Tag Archives: President Diem

Vietnam Conflict – The Early Diem Presidency

President Ngo Dinh Diem was a controversial figure even before claiming presidency of South Vietnam. Once it became public that the United States backed him on his run for president, the French issued a statement claiming that Diem was “not only incapable, but mad.” However, Colonel Edward Lansdale and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein believed Diem, a warlord from Hue, was the best available choice to keep South Vietnam from falling under the control of communism. Diem, a devout Catholic, was born into one of the elite families associated with the Vietnamese imperial family. Immediately after World War II, Ho Chi Minh, who was forming his government in North Vietnam, asked Diem to take a position in his administration. Diem turned him down. Ho had hoped to take advantage of Diem’s religion to gain support from Catholics.

In an attempt to provide close guidance, Lansdale moved into the palace with President Ngo Dinh Diem before his election and stayed until late 1956. Lansdale and Diem became close friends, and to a large extent, Lansdale was able to keep Diem focused on his presidency while continuing his psy-ops program, named Saigon Military Mission, against the North.

Lansdale was transferred back to Washington, DC, in 1957 and promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations working out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Shortly after Lansdale left, Diem changed how he conducted himself as president. Diem had campaigned for land reform and to remove the anti-Buddhist laws that had been imposed by the French. The French, which were predominately Catholic, had controlled most of the land and the wealth in Indochina for decades, despite representing only ten percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the largest landowner in Vietnam was the Catholic Church. Most of Diem’s government officials were Catholics, yet seventy percent of the country was Buddhist. Needless to say, like most politicians, Diem failed to keep his campaign promises. At the end of the 1950s, the anti-Buddhist laws were still on the books and seventy-five percent of the land was still held by fifteen percent of the population.

The North Vietnamese government pressed Diem to comply with the Geneva Accords by holding elections in July 1956, to which Diem had not agreed and which he refused to do. Ho Chi Minh harassed the South Vietnamese government by sending loyalists from the North to organize armed citizens against the Diem government. By 1959, some 1,200 of South Vietnamese government officials were murdered by the North Vietnamese or by South Vietnamese who were loyal to the North.

Diem pushed back hard. First, he arrested and imprisoned communists and socialists. Next, he went after journalists, trade-unionists and leaders of religious groups, mainly Buddhists. Even children found writing anti-Diem messages on walls were put in prison. As a result of Diem’s actions, soon 100,000 people were in prison camps. Still, the US poured money into South Vietnam and encouraged Catholic refugees from the North to come to the South to escape the communist-leaning Ho Chi Minh.

By the end of the Eisenhower presidency, there were rumblings within the US government against Diem’s governing practices—mainly, that  he was not following US suggestions. But they were stuck with the seated president because they did not believe there were any alternatives.

So by the end of the 1950s, Vietnam had a large number of issues. Were you aware of how bad this situation had become?

Vietnam – Undermining the Geneva Peace Conference

As I wrote in my previous blog on Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference, politicians on both sides made agreements at the conference table that neither side planned to follow. The Geneva Peace Conference Accords favored the North, mostly because it was driven by China’s Zhou En-lai and the North Vietnamese Representatives.

The first thing Ho Chi Minh did was kill off political opposition to him within North Vietnam. Next, Ho sent Viet Minh soldiers into South Vietnam to intimidate and kill innocent civilians. Soon their intimidation turned to recruiting people in the South to follow their cause—or die. To say the least, it was an effective campaign.

The United States did not earn any angel wings, either, but remember, neither the United States nor South Vietnam signed the Accords. However, they did say they would comply with those Accords.

But in this blog, I want to focus on two of my favorite real-life people—Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conein. They were true American heroes from a time when we needed men such as these. I love these guys—they’re so full of larger-than-life qualities—both good and bad. Great for writing.

In the summer of 1954, Lansdale, an Air Force Colonel and CIA agent whose specialty was counter-insurgency, led a team of agents that included  CIA agents Conein as his second in command  as well as Theodore Shackley into Vietnam to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Many of those sabotage missions failed.Their goal was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the South not to vote for the Communists in future elections.

Conein’s “cover” going back into Vietnam was to arrange air transport for northerners fleeing the Communist Viet Minh. However, his assignment was to sabotage the victorious Viet Minh takeover of northern Vietnam by creating a stay-behind setup for possible guerrilla resistance. Besides sabotaging the public transportation system detailed above, Conein was to leave behind necessary supplies for a rebellion against the Communist regime. He came up with the novel idea of packing military hardware into coffins and burying them in cemeteries. However, the anti-Communist uprisings never materialized. In October 1954g, in the last days the U.S. personnel were to be in Hanoi, a special CIA-trained team led by Conein contaminated the oil supply for the public transportation. This was done so the motors would fail slowly.

Conein was never short on creativity. When the French were pulling out of Vietnam and very up-set with the Americans, Lansdale requested the new US Ambassador fortify his personal residence. The Ambassador didn’t heed his advice. So, on his way home from dinner, Conein drove by the Ambassador’s residence and tossed a live grenade on his front yard. I can just see the man laughing all the way home.

The next day, the Ambassador accepted Lansdale’s suggestion.

As election time rolled around in South Vietnam, Lansdale’s role broadened to finding a leader who could consolidate power. Both North and South Vietnam had been “governed” by territorial warlords for decades. As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh did what he needed to do to consolidate his power in the North with the help of Red China and to a lesser degree the Soviet Union. In the South, Lansdale selected Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic in a predominately Buddhist country, from a number of warlords to run against Bao Dai, the former emperor and a member of the Vietnamese royal family. Bao Dai had been propped up as a figurehead by the French prior to World War II, but he fled the country when the Japanese invaded. So when election time came in October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem have the election commission provide two ballots, a red one for those voting for Diem and a green one for those voting for Bao Dai. Lansdale made this suggestion because of the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck while green indicated bad fortune—just another small way in which he could help influence the result.

During the voting process, Diem supporters dominated the polling places. Some voters claimed they were told to put the red ballots in envelopes and to throw the green ballots away. There was also violence against Bao Dai voters. Basically, the election was held under third-world conditions. Lansdale believed he had to consolidate power quickly because he thought it was only a matter of time before the Communists would resort to open warfare.

With the results never in doubt, Diem told Lansdale and US officials that he’d won 98.2 % of the vote. Lansdale warned him these figures would not be believed and suggested he publish a figure of around 70 %. Diem refused, as the Americans predicted, since he used the higher figures, it was the beginning of mistrust of his administration from the very beginning.

Lansdale’s next assignment was to train the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in modern fighting methods. In May 1956, the US sent 350 military advisors, which was a direct violation of the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva Peace Conference Accords called for talks to begin between the two Vietnams in July 1956 to set forth plans for elections late the following year to unify the divided country. Diem refused to comply. The US knew Diem was so unpopular that he had no chance of being elected against Ho Chi Minh. As a result, the US had to scramble to come up with a solution to this imminent crisis.

So, long before the US officially joined the Vietnam conflict by sending troops, Lansdale and Conein were there stirring the pot.

Were you aware of this part of world history? Do you think these things still go on today?

Vietnam Conflict’s Turning Point

My research into writing the series of books on the Vietnam Conflict has uncovered many facts that are not taught in school. I grew up while Conflict was building, and I have been interested in Vietnam from the beginning, because it was weaving itself into the very fabric of our society. Then several years ago, I was driving behind a car with a sticker on it that read, “When I Left Vietnam, We Were Winning! This sticker opened my eyes to how our proud servicemen felt who served in that far-away land, despite being sent on a mission without an objective. Those who served honorably and proudly never received their due gratitude from our country.

The year 1963 was the tipping point in the Vietnam Conflict; specifically, the murders of President Diem and President Kennedy. The removal of these two leaders resulted in an acceleration of the conflict. It is not a highly publicized fact, but President Kennedy was against putting large numbers of ground troops in Vietnam. He had wrestled with this decision for the first two years of his administration, while slightly increasing the number of “advisors” in South Vietnam and working with the South Vietnamese Army. The President had several conversations with retired Five Star General Douglas MacArthur, who knew the Pacific and Southeast Asia about as well as anyone alive. MacArthur advised President Kennedy that it was not a war conducive to ground troops. Late in 1963, President Kennedy started decreasing the number of troops in Vietnam. His actions should not be misinterpreted; he believed he could come up with a plan that would meet his objective of winning the Vietnam Conflict. His actions were not well received by the war hawks in his cabinet, at the Pentagon, or in the Military Industrial Complex. Based on the advice of MacArthur and other key advisors, Kennedy believed the conflict could be won by working with the South Vietnamese Army, utilizing Elite Forces’ surgical strikes, in conjunction with air and naval support. Silhouette fedora

The civilian government of South Vietnam at that time was run by President Ngo Dinh Diem. He was an enigma. He was a Catholic in a predominately Buddhist Country. From the beginning, there was almost constant conflict between the president, his family, and the Buddhists. Quickly, these conflicts accelerated to become a huge distraction that took their country’s focus from their real enemies, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. To present both sides of the argument, the South Vietnamese Army was not a very good fighting-army, and they were inferior to the Communist North Vietnamese Army, which was trained and funded by the Soviet Union and the Communist Red Chinese.

My first book in the series, PAWNS – MAGIC BULLET, details the murders of Diem and Kennedy, covering how this all played out and not only changed the way the Vietnam Conflict unfolded, but that it was the beginning of the change of an entire society. It is my opinion, based on years of research, that the murders of these two presidents were related. What are your thoughts?

The Vietnam Conflict

I became draft eligible at the end of the Vietnam Conflict. During the last years of the draft, I was in college. The US Draft Board was running lotteries for selection, based on date of birth. And to use a sports acronym, I just barely squeaked into the top twenty, thus I had an immediate 1-A. In just over a week, I received my notice to report for my physical. I was running on the college track team, so I was certain to pass. I was torn by my future decision. Enlisting would mean committing four years of my life, but it would put me in the service of choice, versus two years of assignment to a random branch of service.

My father said, “You could end up chest-deep in a rice paddy, holding your gun over your head, while bullets are zinging past.” Obviously, my father wanted me to continue in his footsteps, entering the US Air Force. You see, when my father was seventeen, he enlisted in the US Air Force shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

I took a lot of time and thought hard about the decision. I did not rush my choice. Just over a week before I was to report for my physical, President Nixon called an end to the draft. I can tell you that at that point, I still had not decided whether to enlist.

About two years ago, I decided to write a book, or a series of books, on the Vietnam Conflict. Why? Well, I lived it from the beginning to end. The year of my birth, 1954, was the beginning of Vietnam, and it ended while I was in college. When I was about nine years old, a friend of our family had a son killed in Vietnam. I remember sitting in their home with them, but—typical of a ten year old—it had no impact on me then. 

When I was in junior high, the youth of America quickly began to turn against the Vietnam Conflict, but again, I really didn’t understand. Richard Nixon was elected President as I was entering high school, but the war was still too far off to impact me, even when they talked about doing away with college deferments. During the time, the momentum grew against the conflict, and President Nixon discussed ending it. I noticed that, as our soldiers came home, I felt they were not treated properly. And sadly, the silent majority of people sat silent as to how these soldiers were treated. Now, please understand that I am aware there was a great misunderstanding of the two peoples; the Vietnamese people did not understand the American soldier, and many of the American soldiers disrespected the Vietnamese people.

Why, then, did all this hit me so hard two years ago? The Vietnam Wall came to my hometown of Parkersburg, WV. I couldn’t wait to see it. Plus, I wanted to find the name of the friend-of-the-family’s son. I wanted to know why and how he died. Talk about a fateful moment . . . when I asked the men in the tent where I could find his name, a lady who sat writing down names looked up at me and said, “I wanted to marry him!” How startling! That statement alone humanized the book project for me.

I wanted to write a book shedding positive light on the American soldiers in an attempt to honor these men who served over there. These men who were chest-deep in a rice paddy with a gun over their head as the bullets whizzed by. Plus, I wanted to show how the American public changed during the course of the Vietnam Conflict. After extensive research, I decided that the best place to start was at the first point of the conflict—the coup of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. This event had tentacles that were entwined around the entire fabric of the conflict.Silhouette fedora

What are your experiences with and perceptions of the Vietnam Conflict? If you are younger, or if you remained stateside, has any revelation regarding our soldiers surprised you, as I was startled by that woman’s statement? I would love to hear from you! Where do you think the Vietnam Conflict first started, and why?