diem. With Diem gone, America lost its best last hope of succeeding in Vietnam.”

Roberts talks about the death of Diem in: Let the Dogs Bark: The Psychological War in Vietnam, 1960-1968:

The radio in Saigon broadcast a herald of change on the afternoon of 1 November 1963. The first reports of a coup crackled across South Vietnam’s domestic service at 3:41 p.m. General Duong Van ‘Big’ Minh ordered loyalist troops to lay down arms, and the station changed its name to the Voice of the Armed Forces. General Minh continued, “Dear compatriots, as of this hour, the army has resolutely risen-up to liberate you from the dictatorial yoke.” Minutes later, the station deceptively announced that Diem agreed to resign and three hours later it announced the declaration of martial law. On 2 November 1963, President Diem surrendered and was later murdered by coup plotters. The coup, along with the assassination of President Kennedy later that month, proved to be a critical event in the brief history of South Vietnam…

In the immediate aftermath of the coup, South Vietnamese PSYWAR units focused on explaining what had happened. The principal themes consisted of reasons for the coup d'etat and the new military government policies. For example, the 23rd and 25th Divisions dropped a total of 640,000 leaflets using these themes during the first week alone…

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Leaflet 88 – President Nguyen Van Thieu – Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky

I have read some reports that imply that Nguyen Van Thieu might have been the person who ordered Diem killed. There is no evidence of this. Other reports say the order was given by General Duong Van Minh. Those reports claim that Minh did not believe he had enough support among the people if Diem attempted to return to power. Allegedly, the other generals in the plot were not told of Minh’s plan and it caused a fracture that never healed and doomed the new government to failure.

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Leaflet 7-138-68

Here is another leaflet that features President Thieu. It is cruder, produced by the 7th PSYOP Battalion in 1968. The text on the front is:

Compatriots! Let's unite for a unanimous and total support of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam under the leadership of President Nguyen Van Thieu in its mission to reestablish the security of our country. Let's strictly adhere to this curfew in order to help protect your own security!

Diem was first replaced by General “Big Minh” Duong Van Minh. There were then a number of different leaders; Nguyen Thanh; Nguyen Van Thieu, Nguyen Cao Ky (Vice President and Prime Minister); Tran Van Huong; and right at the end - Big Minh again as the South tried to bargain with the oncoming victorious North Vietnamese Army. One Vietnamese told me that it reminded her of postwar Italy, with a new head of state every time you opened a newspaper. It was a mess, and one that the United States helped create.

The United States government first claimed that it had no knowledge of the coup that overthrew Diem, but later admitted that American officials met with the generals who organized the plot and gave them encouragement to go through with their plans. Diem simply would not allow himself to be ordered about by the Americans. He was the president of an independent country, but apparently was considered an impediment to the accomplishment of U.S. goals in Southeast Asia. President Kennedy was aware of the plot to overthrow Diem, but there is no evidence that he had knowledge of his assassination. Curiously, President Kennedy was assassinated three weeks later and some Vietnamese have called that karmic retribution.

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Ho Chi Minh

Diem had been a strong anti-Communist and Ho Chi Minh allegedly said when hearing of the coup:

I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid.

The North Vietnamese Politburo was even more surprised:

The consequences of the 1 November coup d'etat will be contrary to the calculations of the U.S. imperialists...Diem was one of the strongest individuals resisting the people and Communism. Everything that could be done in an attempt to crush the revolution was carried out by Diem. Diem was one of the most competent lackeys of the U.S. imperialistsÖThe coup d'etat on 1 November 1963 will not be the last.

Roberts quotes a North Vietnamese officer who said:

Although we criticized Ngo Dinh Diem publicly as an American puppet, Ho Chi Minh adopted a soberer appraisal. He realized Diem was a patriot like himself but in a different way. Diem was a Nationalist leader like Ho who lived and honest and clean life and…was unmarried, indicating a life dedicated to the nation.

To give an example of how the Viet Cong feared Diem we need only look at a catalog of VC leaflets disseminated in 1962 and filed in a United States Information Service booklet entitled National Liberation Front Propaganda. A brief look at some of the enemy leaflets discloses: An anti-Diem leaflet telling of Viet Cong victories against his army; a charge that Diem has killed elderly religious Vietnamese; a leaflet calling for the people to rise up against the oppressor Diem; A letter to the Vietnamese Army telling them that Diem is just carrying on French colonialism; a 41-page document alleging Diem crimes against the people; and a leaflet that said “For the past eight years our land has been a sea of blood, all in a vain attempt to stop the revolution. I could add another dozen, but the reader can see that the Viet Cong considered President Diem to be a serious contender.

Viet Cong Anti-Diem leaflets

A "Black" Viet Cong Strategic Hamlet Booklet

This booklet is 11 pages, all text. It is in the form of a poem. It was captured from a dead or surrendered Viet Cong fighter taken in March 1966 and given the file number VCS-797. The fake booklet title is:

General Department of Operation and Youth


Propaganda and Education Collection

The inside Cover, Depicting the Strategic Hamlet as a Prison

Page 1 of the poem

The inside of the booklet does not match the title. When opened, we do see a strategic hamlet, but it has barbed wire implying it is a prison camp. Instead of a positive discussion about the hamlets, the text is a long poem, all of which is anti-government and anti-strategic hamlet propaganda. The poem says in part:

The dawn was just coming, then all black shadow.
The night was not yet over, the sky was covered by dark clouds.
After 9 years of war time,
the smile suddenly stopped as it had just begun.

Ngo Dinh Diem invited the American aggressors.
Soaked the South people in fresh blood.
Our people who were living in the fire, boiled pans,
would not keep calm and give in.


The second "black" Viet Cong propaganda booklet was captured in February 1966 and filed with code number 00547. This booklet is 13 pages, all text. At first glance it appears to be a normal South Vietnamese booklet titled:


It appears to be a booklet a Vietnamese Army soldier would carry to tell him how to act under certain circumstances. An American intelligence report on this booklet says:

The booklet explains the policy of the NLF toward members of the Republic of Vietnam armed forces. It compares the American Army with the French Expeditionary Forces. It appeals to the soldiers to protest the treatment of troops in the Vietnamese Army, offers leniency toward soldiers that desert or are captured and aid to those soldierís families.

The inside of the book discusses Viet Cong policy. I translate a paragraph that mentions Diem: 

To avoid the collapse of the Ngo Dinh Diem, their puppet regime, American imperialism rushed their weapons, and military supplies, and sent American officers and soldiers to directly command the South Vietnam army, turning them into the tools to carry out the invasion of South Vietnam. They increased the military forces, using deceitful means to mislead, and forcing young men into the popular forces, and self-defense groups, and forcing civil servants to get military training. Tens of thousands of students had to quit schools to join the officer candidate school.

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VC 598

This leaflet is long and probably meant to be used as a poster, nailed to a tree or a wall. The number 598 was added by U.S. Intelligence when the leaflet was found and filed. The text on this leaflet is in the Vietnamese language and targets the Vietnamese people. The text is:

The people of the South are determined to defeat the American interventionists; to throw out Diem, and all attempts to compromise with Diem and the Americans.

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VC 568

This 1962 leaflet is in terrible shape and probably was on the ground in the rain and the rain for a while before it was found and sent to the Intelligence Section. It is well over 50 years old, printed with homemade inks on crappy paper. In was found on 5 May 1962, one block behind MAAG Headquarters. The message can just barely be read:

Down with the blunt interference of the United States in the south of Vietnam.

We are opposed to the SEATO scheme of interfering in the south of Vietnam.

The 14-nation conference must solve the question of Vietnam.

Ngo Dinh Diem must resign; the American imperialists must get out of Vietnam

The Front for the Liberation of the South

The previously classified Confidential MACV Combined Intelligence Center VC PROPAGANDA FACTBOOK dated 29 March 1969 says about the Viet Cong’s attacks on Diem:

Viet Cong propaganda initially assailed the Diem regime. All of Vietnam's troubles were blamed on the Diem government by the massive National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NFLSVN) agitation, propaganda, and indoctrination program. The fall of the Diem regime on 1 November 1963 presented the NFLSVN with both an opportunity and a crisis. The virtual anarchy in the countryside presented the NFLSVN with an unprecedented opportunity to extend its control. The swift non-Communist takeover, however, presented the NFLSVN with a new enemy, the new military junta, which had new strengths and weaknesses. VC propaganda had concentrated its efforts at toppling the Diem government, but the sudden unexpected collapse of that government left a void in the VC propaganda program.

CIA Director William Colby said the Diem assassination was “America's primary error in Vietnam,” and with proper backing Diem might have won the war in just a few years.

As part of his Goodwill Tour of Southeast Asia American Vice President Lyndon B Johnson
met with Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem - 13 May 1961

Lyndon B. Johnson said about the Washington Liberals who hated Diem in an 11 February 1966 Tape recording of a President Johnson and Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy meeting:

They started on me with Diem, you rember. That he was corrupt and he ought to be killed. So we killed him. We all got together and got a goddamn bunch of thugs and we went in an assassinated him. Now, we've really had no political stability [in South Vietnam] since then.

The independent researcher and author Nguyen Ky Phong had this to say about Diem:

Diem was not the best but he was much better than his predecessors, especially emperor Bao Dai. He also stood out among his contemporaries as an incorruptible, unapproachable anti-French patriot. His ascension to power was neither based on his relation with the colonialists or any power, at least before he was appointed Prime Minister by Bao Dai with American and French consent. While many Vietnamese national leaders indulged in the privileges that accompanied their positions, President Diem did not. He lived a life of an ascetic.

He did have weaknesses. His dependency on his brothers and parochial and religious associates was too great to allow him to make an independent and realistic assessment of the actual situation in Vietnam. He traveled from time to time to visit his subjects, but some believe that the people he met were told what to say and how to act. There were reports that his three brothers used his name to build financial and political influence for themselves. Governmental and Civil Service procedures were not followed or enforced by the president, which caused grave discontent and distrust within the rank and file of civil servants. Certain military officers were promoted due to their wealth, family or connection with the president's staff or family. The position of Secretary of Defense was not filled until the final days of the regime. The position of Presidential Advisor was delegated to the president's brother (Ngo Dinh Nhu) without the consent or advice of the senate or any authoritative government agency. During the length of his presidency Diem was unable to fend off accusations of nepotism, cronyism and favoritism.

The question of what might have happened if President Diem was left in power is difficult to answer. There were two earlier attempts to overthrow Diem. The abortive November 1960 coup d’etat should have been a warning to Diem but he failed to react or order any reform to appease the opposition. Could the Diem regime have survived had the United States not acquiesced to a coup to replace him? Would he eventually have changed his course, replaced his many yes-men and overhauled his entire administration? And, even if he were to do all that, would South Vietnam have survived the relentless and determined attacks from the Communist North? Diem was not allowed to live so we will never know might have happened.

Ken Welch says about the loss of President Diem in Tiger Hound: How we Won the War and Lost the Country:

The strategic hamlet program was abandoned. The communists were thus given carte blanche to expand their efforts. Throughout the country, they simply walked into small villages and recruited people that already had weapons and training courtesy of the United States Army. The communists fully appreciated President Diem’s strategic hamlet program. In the first 12 months following Diem’s assassination, communists killed over 11,000 village officials.

Another Vietnamese national that lived through the Diem Regime said:

Diem and his family (Nhu and his wife) killed many people. I remember hearing whispers that if you didn't vote for Diem at the election time, you would have midnight visitors and that wouldn't be good for you. Vietnam at that time needed a strong leader to fight the war. Diem (and his family) was that, but they went too far with the Buddhists, most Vietnamese are Buddhists and many of them were in control of the armed forces back then. Diem should have focused his fight on the North and not with the Buddhists. Big Minh (Leader of the military coup) was a good Buddhist man. He loved his country and people. He was a good general but not strong and ruthless enough to lead the county.

I have read reports by some Vietnamese that said that the Vietnam War was lost when Diem was killed. None of the later leaders were as strong anti-Communists as he was. After Diem’s death there was a parade of leaders, none of whom showed any great leadership abilities.

With the loss of Diem the United States was forced to send more troops to Vietnam and became more heavily involved in the fighting. The ultimate effect of United States participation in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem was to commit Washington to Saigon even more deeply. Having had a hand in the coup, the United States had more responsibility for the South Vietnamese governments that followed Diem. The weakness of the Saigon government thus became a factor in U.S. escalations of the Vietnam War, leading to the major ground war that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson opened in 1965 with the eventual deployment of 500,000 troops to Vietnam. We might say that the United States sealed its own doom and the death of 58,000 American soldiers when it took part in Diem’s death.

Sean Fear mentions a Diem revival in 1971 as the people read about what really went on at the time of the murder.

Against this backdrop of immense civilian casualties, inflation, corruption, squalor, and the proliferation of social vices such as drug abuse and prostitution, the Ngo Diem era, when considered in hindsight, acquired a powerful nostalgic appeal, reminding people of a simpler time when the war was small and distant, the Piastre more valuable, and Americans scarce as one observer put it.

In a similar manner, the late president himself could be recast from aloof, nepotistic autocrat to paragon of a vanishing moral order. Famously unmarried, and by all accounts devout, even austere figure seen to have personally abstained from the temptations that discredited his more permissive entourage, Ngo Diem emerged during the Second Republic exuding a welcome aura of rectitude and propriety during a period of turbulence and decay. His budding revival was bolstered by publications emphasizing his determination to resist by now-resented American efforts to commandeer the management of the war, and unveiling the critical role played by Ambassador Lodge and the CIA in enabling and orchestrating his demise.

The sensational revelations in the Pentagon Papers, a detailed comparison of American officialís public statements with their leaked private remarks. One of the more enduring effects of the Pentagon Papers leaks, was to further hasten Ngo Diemís unlikely rehabilitation. Long derided in communist propaganda to underscore his apparent subservience to foreign patrons, the embattled former president re-emerged in the Pentagon Papers as a forceful and determined leader who consistently frustrated what were now widely regarded as sinister American efforts to occupy and exploit Vietnam.

Sean Fear also mentions a ceremony held 8 years after the murder of Diem.

On November 2, 1971, Saigonís Notre Dame Basilica is packed with spectators, and the streets outside teem with throngs of onlookers. Vietnam Press, the Republic of Vietnamís official news service, reports that over five thousand people turn out for the commemorations, which continue later that afternoon at the Mac Dinh Chi Cemetery. In attendance area number of political notables, including the presidentís wife, Vice President Tran Van Huong, several cabinet ministers, and even former Generals Do Mau and Le Van Nghiem, both noted enemies of the man being honored.

At the cemetery, standing next to the fallen man's grave, is Truong Cong Cuu, Chairman of the Revolutionary Social Humanist Party, widely known in political circles as a thinly veiled attempt to revive the former governing Can Lao Party. Truong Cong Cuu eulogizes the man they have all gathered to remember:

He was the incarnation of the noblest ideals of our race and mankind. Animated by a glorious ideal from childhood, he consecrated his whole existence to the righteous cause. . .he brought South Vietnam from a dependent, exhausted, disordered, and disorganized position into the ranks of a sovereign, prosperous and well-disciplined nation, respected by the whole world, friends and foes alike.

In the title above I talk of American betrayal. Why is that? I don’t hold the United States responsible for the overthrow or death of Diem. The Americans knew a little of the coup but that was a Vietnamese operation. What bothers me is what came next. The United States could have backed the new regime and said that they were patriotic Vietnamese officers that wanted what was best for their nation. Nobody could fault the U.S. for that. Instead, American propagandists at the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) prepared about a dozen leaflets that attacked Diem personally. Diem had been backed by the Americans so to turn on an old ally and publically insult and berate him is a betrayal in my eyes.


When I write these articles on wartime PSYOP I always try to find the most colorful and most illustrative leaflets available. Unfortunately, in the case of the anti-Diem leaflets, they are almost all text. Just a very few have illustrations. They also tend to be rather long with tedious political messages. I shall illustrate a few of the leaflets just to prove the theme of this article, but the reader should understand that in most cases I will cut the long messages down to only a few interesting lines. I only want to translate the more flammable text of the leaflets, not the entire messages.

Roberts mentions the campaign to vilify Diem and support the new government:

On 2 November 1963, President Diem was overthrown and later murdered. Despite his shortcomings, Diem had made progress in unifying the nation and fighting an insurgency increasingly manned by Northerners. His death unleashed a period of instability at a vital moment that allowed the insurgency to grow to a structural threat to the nation. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, Vietnamese PSYWAR units were focused on explaining what had happened. A total of 140,000 leaflets were dropped by the 23rd Division during the first week of November 1963. The principal message consisted of explaining the coup d'etat and the new military government. As one MACV report described the process in Darlac Province, ten-man teams were attached to each district to provide each district with a means to counter VC propaganda against the new government.

The government used propaganda to exploit the one-year anniversary of the Diem coup díťtat as a national holiday. Military parades and celebrations were held and supplemented by PSYOP product. This was an attempt to build support for a badly shaken government by attacking its predecessor.

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Perhaps the earliest anti-Diem leaflet is SP-40. The “SP” was a JUSPAO symbol that meant “Special project.” Later in the war the SP was removed from U.S. leaflets. Some of the text on this leaflet is:


After living for years under the cruel, dictatorial and feudal rule of the Ngo family, the people of South Vietnam and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam rose up on 1 November 1963 and overthrew the rotten regime…Now that the treacherous regime has been overthrown by the mighty revolutionary movement sweeping free Vietnam, The Revolutionary Army makes to you all this cordial appeal and invites you to return to the side of the people and the Army so that we can work together to build a happy, free, and democratic regime for Vietnam.

Now that the treacherous regime has been overthrown by the mighty revolutionary movement sweeping free Vietnam, The Revolutionary Army makes to you all this cordial appeal and invites you to return to the side of the people and the Army so that we can work together to build a happy, free, and democratic regime for Viet Nam. The Revolutionary Army and all the people will welcome you and will help you to establish a happy life with your beloved family.

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This is a proclamation from the Military Revolutionary Council.  It also exists as SP-52. Some of the text is:

The revolution of our people has been successful. His glorious victory has put an end to a brutal and inefficient dictatorship.

Confronted with the corruption of the Ngo Dinh Diem government, the armed forces became fully aware of liberating the people to establish a truly democratic regime. For that reason, under the leadership of the Military Revolutionary Council, they resolutely rose. Because the survival of our homeland was at stake, the Armed Forces has carried out a revolution and assume this heavy responsibility before our people and before history.

The success of this revolution is the result not only of the Armed Forces, but largely of the accord and unity of our entire army and People.

To bring the situation back to normal, the Military Revolutionary Council decided to set up a Provisional Government quickly. Today I have the honor and pleasure of introducing this Provisional Government to our entire people.

This government has been entrusted with the necessary executive machinery to step up our fight against Communism and to build a healthy society for our entire people.

This government. consists of individuals who are technically competent, imbued with a real sense of patriotism, and devoted to the performance of their duties to fulfill the mission assigned to them.

The Provisional Government, within the limits of the powers entrusted, will implement the policies laid down by the Military Revolutionary Council. At the same time, to satisfy the aspirations of our people, a Council of Sages will be established.

This Council will be composed of representatives of all walks of life and of various organizations in the country, chosen by the Military Revolutionary Council on the proposals of its members or on the recommendation of the Government. The Council of Sages will advise the Government on internal and external policies, and on the future political system of the Nation.


A similar un-coded leaflet is a letter from The Provisional Administration of Long An to the "Military Cadres in South Vietnam Liberation Front" Dated 7 November 1963. Some of the text is:

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam has overthrown Ngo Dinh Diem and released South Vietnam from a dictatorial regime. It was a glorious revolution, 1 November 1963. In its proclamation, the new government of the Republic of Vietnam stated that it will devote its efforts to the service of the Fatherland and the people and will wage an all-out anti-comunist struggle.

Dear friends, you have always said that you are fighting against the dictatorial regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. Now that the Diem regime has been overthrown by the Army, if you are patriotic, there is no reason not to cooperate with the new government and to work for the good of the country.

The new government and ARVN have set up a sound national policy. If you continue to fight against the army, you act against the interests of the nation and the people.

Do not hesitate to join the just cause and cooperate with the new government and the army together we will work to bring prosperity to the country and happiness to the compatriots.

With this letter we send you a safe conduct pass that you can use to return to the government and the people. You can also use this very letter as a conduct for the same purpose.

Best wishes to you all.
November 7, 1963.
The provisional administration of long An

Leaflet SP-48 is a letter leaflet entitled: “Compatriots of Binh Duong, Increase your Vigilance, Unite to Annihilate Communism,” dated 13 November 1963 from the Province Chief of Binh Duong. This letter explains that although there has been a revolution, Vietnam is still a Republic.

This leaflet does not mention Diem by name but it mentions the Revolutionary Council Proclamation and mentions the “old regime,” “internal obstacles,” and “the Army has taken the responsibility.” They are clearly talking about the Diem government that they just assassinated. The November 1963 text is very long so I will just translate parts of it that are meaningful.

According to the Revolutionary Constitutional Act proclaimed by the Revolutionary Military Committee and the declaration of the Provisional Government, Vietnam remains a Republic…In the past, our people sacrificed to fight Communism. But the old regime lacked determination and clear-sightedness…The road of unity is open. We no longer face internal obstacles in our fight against Communism…The Army has taken the responsibility to spearhead the revolution and continue the fight against our enemy. The people must take part actively, with a fighting spirit, in order to shorten the fight against Communism and bring our country to unity, prosperity, wealth and power.

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Another all text anti-Diem leaflet that says in part:


Freedom is now recovered. The totalitarian regime of Ngo Dinh Diem has been toppled.

Those who fought for freedom and the Just Cause and who were imprisoned by the old regime have been freed by the Military Revolutionary Council…Formally you took up arms against Ngo Dinh Diem’s totalitarian regime. Now that regime does not exist anymore, there is no reason for you to continue to fight against the population. Put down your weapons! Return to your families and homes and join the new government and the people in building a strong Vietnamese nation.


SP-57 is an all-text leaflet letter from the Rung Sat Special Zone Commander, Major Nguyen Hai Dang, to “Compatriots Living in the Special Zone and Neighboring Areas.” Some of the text is:

For the past nine years you have lived under the oppression of the corrupt and cruel Ngo family. You lived in constant fear, not able to make use of your eyes and your ears. The Army was divided by corruption and suspicion. Secret agents loyal to the Ngo family harassed those who complained about the regime. Recently, adding to their crimes, the Nhu-Diem clique plotted to sell the country to the Communists. For the above reasons, the Military revolutionary Council has led the Army in overthrowing the Ngo family and liberated our compatriots from a dictatorial regime.

The Revolution has been successful. Now the people and Army are united like fish and water to pursue a sole goal: to eradicate the Communist. The free world praises our Revolution and gives support to our people in our anti-communist struggle.

With the rising tide of the Revolution and the high morale of our Youth, the Communists will be defeated. Compatriots living in the Rung Sat Special Zone, a remote, communist-infested area, what can you do for the Revolution? The Rung Sat Special Zone Command earnestly appeals to you to:

Close ranks with the Army to fight the Communists, - Inform the Army of Communists hiding places, - Be alert to Communist distorting propaganda, - Love each other, - Strictly obey the orders of the Military Revolutionary Council, - Take active part in the defense of your hamlet.

As for those compatriots who have relatives in Communist ranks, this is a good opportunity to call them back to honest life. The Rung Sat Special Zone Command pledges to do everything possible to help those who return to the Just Cause and to the Army. No difficulty will be encountered by your sons and brothers who choose to return at your urging.

I remind the reader again that Diem was the selection of the American government and known as a fierce anti-Communist. Here he is dead just a few days and American propagandists are writing that he was selling the country to his sworn enemy. I find this despicable.

SP-58 is an all-text letter leaflet entitled “Appeal to Young Men Serving in the Communist Ranks” from Major Nguyen Hai Dang. Some of the text is:

During the past nine years, under the despotic, corrupt, and cruel family dictatorship of Ngo Dinh Diem and his clan, sufferings were ignored, and you were oppressed and plundered without pity. Angry and desperate against their unjust acts, some of you reluctantly joined the Communists although you were well aware that the Communist regime is worse and even more dangerous. Because of your anger against Diem's government, you became adventurers and led an unsettled life. Other countrymen were also duped by the Viet Cong who used all means to get them, fond promises, and threats.

Being aware of the suffering of our countrymen, who had to endure both communists and Government terrorist acts, on November 1st, 1963, under the leadership of the military Revolutionary Committee, the Army overthrew the rotten Ngo Dinh Diem regime. From the countryside to the cities, military and civilians cheerfully welcomed the successful revolution. Now, they can enjoy a new life under a new democratic regime which is based on "Virtue," and which will bring the people true democracy.  

Thanks to the unity of the Army and the People, Vietnam has exterminated an extremely dangerous regime. The just cause of the Military Revolutionary committee's policy is proof of this victory. A new era has been created in the history of Viet Nam and our future horizon is bright. Tomorrow, we, the Army, and the People, will have only one responsibility: the destruction of Communism to establish Peace and democracy and to build a strong Vietnam.  

The Free World welcomes our Revolution and promises to help us quickly to destroy the Communist enemy. The Army and the People's present task is the destruction of the Viet Cong, and we shall make every effort to achieve that mission; the Viet Cong will be completely exterminated soon.

Dear Young Men serving in the Communist ranks, Check and see whether the wily communists ever offered you any advantages since you joined them? ln the daytime, you must live hidden in the woods, lacking food, clothes, and medicine. At night you must join the Viet Gong cadres to rob and kill good people and your own father, mother, wife, and children might be among those.

The Communists had given you poor weapons to die in their place. You have certainly witnessed that many of your friends were killed by our Army's fire power. For what cause are you fighting? Is it that you have been seduced by Communist term "Liberation of South Vietnam." while our dear country has already been liberated by the ArmyÖ. 

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SP-62 is an illustrated letter addressed to “All Cadres, Soldiers and Guerrilla Partisans serving in the Viet Cong Ranks” from a defector named Van Cong Chuc, dated 1 December 1963. The former Viet Cong mentions the successful revolution and the overthrow of the Diem regime. He says that the leaflet can be used as a surrender pass. At the upper left is a photo of Van Gong Chuc, the District Chief, Chuc’s father and the Civic Action Leader. At the lower right the defector received gifts from the Women’s Youth Organization. Some of the text is:

To all Cadres, Soldiers and Guerrilla partisans serving in the Viet Cong ranks.

Dear Friends,

This confidential letter will reach you at a time when the whole population, from the South to the North, is cheerfully greeting the successful Revolution of 1 November 1963, initiated by the Military Revolutionary Committee to overthrow the dictatorial and family-rule Diem-Nhu regime to build up a democratic republic country, to bring happiness and true freedom to the people.

I am Van Cong Chuc, 23 years old, born at Long Khanh village, and was serving as a squad Cadre of the 211th company. Like you, in a thoughtless moment and being too impulsive, I made a big mistake by joining the blood-thirsty Viet Cong killers. Fortunately, I am now aware of my error and have just surrendered to the regional authorities, taking with me an automatic rifle, 10 automatic rifle belts, 8 grenade launchers, 3 hand grenades and several documents....

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Leaflets SP-65 and SP-67 both depict photographs of members of the new revolutionary Council At the left is Major General Duong Van Minh, Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council. The text says:

He is a man of the people. He has suffered much at the hands of evil people…He is a kindly man and loved by all who know him.

Prime Minister Nguyen Ngoc Tho is at the right. The text says in part:

He is an ardent Buddhist…He has great interest in the overall national plan for the development of the Vietnamese economy.

The back of leaflet SP-65 tells of the aims of the new national government now that Diem is gone. It reminds the people that:

For the glory of greater Vietnam all loyal Vietnamese must cooperate with the government against the foreign led Communist guerrillas.

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Lieutenant General Duong Van (Big) Minh

[This un-coded leaflet was probably printed by the Vietnamese Army. Minh led the South Vietnamese army under Prime Minister Diem. After the assassination he led Vietnam for three months before being replaced, and briefly led South Vietnam again in 1975 before surrendering the nation to the North Vietnamese Communists. He got the nickname, “Big Minh”, because he was six feet tall and weighed 198 pounds. It also distinguished him from General Tran Van (Little) Minh.

The front depicts a photograph of “Big” Minh and the text:

Lieutenant General Duong Van Minh

Chairman of the Revolutionary Soldiers Committee.

The back shows a scene of tanks and people in front of the Presidential palace and the text:

Commemorate the Success of the 1-11-1963 Revolution.

The Gia Long Palace, after a night of smoke and fighting was finally assaulted and occupied by Revolutionary troops to end a dictatorial, corrupt and anarchist regime.

The back of SP-67 mentions some of the accomplishments of the new government. Some of them are:

Liberated from prison all those illegally held; brought new freedoms to the people; Established a new system of justice with equal treatment for all….\

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This leaflet is heavily illustrated with four photographs. Some of the text is:

The despotic government of the Ngo Dinh Diem family was put to an end by the November 1st Revolution. This transitory period of the national history is enthusiastically welcomed by all our countrymen.

The leaflet goes on to say that the local Province Chief, Major Ly Troung Nhon will present hamlet students with gifts from the new government. Could these gifts from the new Revolutionary government be to buy the peopleís loyalty? The pictures show:

A schoolgirl at the Ap Dau Giong A, displays the textbooks given as gifts from her school.

Tools given by the American Aid to outstanding hamlets, 32 kinds of tools are available for the hamletís development projects.

School children at the newly built school at Ap Dau Giong A hamlet enjoy gift textbooks. The Government of Vietnam supplied textbooks to all school children I the hamlet as part of a program to assist the rural area in 1964.

School children in O Trau new life hamlet in Tieu Can district are given copybooks of the occasion of the inauguration of the hamletís new school. 51 classrooms were built in 1963. More are planned for this year, with their new textbooks and school children given copybooks at the dedication of a new hamlet school.


SP-73 is a letter directed to all Cadres, Soldiers, Guerrillas, and Self-Defense men in the communist ranks from Major Lu Mong Chi, the Province Chief of Binh Tuy Sector. It is a very long message taking up both sides of a large leaflet. It first talks about all the sacrifices the anti-government forces have suffered. It then attacks Ho Chi Minh, calling him wicked and a deceiver. It says that he fought the French 1945, then let them back into the country. It then mentions various attacks on the people that Ho was responsible for. Finally, at the bottom of the back page it attacks Diem. As a result, I will show the back page above:

I know that most of you joined the communists because you hated the dictatorial regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. You have been forced by the communists into opposing the government of the Republic of Vietnam. The November 1st Revolution successfully caried out by the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam put an end to the Nhu-Diem regime and now offers you an opportunity to return to your families and serve your country.

SP-74 is an all text leaflet letter to “Dear Compatriots” from Major Lu Mong Chi, Province Chief, Bien Tuy Sector. Some of the text is:

The dictatorial, family ruling regime of Ngo Dinh Diem is being replaced by a truly free and democratic regime. A new page of our people’s history begins….

This ends our brief look at the Vietnamese and American propaganda campaign to destroy the reputation and legacy of the First President of Vietnam. Diem was no angel, but he was America’s man, supported by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and paid with US tax dollars and CIA clandestine funds. To turn on him is such a way is not what we expect from a loyal ally. I think it is disgraceful.

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