Wednesday, November 2, 2016
NOVEMBER 2: The assassination of President Diem
[first published November 22, 2012]
A year from today will mark the fiftieth anniversary of John Kennedy’s death. That tumultuous November began with the assassination of another Catholic president: Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam.
For years the U.S. strongly supported Diem, but the turning point was JFK’s appointment of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (Nixon’s running mate in 1960) as our ambassador – replacing Frederick Nolting.
Lodge – with allies such as Averell Harriman and newspaper reporter David Halberstam – completely undermined the Vietnamese leader.
Diem’s younger brother and top advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was killed along with him. The widow of the latter, Madame Nhu, had acted as first lady since 1955 when the unmarried Diem had become the country’s first president.
(The always colorful Madame Nhu lived long in exile; she died last year in Rome on Easter Sunday. After the Saigon assassinations on the second day of November, All Souls Day 1963, she said: "Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need enemies.")
Dr. Pence says that JFK’s greatest failure as a public leader was his betrayal of our ally, President Diem. Kennedy was never proud of having allowed his underlings to give the green light to the coup; and in a mysterious way, it marked the loss of the American leader’s ‘Mandate of Heaven’…
[Diem’s older brother, Thuc (d. 1984), was the archbishop of Hue. One of the nephews of Diem was Cardinal Thuan (d. 2002), who after being imprisoned for years in the North, served as head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace].
Check out this interview with Ambassador Nolting, in which he calls our involvement in Diem's overthrow "disastrous."
UPDATE -- Here is a review of Philip Catton's book, Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in Vietnam.