The legacy of Ngo Dinh Diem

Sep 2019
This topic is meant to look more close in policy of former president of south Vietnam. He tried to make south Vietnam an independent republic, an ally of the west, he struggled against the forces of communism and tried to solve the problems of his country. But he had mistakes to of course. He was a catholic and favoured catholic faith in south Vietnam while the buddhist majority he did not handle properly. Probably that was leading to his downfall in early 60s. But we should point out also that Truman governament failed to help Diem in early 50s. USA support would make him stronger and communists weaker.

Diem was surely a disident under French rule and was against colonialism. In the hope that he will restore Vietnam as an independent state he tried to collaborate with Japanese but with no success because they were not really interested in his plans. During the Indochina war, Diệm and other non-communist nationalists had to face a dilemma: they did not want to restore colonial rule and did not want to support the communist ruled Việt Minh. Diệm wisely proclaimed his neutrality and attempted to establish a Third Force movement that was both anti-colonialist and anti-communist, In 1947, he became the founder and chief of the National Union Bloc. Already in 1950 communists decided he should be killed and made first assassination attempt. The French at the same time refused to protect him. He left Vietnam and met with some CIA agents which supported his anticolonial and anti communist views. Yet USA governament was not ready yet to support him, which should be considered as a mistake of Truman administration wwhich was lacking a firm and clear anticommunist strategy. Diem soon came in contact with firm anticommunists in USA.

Since dissatisfaction with France and emperor Bảo Đại was rising among non-communist nationalists, and support from non-communist nationalists and Diệm's allies was rising because they wanted true independence Diệm sensed that it was time for him to come back in Vietnam.

In early 1954, Bảo Đại offered Diệm the position of Prime Minister in the new government in Vietnam. In May 1954, the French surrendered at Dien Bien Phu. On 16 June 1954, Diệm met with Bảo Đại in France and agreed to be the Prime Minister if Bảo Đại would give him military and civilian control. On 25 June 1954, Diệm returned from exile. On 7 July 1954, Diệm established his new government. On 21 July 1954, the Geneva accords temporarily partitioned Vietnam at the 17th parallel, pending elections in 1956 to reunify the country. The communists controlled the north, while the French-backed State of Vietnam controlled the south with Diệm as the Prime Minister. Diệm criticized the French for abandoning North Vietnam to the Communists at Geneva, claimed rightly that the terms did not represent the will of the Vietnamese people, and he also refused French suggestions to include more pro-French officials in the government.

The governament of Diem faced many big problems. People were fleeing communist rule in North Vietnam and causing a refugee crisis. The French with their collaborators still wanted to remove Diem from power and there was a big issue of organized crime in the country. Under republican president Eisenhower Diem finally got a proper USA support. Diem completely won on the national referendum in 1955. The referendum could not be considered as really fair but it is beyond reasonable doubt that Diem had really great support in south Vietnam because at this time he was able to make a deal also with buddhist organizations. He was totaly right when he claimed free elections about reuniting the country are not possible because the north was under hard communist fist. Because he won the national referendum in the south Diem became president of South Vietnam with great power in his hands. Yet he agreed also that national assembly should be established with different political parties, but all strictly anticommunist. Only later when he came in conflict with buddhists he became more dictatorial.

In economy Diệm's government also encouraged the development of handicrafts, industry, and commerce. In October 1957, Diệm established the Center for Technological Development for Investment, Instruction, and Cooperation and supported private technological activities to gradually diminish the role of foreign capitalists, especially French capitalists in industry and to enhance the role of indigenous capitalists. He started a land reform ( country still had kind of feudal sistem ) which was much different than terrible land reforms under communists and marxists which were leading to collectivization of farmland or at least to total fragmentation of it. Diem wisely decided that farmers can have up to 100 ha of land. He tried to fight organize crime to and with quite some success.

Diem tried to enforce religious values in the country, prohibiting abortion and even divorce. It would be likely much more wise if he took a more secular approach, because his religious policy toward majority buddhists finally made him very unpopular. He lost USA support and he died in a coup by the southern Vietnamese army which was supported by USA.

The repression against communists was quite great under president Diem. Communists did not want to recognize the republic of south Vietnam. Their political activity was banned. Probably a few thousand of them were killed before the start of organized armed resistance. But they tried to assasinate Diem to many times. After the communist led resitance started last and most ambitious of Diem's government's nation building schemes", was implemented, calling for the consolidation of 14,000 villages of South Vietnam into 11,000 secure hamlets, each with its own houses, schools, wells, and watchtowers supported by South Vietnamese government. The hamlets were intended to isolate the National Liberation Front (NLF) from the villages, their source for recruiting soldiers, supplies, and information, and to transform the countryside.

If we compare the repression in northern Vietnam under so called uncle Ho a communist dictator we see that it was much more harsh. Communist party of Vietnam killed a few hundreds of landowners already in 1931. They were very strict also concerning their own party members. People could be killed just because of love romances. Communist party of Vietnam was behind the Vietminh the national liberation movement as it was proclaimed not without political manipulation. They fought both against the French and Japanese. After the retreat of Japanese imperial army they killed without a trial many people which they said were collaborators - at least few thousand of them. That this was in many cases just an excuse for the killings of political opponents is evident also from the fact that in those purges they killed even many non-stalinist communists. Later in the northern Vietnam around 50.000 people were killed in fifties during their version of agrarian reform. It was not important if the richer landowners were before supporters of Vietminh. At least 600.000 catholics which were hardly persecuted escaped in southern Vietnam. Some writers, marxist and communist intellectuals demanded more freedom in 1956. First communist party allowed this but than started a big purge. In early 1958 476 of them were sent into concentration camps where they were used as forced labour. Communist party of Vietnam was long after the death of Stalin still in his line and of course the line of Mao. Comunists considered to prosoviet were sent into concentration camps. Only later because of big USSR support to north Vietnam they became again more prosoviet.

Ngo Dinh Diem - Wikipedia

Black book of communism, written by group of authors, published in 1997 in Paris, chapter about Vietnam, pages 704-716.
Oct 2019

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