The Vietnam War: Ngo Dinh Diem

The Vietnam War: Ngo Dinh Diem - Ngo Dinh Diem, a Roman Catholic was the first leader of South Vietnam from the year 1955 till the time of his death in the year 1963. He was born in an elite Vietnamese family on 3rd January 1901. In the seventeenth century ancestors of Ngo Dinh Diem were the first ones to convert to Catholicism. In creating the Republic of Vietnam he led the effort. He was aligned with the colonial rule of the French people in Vietnam.

Under the French tutelage leadership of Bao Dai the emperor, he got appointed to the Ministry in 1933. The reforms he proposed were opposed by the French and hence had to resign. For more than a decade with no holding of a public office, he stayed on in Hue. Till 1954 he did not return back to power but he got an invitation from the new government of Bao Dai to join. With powers of a dictator he sought establishment as South Vietnam’s President in just a year’s time with United States support. United States was of the belief that he would prove to be a perfect candidate for a united pro western Vietnam.

The Vietnam War: Ngo Dinh Diem

However he refused to abide by the terms America had provided backing for. In the Geneva Accords implementation in 1956 general elections were required all through the country but Ngo Dinh Diem ensured that within the administration his own family members were appointed to senior positions. Authorities of the United States did not support him when they realized he did not intend to follow their policies.

Against the Buddhist majority and the Montagnard natives of the Republic he pursued religious oppressive and biased policies which were protested and epitomized in 1963, in the winning photo of a Buddhist monk who self immolated himself for which the photographer Malcolm Browne won the Pulitzer Prize.

Childhood And Family

Diem was born in the capital of Vietnam, a Nguyen Dynasty, Hue. It was from Phu Cam a village in central Vietnam that the family originated. Missionaries from Portugal had got his family converted as Roman Catholics in the seventeenth century.

Jean Baptiste Ngo Din Diem made claims very often that it was from a blue blooded family that he had descended. People had the belief that to be buried along with the ancestors would prove to be of good luck and great honor. This was dismissed as false by historians since the imperial exams were cleared by his father later on and till then his family had a low rank. Ngo Dinh Kha his father became a counselor and a mandarin to Thanh Thai, the emperor at the time of the colonization of the French and did not become a Roman Catholic.

The Vietnam War: Ngo Dinh Diem

He became a chamberlain and rites minister later and a eunuch keeper. His first wife died without bearing children. With his second wife he had three daughters and six sons. However he, as a devout Roman Catholic attended Mass each morning with the whole family. Diem was his third son and at a Hue Cathedral he was christened as Jean Baptiste. Kha retired and started farming. Diem studied at a French Catholic school and worked in the rice fields of the family.

His father began a private school which he joined later and then became a Catholic bishop in highest rank in Vietnam later. He began living a rigorous and monastic life when he left school.

How He Became South Vietnam’s New Ruler

The previous generations availed education in French Catholic schools. In Vietnam, for the French authorities he sought training as an administrator after he completed graduation. He became governor of the province at twenty five years of age. He left for America during the war of French Indo China where he met John F Kennedy an influential catholic and many others. While he told them that he opposed French colonialism and communism he kept arguing that he would be a fine Vietnamese leader if in case the French withdrew.

In 1954 the Geneva Conference took place and his name was proposed as South Vietnam’s new ruler by the delegation of United States. However the French argued that Diem was mad and incapable. Finally a decision was made that he would prove to be the best choice to prevent Vietnam from falling under communism control. Diem, was not willing to be a puppet ruler which was discovered by the Americans and made many attempts to throw him.

His Failure To Unite South Vietnam

As President, he proved to be a bad choice but still US continued to support Diem. To lead the country in October 1955 the people from South Vietnam had to make a selection between Diem and the former emperor Bo Dai. A suggestion was made by the Colonel Edward Landsdale that two ballot papers should be provided by Diem with a green for Bao Dai and a red for himself. Landsdale had done this with a hope the green ballot paper would bring in good luck and bad fortune would be brought in by the red one.

Supporters of Diem attended the polling station in large numbers and asked voter to put the red ones into the envelopes and discard the green ballot papers. Those faithful to Bao Dai did not listen and were beaten up by the agents. Diem informed the advisors from United States that he got 98.2 percent of the votes after the election and was suggested that a 70% vote result should be published which he refused and his authority was undermined in the election.

The Vietnam War: Ngo Dinh Diem

Diem did not intend having elections in July 1956 to unify Vietnam and arrested religious group leaders, journalists, socialists, journalists, and kids writing messages against Diem on the walls to be put into prison camps. To obtain their objectives the opponents in politics sought alternative ways like violence to make him agree to the 1954 Geneva Conference terms. Elections were cancelled and large number of people formed armed groups in Vietnams’ forests on leaving home and became soft targets.


A number of events where Diem tried to influence people from Vietnam and Buddhists with Catholic religion caused a lot of unrest. President John F. Kennedy felt that with these events it was difficult for Diem to unite South Vietnam. As per the authorities of the orders the US authorities, the military coup overthrew President Diem in the beginning of November 1963, asked him to leave the country but killed him instead.

They gave orders to the army officers in Vietnam to have him assassinated along with Ngo Dinh Nhu his brother who was the aide of the Durong Van Minh a General. The Armed Forces Chief for South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu replaced him.