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  • The Myth of Diem's catholic government

    Ngo Dinh Diem, ruler of The Republic of Vietnam until removed by an American coup in 1963, was a devout Catholic. Thus he was often accused of having a government comprised mostly of Catholics. The phrase "Diem's Catholic Gocvernment" was often used to criticize him in the Media.

    Diem himself was frustrated by this criticism and often wondered why no one ever spoke of "Kenney's Catholic government", which contained more Catholics in important positions than Diem's ever did. Diem's government:

    Out of 18 Vietnamese cabinet Ministers at the time of the coup, only 5 were Catholic. There were 5 Confucianists, and 8 Buddhists including the Vice President,

    Of the 38 province governors 12 were catholic. The rest Confucianists and Buddists.

    Also of note, the governor of Hue, where most of the Buddist unrest occured was Buddist.

    Of 19 Generals in the RVN military only 3 were Catholic. All the rst were confucianists, Taoists, and Buddists. The Commander in Chief and Saigon Military governor were Buddists. The military governor's mother was a Bonzess.

    Seventy five of 113 Members of Parliament were Buddists.

    Buddists occupied by far more important positions in the Diem government than Catholics.

    Miss Saigon
    Last edited by Miss Saigon; 15 Aug 07, 13:29.


  • #2
    I think Diệm was mostly criticized for his nepotism exercised through his brothers Ngô Ðình Nhu and Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục, not to mention his youngest brother's wife, the unfamous Madame Nhu.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Boonierat View Post
      I think Di?m was mostly criticized for his nepotism exercised through his brothers Ngô Đ́nh Nhu and Archbishop Ngô ?́nh Th?c, not to mention Madame Nhu.
      Ah. I see. In the world of international intrique and interference Diem lived in he felt he needed someone he could trust so he kept his brother as his closest advisor and assistant.

      Nothing at all like the relationship between John Kennedy and his Attorney General Robert, who were fortunately not beset on all sides by coup plotters and foreign intrique in their government.

      More on Mdm Nhu later.....

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      • #4
        I think a lot of it has to do with the media trying to make things simplistic so people can understand it even if they are wrong. For instance the Buddhists were creating problems so it was easy for the American media to blame in on their Prez being Catholic.

        This is the same as stating the problems in Northern Ireland was Catholics verse Protestants. Simple and easy to explain, but way off base when it came to reality.
        "If you are right, then you are right even if everyone says you are wrong. If you are wrong then you are wrong even if everyone says you are right." William Penn.

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        • #5
          Ah, the infamous dragon lady,Wasn't aware she made the cover of Time.

          I dont think her comments regarding burning bonzes (wow, didnt mean that to come out sounding so funny) helped with the Catholic sterotype either.
          Delegate, MN GOP.

          PATRIA SI, COMUNISMO NO

          http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/p...?id=1156276727

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Miss.Saigon View Post
            Ngo Dinh Diem, ruler of The Republic of Vietnam until removed by an American coup in 1963, was a devout Catholic. Thus he was often accused of having a government comprised mostly of Catholics. The phrase "Diem's Catholic Gocvernment" was often used to criticize him in the Media.

            Diem himself was frustrated by this criticism and often wondered why no one ever spoke of "Kenney's Catholic government", which contained more Catholics in important positions than Diem's ever did. Diem's government:

            Out of 18 Vietnamese cabinet Ministers at the time of the coup, only 5 were Catholic. There were 5 Confucianists, and 8 Buddhists including the Vice President,

            Of the 38 province governors 12 were catholic. The rest Confucianists and Buddists.

            Also of note, the governor of Hue, where most of the Buddist unrest occured was Buddist.

            Of 19 Generals in the RVN military only 3 were Catholic. All the rst were confucianists, Taoists, and Buddists. The Commander in Chief and Saigon Military governor were Buddists. The military governor's mother was a Bonzess.

            Seventy five of 113 Members of Parliament were Buddists.

            Buddists occupied by far more important positions in the Diem government than Catholics.

            Miss Saigon
            ...because Buddhists were the overwhelming majority in the RVN. What percentage of the population in the 1955-1963 timeframe were Catholic? I'd be very surprised if the ratio was up to the nearly 1/3rd shown by the cabinet positions and province chiefs.
            Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Boonierat View Post
              not to mention his youngest brother's wife, the infamous Madame Nhu.
              As promised, my thoughts on Madame Nhu:

              Madame Nhu, AKA the "Dragon Lady" by the western press because she was supposed to be both very sexy but also deadly. The western press did not have much good to say about her, yet she was very popular among young Vietnamese women. Now why is that?

              Madame Nhu was accused of pushing a Catholic agenda through the RVN legislature, but what some want to characterize as Catholic was not so much Catholic, but ideas of Feminism.

              Madame Nhu pushed laws against adultery, polygamy, and divorce. She sought to abolish arranged Marriages, and lobbied for a whole host of what would be called women's issues. Even to this day arranged Marriages are very common in Vietnam. Madam Nhu was trying to eliminate this custom. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that young women found this measure to be very popular. Women were also highly concerned about the philandering of husbands, as seen by another thread on this forum. Now it would seem to me that one need not be a catholic to not want her husband to cheat on her, have other wives, neglect his family, or treat her as property. Madame Nhu worked aggressively to change these things in Vietnam, for which she was labeled as pushing a catholic agenda by the western Media. The logic of this conclusion is ridiculous on its face. In the early sixties most western countries had laws that were intended to make divorce difficult. This was done to "Promote" family and was seen as civilized. Only in 1975 did France start to change their strict divorce laws, and France was the model many VN looked to as the example of civil society. Most of Madame Nhu's feminist ideas were born in the west.

              Had I lived at the time back then I don't know what I would have thought of Madame Nhu completely. I am too far removed to be certain. But one thing I am absolutely certain of. I would have supported her women's rights program, just as most young VN women did.

              Madame Nhu was criticized as being a hypocrite. Karnow says that she frequently wore sexy silk dresses while preaching restraint and pushing for "Moralistic" laws like those mentioned above. I am amazed that Karnow would have the guts to make that assertion. What Madame Nhu wore was the Ao Dai. The traditional Vietnamese women's costume/silk Dress. This dress is one of the icons of Vietnamese culture and tradition. For those who don't know it is the dress I am wearing up top of this post. I have many of them. I have read countless memoirs of American service men who served in Vietnam and it is universal that they all say how flattering this dress is to Vietnamese women and they enjoyed seeing women wearing these silk dresses regularly. It appears that most men find this costume to be sexy. It is a form fitting silk dress that is both flattering and elegant at the same time (Karnow claims that Madame Nhu's were worn a bit tighter than normal ) Perhaps Madame Nhu looked good in her Ao Dai, but when she wore this dress she was not being sexy, she was being Vietnamese.

              On a side note, one of the consequences of the new economic reform in Vietnam is the return of the Ao Dai. The communists frowned on it when they took over, as they tend to reject anything that is traditional. Until more recently the party favored androgynistic clothing for women that glorified labor, not tradition or femininity. The glorious woman tractor driver Now that they have backed away from this the Ao Dai is back and more popular than ever.

              Madame Nhu was also highly critical of the Western Press. She criticized them for commenting on Vietnamese culture and life when they knew nothing of the Vietnamese and most didn't even speak the language. She was correct of course, and the media hated her for it. Time did have a VN correspondent that worked for them that did know Vietnam very well. Unfortunately he was a spy for the communists. To this day Time still says good things about him.

              She also said that the press was out to get the RVN regime. The press were hostile toward her because of this. Never mind that Sheehan said to many people he was going to "Get Diem". Zalin Grant, also a member of the press corps in Vietnam, describes how Sheehan, Halberstam, and the other young press corps had the desire to be king makers in VN and didn't disguise this.

              Madame Nhu was highly vocal in her criticisms of the USA. She was constantly protesting US interference in Vietnamese affairs, life, and culture. She openly spoke out about US intrigue and the various plots against the regime that were being promoted by the Americans. The Americans were furious about these public statements of criticism of the USA, which one would expect. They were hostile to her because of this. The problem is that now we know she was correct. I find it interesting that after the fact no one seems to want to say that Madame Nhu was speaking the truth when she said the US State Department was working to overthrow the Diem government.

              As for the Buddhist crisis. Madame Nhu was not very sympathetic to the turmoil that was being created by the political Buddhists. Buddhism is not a political religion, and it was only a small number of young Buddhists activists that were engaging politically. Madame Nhu believed that those Monks were being encouraged by the Communists. Given that it is a tried and true method of Communists to infiltrate organizations and use them to their advantage, this is not such an unrealistic belief. Especially considering that at the same time other Countries in the region, such as Thailand and Nepal, had also been arresting Bonzes who were found to be distributing communist propaganda and agitating. Moreover, the leader of the Buddhist agitating was a Monk named Thich Tri Quang. Quang was a disciple of Thich Tri Do, a Buddhist who was in close association with the communists in Hanoi. Quang also had three brothers. Two of which had been members of the communist government in the North, and one served as a nurse with a communist unit. Given these facts, which the western journalists and American government officials failed to even consider, Madame Nhu could very well have been correct in her beliefs about the Activist Buddhists being pawns of the communists. Especially if you consider that even after every victory and concession the Activists received (many monitored by the UN and found to be being enforced in the RVN), they would begin anew agitating for something else. This pattern continued until the end of the war, no matter who was in power in South Vietnam.

              While Madame Nhu was clearly angry at the Buddhist activists (And I think many reasonable people in her situation would have felt the same), she is particularly vilified for referring to the Self Immolations of the monks as "Barbecues". I recently read something about this by someone who knew Madame Nhu. She said that while Madame Nhu spoke English very well, she was still not fluent in the language. This can be heard if you listen to her English language statements. The friend said that Madame Nhu got the word "Barbecue" from her daughter who was studying English, believing it to be the correct English word to describe the event. Whether this is true or not, she can hardly be expected to speak kindly about people whom she believed to be working to overthrow the government (Which they were). Imagine what many Americans would have to say about an Al Qaeda member being burned up? I imagine you would hear plenty of unpleasant characterizations. There is a scene in saving Private Ryan where an American GI yells to his men to "Let them burn" when some German defenders were set on fire by a flame thrower. Unpleasant, but in the nature of war.

              It is not my intention to make Madame Nhu out to be a Saint. However, like much of the history of the Vietnam era, the facts are often glossed over or ingored in order to bring to bear a particular point of view. The American government overthrew the Diem government and the Saigon Press corps was complicit in this. It is only natural for these participants to paint as dim a picture as they possibly can in order to vindicate their actions. The truth notwithstanding. In fact, the truth hurts.

              What I find interesting is not the characterizations of Madame Nhu of the time, but what we see now. No one has gone back and re-evaluated her apart from the propaganda of the time. This is particularly interesting given that a lot of what she said, and was heavily criticized for, turned out to be correct!

              M.S.

              Post Script There is a nice conspiracy theory out there that has Madam Nhu ordering the assassination of President Kennedy. A very powerful woman Madam Nhu
              Last edited by Miss Saigon; 16 Aug 07, 16:59.

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              • #8
                As I recall Madame Nhu wrote Jacqueline Kennedy an open letter immediately after JFK's assasination saying, "I hope you know what it feels like now."
                "If you are right, then you are right even if everyone says you are wrong. If you are wrong then you are wrong even if everyone says you are right." William Penn.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by trailboss49 View Post
                  As I recall Madame Nhu wrote Jacqueline Kennedy an open letter immediately after JFK's assasination saying, "I hope you know what it feels like now."
                  Yes. I have heard the same thing. However, Given that Kennedy did have her husband killed, not too hard to understand.

                  Of course, whille it is true that Kennedy had hoped the Ngo brothers would not have been killed in the coup, he was naive to think it could have happened any other way given the players. And Madame Nhu could not have known that the Killings were not also Kennedy's order since the coup was his doing.

                  If it were you, you probably would have felt the same way.

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                  • #10
                    Found this article about Madame Nhu. Pretty cheezy reporting, but one must consider the era. No wait. reporting is still cheezy

                    When the Sky Fell
                    Time: Monday, Feb. 17, 1958

                    Of all the silken women of the East, few have been more diligently trained in eye-fluttering subservience than the reed-slim Tonkinese and Annamese maidens of South Viet Nam. But when President Ngo Dinh Diem proclaimed his nation's independence two years ago, his newly enfranchised countrywomen began to remold their personalities under the leadership of the President's keenly intelligent sister-in-law, beauteous, sloe-eyed Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. With the help of her enormous charm and an occasional whisk of a sandalwood fan, Madame Ngo got herself elected to South Viet Nam's National Assembly, helped elect five other woman Deputies, and launched a drive for legislation banning 1) polygamy, 2) divorce, and 3) arranged marriages.

                    The tempest churned up by the sandalwood fans in Saigon has rustled palm fronds and stirred feminine emotions across the land. Last week all Saigon was astir with the story of Co Ha, an 18-year-old maiden of Going Ving, a thatched-hut village 40 miles southwest of the capital.

                    Lemonade Lather. By the molten chocolate ribbon of the mighty Mekong River, Co Ha and the bridegroom whom her father had selected sat down before a long table set out with roast chickens, pig, steaming white rice, and jar after jar of yellow rice wine and white-lightning chum-chum. Despite the wedding finery that set off her lustrous black hair, the bride-to-be sat among the wedding guests blinking back her tears. She had already protested that she did not want to marry the wealthy but middle-aged landowner chosen by her father, that her true love was a penniless farm boy named Nguyen Van Sa. While the guests downed the food and wine, Co Ha watched and waited from the traditionally isolated bride's chair at the end of the table. When the men began to nod with drink, Co Ha knew her moment had come.

                    Co Ha doused her hair in sweet lemonade, and before her father, the bridegroom or any of the guests could recover their senses, shaved herself bald—which to good Buddhists signifies the renunciation of all fleshly pleasures and was, therefore, a flaming insult to the groom.

                    Saved from Suicide. Co Ha's father grabbed his head with his hands and moaned: "The sky is falling over my head." Tradition bound him to repay the insulted bridegroom with twice as much jewelry as he had given his betrothed, plus twice as many pigs and chickens as had been provided for the wedding feast. It was too much. Ha's father jumped into the Mekong, bent on self-destruction. But Co Ha's true love, watchfully waiting near by, dived into the river and saved him. Broken in spirit, Co Ha's father had to give his consent to the happy young couple.

                    When her hair grows out, Co Ha will marry the man of her choice. Her father, facing a protracted period of disgrace, went home to count his diminished wealth and mutter imprecations against modern notions. Across the land, Saigon's press reported a sharp increase in shaven-headed maidens, a sharp decrease in arranged marriages. Encouraged, Madame Ngo pressed on.

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                    • #11
                      I think that the author in this "Time" article either got duped by some Vietnamese having fun at his expense or he decided to send in an article thinking that no one outside Vietnam would know this story.

                      Though not verbatim word for word I have read stories almost identical to this...in Vietnamese fairy tale books.
                      "If you are right, then you are right even if everyone says you are wrong. If you are wrong then you are wrong even if everyone says you are right." William Penn.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by trailboss49 View Post
                        I think that the author in this "Time" article either got duped by some Vietnamese having fun at his expense or he decided to send in an article thinking that no one outside Vietnam would know this story.

                        Though not verbatim word for word I have read stories almost identical to this...in Vietnamese fairy tale books.
                        I found this on the Time web site. Now that is not to say that I think they are accurate or don't take from Fairy tale books. Anything is possible. I don't think much of the press

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                        • #13
                          I stand in awe.....

                          Miss Saigon, I have read a number of your posts over the past few days, in various threads. I have found you articulate, intelligent, accurate in your facts and well grounded in the lore of the Viet Nam War.

                          I am duly impressed, and at my age it takes a LOT to impress me.

                          GG
                          "The will of a section rooted in self interest, should not outweigh the vital interests of a whole people." -Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain-

                          "Fanatics of any sort are dangerous." -GG-

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by trailboss49 View Post
                            As I recall Madame Nhu wrote Jacqueline Kennedy an open letter immediately after JFK's assasination saying, "I hope you know what it feels like now."
                            LOL, I hadn't heard that before!
                            Delegate, MN GOP.

                            PATRIA SI, COMUNISMO NO

                            http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/p...?id=1156276727

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                            • #15
                              According to Wikipedia, Madame Nhu is still alive and resides in Paris, writing her memoirs.

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