The Buddhist Uprising of 1966 (Vietnamese: Phật giáo nổi dậy) was a period of civil and military unrest in South Vietnam, largely focused in the I Corps area in the north of the country in central Vietnam. The area is a heartland of Vietnamese Buddhism, and at the time, activist Buddhist monks and civilians were at the forefront of opposition to a series of military juntas that had been ruling the nation, as well as prominently questioning the escalation of the Vietnam War.
During the rule of the Catholic Ngô Đình Diệm, the discrimination against the majority Buddhist population generated the growth of Buddhist institutions as they sought to participate in national politics and gain better treatment. In 1965, after a series of military coups that followed the fall of the Diệm regime in 1963, Air Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu finally established a stable junta, holding the positions of Prime Minister and figurehead Chief of State respectively. During that time, suspicion and tension continued between the Buddhist and Catholic factions in Vietnamese society.
The religious factor combined with a power struggle between Kỳ and General Nguyễn Chánh Thi, the commander of I Corps, a Buddhist local to the region and popular in the area. Thi was a strong-willed officer regarded as a capable commander, and Kỳ saw him as a threat, as did others within the junta. In March 1966, Kỳ fired Thi and ordered him into exile in the United States under the false pretense of medical treatment. This prompted both civilians and some I Corps units to launch widespread civil protests against Kỳ's regime and halt military operations against Viet Cong. Kỳ gambled by allowing Thi to return to I Corps before departing for the US, but the arrival of the general to his native area only fuelled anti-Kỳ sentiment. The Buddhist activists, students and Thi loyalists in the military coalesced into the "Struggle Movement", calling for a return to civilian rule and elections. Meanwhile, Thi stayed in I Corps and did not leave; strikes and protests stopped civilian activity in the area, government radio stations were taken over and used for anti-Kỳ campaigning, and military operations ceased. Riots also spread to the capital Saigon and other cities further south.
At the start of April, Kỳ decided to move. He declared that Da Nang, the main centre in I Corps, was under communist control and publicly vowed to kill the mayor, who had expressed support for the Struggle Movement. Kỳ moved military forces into the city and travelled there to prepare for an assault, but had to withdraw and then start discussions with Buddhist leaders, as it was obvious that he was not strong enough to crush the opposition. In the meantime, he fired Thi's successor Nguyễn Văn Chuân because he wanted a firmer attempt to regain control, and appointed Tôn Thất Đính to replace him. Đính claimed to have calmed the situation, but Kỳ viewed the situation as appeasement, and on May 15, his forces drove off Đính and took over. During the previous month, American forces had also become involved in the stand-off, and the Struggle Movement viewed their participation as biased towards Kỳ, leading to some tense confrontations.
In the second half of May, Kỳ's forces began to force the issue and gradually wore down the Struggle Movement as the rebel I Corps forces were worn down, despite some American objections that his aggressive attacks had the potential to cause too much collateral damage. At one stage, Kỳ's forces ended up in a skirmish with American forces, and later, the Americans were in the middle of a stand-off between the Vietnamese factions regarding a mined bridge. As Kỳ's forces took back Da Nang and Huế in street fighting, Struggle Movement supporters saw American intervention as being pro-Kỳ, and anti-US riots resulted in some American buildings being burnt down. Kỳ's triumph ended the Buddhist movement's influence on politics and he confined their leader Thích Trí Quang to house arrest thereafter, while Thi left for the US.
In a country where the Buddhist majority was estimated to be between 70 and 90 percent, Diệm ruled with a strong religious bias. As a member of the Catholic Vietnamese minority, he pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists. The government as being biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as in the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions. Many military officers converted in the belief that their military prospects depended on it. Forgetting that he was talking to a Buddhist, Diệm once told a high-ranking officer, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted." In addition, the distribution of firearms to village self-defence militias intended to repel Vietcong guerrillas resulted in weapons only being given to Catholics. Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies, and in some areas, forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of Buddhist pagodas occurred. Some Buddhist villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diệm's regime.
The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and the "private" status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French colonial authorities, which required official permission to conduct public Buddhist activities and restricted the construction of Buddhist temples, was not repealed by Diệm. Furthermore, the land owned by the Catholic Church was exempt from redistribution under land reform programs. Catholics were also de facto exempt from the corvée labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform and the government disproportionately allocated funding to Catholic majority villages. Under Diệm, the Catholic Church enjoyed special exemptions in property acquisition, and in 1959, he dedicated the country to the Virgin Mary. The Vatican flag was regularly flown at major public events in South Vietnam.
On May 8, 1963, Diệm's officials invoked a rarely enforced law to prohibit the display of religious flags, forbidding Buddhists from flying their flag on Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. This caused Buddhist indignation, as Vatican flags had been flown a week earlier at a celebration for Diệm's brother, Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục. On May 8, in Huế, a crowd of Buddhists protested against the ban on the Buddhist flag. The police and army opened fire and threw grenades at the demonstrators, leaving nine dead.
Diệm's denial of responsibility for the incident—he blamed it on the communist Viet Cong—led to more discontent among the Buddhist majority. The incident spurred a protest movement against the religious discrimination of Diệm's Roman Catholic-dominated regime. The dispute came to be known as the Buddhist crisis, and it provoked widespread and large-scale civil disobedience. The objective of the protests was to have Decree Number 10 repealed, and to gain religious equality. However, the standoff persisted, and in August, the ARVN Special Forces of Colonel Lê Quang Tung, loyal to Diệm's brother and chief adviser Ngô Đình Nhu, raided temples across the country, killing an estimated hundreds and arresting thousands of Buddhist laypeople and monks. After this, the American government began to turn against Diệm and secretly encouraged a coup. On November 1, Diệm was deposed and he and Nhu were assassinated the next day.
After Diệm, South Vietnam went through a period of persistent and serious instability, as multiple coups, as well as other failed uprisings, occurred for 18 months. Apart from personal rivalries between the senior officers, the infighting was also stoked by conflict between religious pressure movements. The Buddhists lobbied for the removal of Diệm's pro-Catholic policies, as well as those officers who had risen up the ranks quickly because they converted to Catholicism and vigorously enacted Diệm's policies. On the other hand, Catholics, whose privileges were rolled back post-Diệm, accused the regime of General Nguyễn Khánh of persecuting them on behalf of the Buddhists. At times, religious riots broke out during this period.
In September 1964, the Catholic Generals Lâm Văn Phát and Dương Văn Đức tried to overthrow Khanh after he had removed them under Buddhist pressure. This failed, but in February 1965, Phat tried again with the help of fellow Catholic, Colonel Phạm Ngọc Thảo, publicly invoking the memory of Diệm in launching their coup. Phát's second attempt also failed, and the pair went on the run, but the inability of Khánh to secure a decisive victory forced him into exile.
Because of the fractious nature of Vietnamese politics in the period after Diệm's overthrow, no officer could rule decisively without regard for the opinions of his peers without being deposed.
The generals who commanded South Vietnam's four corps oversaw separate geographical regions, and were given wide-ranging powers. In the absence of civilian government, they were virtual warlords in their regions. The corps commanders were happy with this federated arrangement; Kỳ was acceptable to the US, and he would pass American military aid to them while allowing them substantial regional autonomy.
Despite, the steady control of Kỳ and Thiệu, the religious tension remained. After one month, Thích Trí Quang began to call for the removal of Thiệu because he was a member of Diệm's Catholic Cần Lao Party, decrying his "fascistic tendencies", and claiming that Cần Lao members were undermining Kỳ.
For Thích Trí Quang, Thiệu was a symbol of the Diệm era of Catholic domination, when advancement was based on religion. He had desired that General Thi, known for his pro-Buddhist position would lead the country, and denounced Thiệu for his alleged past crimes against Buddhists. The Buddhist leader Thích Trí Quang said that "Thi is nominally a Buddhist, but does not really care about religion".
The Buddhist activists wanted to end the war through a negotiated settlement with the communists and the departure of the Americans, putting them at odds with the pro-war, pro-American generals. It was clear that the Buddhists would stage some kind of protest against Kỳ and Thiệu, and the prime minister regarded the Buddhist activists as traitors, so he welcomed confrontation as an opportunity to break their influence.
Within the circle of the South Vietnamese government, General Nguyễn Chánh Thi was a Buddhist and a competent commander regarded by Kỳ as a threat. Many political observers in Saigon thought that Thi wanted to depose Kỳ, and regarded him as the biggest threat to the other officers and the junta's stability. According to Kỳ's memoirs, Thi was a "born intriguer" who had "left-wing inclinations". Time magazine published a piece in February 1966 that claimed that Thi was more dynamic than Kỳ and could seize power at any time. The historian Robert Topmiller thought that Kỳ may have seen the article as destabilizing and therefore decided to move against Thi.
A native of central Vietnam, Thi was the commander of I Corps, which oversaw the five northernmost provinces of South Vietnam and the 1st and 2nd Divisions. He was known to have the "deep-rooted" loyalty of his soldiers. A large part of the South Vietnamese military was the Regional and Popular Forces, which were militia who served in their native areas, and they appreciated a commander with a regionalistic rapport. The support from the Buddhists, his troops and the regional tendencies gave Thi a strong power base and made it hard for the other generals and the Americans to move against him.
Thi was a senior member in the ten-man ruling junta, which opposed the Buddhist activists. Thi performed a balancing act, and accommodated the Buddhists, wanting them to see him as a friend. He allowed the students to publish a magazine that was highly critical of military rule. Thi also manoeuvred to have a trusted subordinate installed as the head of the national police, increasing his political power.
The historian Stanley Karnow said of Kỳ and Thi: "Both flamboyant characters who wore gaudy uniforms and sported sinister moustaches, the two young officers had been friends, and their rivalry seemed to typify the personal struggles for power that chronically afflicted South Vietnam. But their dispute mirrored more than individual ambition." Both were also known for their colourful red berets.
There were reports that Thi was showing insubordination towards Kỳ. The US military commander in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, said that Thi once refused to report to Kỳ in Saigon when requested. On one occasion, Kỳ came to I Corps to remonstrate with him in early March, Thi addressed his staff and asked mockingly "Should we pay attention to this funny little man from Saigon or should we ignore him?" Thi made this comment rather loudly, within earshot of Kỳ, and the Vietnamese politician Bùi Diễm thought that the prime minister viewed Thi's comment as a direct challenge to his authority. In Vietnam, newspapers critical of the government of the day were routinely shut down so that only mouthpieces were left speaking, and many political leaders erroneously assumed that the US operated in the same manner. As a result, they often interpreted negative US media reports as the official position of Washington and thus encouragement of a coup.
Time magazine said that Thi "ran it [I Corps] like a warlord of yore, obeying those edicts of the central government that suited him and blithely disregarding the rest". The historian George McTurnan Kahin said that Kỳ may have feared that Thi would secede from Saigon and turn central Vietnam into an independent state. The CIA analyst Douglas Pike, who worked in Vietnam, speculated that this would have been a large part of Kỳ's thinking, as Vietnamese people often had strong regional tendencies.
A combination of those factors resulted in Thi's dismissal. Kỳ mustered the support of eight of the generals on the 10-man junta, meaning that along with his vote, there were nine officers in favour of Thi's removal. With Thi the only non-supporter, Kỳ and his colleagues removed Thi from the junta and his corps command on March 10, 1966. Kỳ threatened to resign if the decision was not unanimous, claiming that the junta needed a show of strength, so Thi decided to vote for his sacking.
Thi claimed that during this meeting, knowing that the other generals were not favourable to him, he nettled them by chastising their commitment to the country. He said that the population would never support the generals' war effort as long as they lived so comfortably, and he mocked them for ostentatiously flying their female partners to Hong Kong for shopping expeditions. The junta put Thi under house arrest pending his departure from the country, and then appointed General Nguyễn Văn Chuân, the erstwhile commander of 1st Division and a Thi subordinate, as the new I Corps commander. General Pham Xuan Nhuan was then made the 1st Division commander.
At first, Kỳ said that Thi was leaving the country to receive medical treatment for his nasal passages. An official announcement said that the junta "had considered and accepted General Thi's application for a vacation". Thi retorted that "The only sinus condition I have is from the stink of corruption." Kỳ gave a series of reasons for dismissing Thi, accusing him of being too left-wing, of ruling the central regions like a warlord, of having a mistress who was suspected of being a communist, and being too conspiratorial. Kỳ did not say that Thi supported negotiations as a means of ending the war, but he did have a history of removing officials and military figures who promoted such a policy.
Despite Thi's good relations with the Buddhists in his area, most notably the leading activist monk Thích Trí Quang, Kỳ reportedly had the monk's support for Thi's removal. If Kỳ thought that Thích Trí Quang would not organize demonstrations against Thi's dismissal, he turned out to be wrong, as the monk used to crisis to highlight Buddhist calls for civilian rule. There were claims that Thích Trí Quang had always intended to challenge Kỳ, regardless of whether or not Thi had been cast aside.
US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the US military commander in Vietnam General William Westmoreland and the Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were supportive of the Kỳ-Thiệu regime and their prosecution of the war against the communists, and they opposed Thi, regarding him as not being firm enough against communism. The Americans wanted to ease Thi's out of the corridors of power in South Vietnam by offering him an economic future in the US and an education for his children. On the other hand, Thi did have the support of Marine Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt, who commanded American forces in I Corps and was the senior adviser to Thi's ARVN forces. Walt thought highly of Thi's abilities as an officer.
The dismissal caused widespread demonstrations in the northern provinces. Initially, the pro-Buddhist demonstrations in I Corps and Saigon were mild and orderly. However, the unrest steadily grew, as civil servants, disaffected military personnel, and the working under-class, in part upset with the economic problems, joined the anti-government demonstrations. At first, Prime Minister Kỳ tried to ignore the demonstrations and wait for them to peter out, and to do not fight the dissidents, so as to "not to provide any martyrs". Thi was immensely popular in the Buddhist stronghold of Huế. A general strike had incapacitated 90% of Da Nang, the largest city in central Vietnam and the second biggest in the entire country. In Saigon, 10,000 attended a Buddhist rally to call for elections and civilian rule and the monks used Thi's dismissal to focus attention on the junta's rule.
Meanwhile, in the capital in mid-to-late March, Kỳ took the lead in trying to dampen discontent, meeting Buddhist leaders and promising elections and social reform; however, he also warned that street demonstrations would be suppressed. Showing the Americans' concern that the situation may deteriorate, Lodge met with Thích Trí Quang to warn him about taking aggressive actions. Although the leading activist monk Thích Trí Quang accused Kỳ of "indulging in a cult of personality", most of the Buddhist banners focused their criticism against the Catholic figurehead chief of state Thiệu.
Kỳ then decided to allow Thi to return to Da Nang, the largest city in the region and the second largest in the country on March 16, ostensibly to restore order. Kỳ claimed that he allowed Thi to return to his old area of command as a goodwill gesture, to keep central Vietnamese happy, and because he promised Thi a farewell visit before going into exile. Given Thi's popularity, Kỳ's gesture was regarded as a political gamble. In any case, Thi made a tongue-in-cheek speech, filled with sarcastic references about his need to go to the US for healthcare.
The next day, he went to the former imperial capital of Huế in his corps. Around 20,000 supporters, in a town of around 130,000 mobbed him, shouting and trying to touch him. A Buddhist student leader cried "Do you want the general to stay with us?" to which the students and other protestors answered, "Yes! Yes!" Neil Sheehan of The New York Times said that the crowd display "left no doubt that the ruling Saigon junta was in trouble". Thi told the large crowd "Think about our country, not about me". He told a journalist that he would accept "any position which is useful for the country", leading some to think that he wanted Kỳ or Thiệu's job. According to Time magazine, Thi's speeches showed that he "was obviously torn between a desire to rally support for a comeback and his soldier's distaste for adding to dissension". Thi's speech was followed by presentations by student and Buddhist leaders, who called for the removal of Thiệu and Defense Minister Nguyễn Hữu Có. Both were Catholic generals notorious known for their rampant corruption. However, despite the large-scale demonstrations and support for Thi, there had been no clashes or strong tensions at the time. One prominent Buddhist leader said "We are very grateful to the generals...Kỳ brought about some stability in the last eight months" after he became the leader of South Vietnam.
The various dissidents formed a pro-Thi, anti-Kỳ organization called the Military-Civilian Struggle Committee, better known as the Struggle Movement. Their message and influence quickly spread. Some of them took over the government radio station in Da Nang and made anti-junta broadcasts, and they were joined by university students. Initially this dissident soapboxing was not treated with much alarm and it was thought that the regime had decided to wait for the protests to peter out instead of risking an escalation by trying to suppress it. The administrator at Da Nang's radio station allowed the Thi supporters to make a broadcaster when only ten student protesters turned up, a minuscule amount of popular pressure. The opposition groups were not well organized at this time and seemed unsure of their objectives. They were also conducting themselves placidly at this point.
The challenge to Saigon increased when the Struggle Movement claimed authority over the military forces in Quảng Nam Province, which included Da Nang and the military bases there. Buddhists in Huế joined in and took control of the radio station and joined the Struggle Movement. Four hundred students took control of the radio station for two days, disseminating speeches criticizing Kỳ's junta. Despite assailing the Americans for their support of the junta, ironically during breaks in the speeches, John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was played. By the end of March the situation had worsened.
The movement became anti-American as well as anti-Saigon government, and it increased in influence until most of I Corps was operating independently of central Vietnamese government control. Washington became alarmed and Kỳ decided to act. The Mayor of Da Nang then started openly supporting the rebelling ARVN soldiers of the I Corps who refused to obey Kỳ.
Kỳ then sacked the police chief of Huế, a Thi loyalist. The local policemen responded by going on strike and demonstrating against their chief's removal. On the weekend, 20,000 civilians along with some military personnel in uniform in the imperial capital. They carried banners proclaiming "Down with [Chief of State] Thiệu and Kỳ". The Struggle Movement called a two-day general strike, which was taken up by public servants. This cut down traffic and hindered stevedoring operations at Da Nang Port. The large turnout was in part attributed to economic discontent over rapid inflation rates rather than strictly religious or democracy desires. Kỳ responded to this on nationwide by warning that the junta would "move strongly" to quell agitation. However, he moderated his words by promising a new constitution by no later than November and that the national elections might be held at the end of the year, bringing it one year forward.
However, the supporters of Thích Trí Quang appeared unwilling to wait for Kỳ's schedule, calling for the Constituent Assembly that would draft the new constitution to be chosen from provincial and city councils, where Buddhists did well in elections, but Kỳ refused. While Thích Trí Quang seemed unlikely to see eye-to-eye with Kỳ, the Saigon-based Buddhist leader Thich Tam Chau appeared open to an accommodation with Kỳ .
On April 1, Kỳ despatched General Pham Xuan Chieu to I Corps in an attempt to get Thi to rally to the Saigon junta. However, when Chieu entered Huế, he was ambushed by a group of anti-Kỳ students, who captured him and transported him around the city in a cyclo before releasing him.
On the public holiday that commemorates Emperor Hung Vuong, the legendary founder of Vietnam, Saigon's Buddhists used a trick to stage protests against Kỳ and Thiệu's junta. They asked for a permit for a public gathering to celebrate the occasion at the market, and were granted approval on the grounds that at most 600 people took part and that no anti-government sentiment was expressed. However, a few thousand people turned up to the event and then erected pictures of Kỳ and the senior junta generals on the posts used for public executions, adding a poster that read: "This is the plaza of demagogy. Kỳ, Thiệu and Co. must be executed." The civilian protestors then used megaphones to transform the event into an anti-junta, anti-American, anti-war demonstration through the capital, complete with pre-prepared banners.
Kỳ also recalled the police chief of Huế, a Thi ally, to Saigon, prompting his men to protest. On the weekend, some 20,000 people, mostly civilians but also including some uniformed soldiers, staged a demonstration, carrying large banners reading "Down with Thiệu and Kỳ". in 12-ft. banners. Another two-day general strike was called for public servants with much success in Huế.
On April 3, Kỳ held a press conference during which he claimed that Da Nang was under communist control and vowed to stage a military operation to regain the territory. He thus implied that the Buddhists were communist agents. He then vowed to kill the mayor of Da Nang, saying "Either Da Nang's mayor is shot or the government will fall."
The following evening, Kỳ deployed three battalions of marines to Da Nang using American military transport aircraft. The marines stayed at Da Nang Air Base and made no moves against the rebels in the city. Soon after, they were joined by two battalions of Vietnamese Rangers, as well as some riot police and paratroopers.
Meanwhile, civil unrest continued in the cities of South Vietnam. Around 5,000 turned out in Huế to demonstrate, while another 10,000 took to the streets of Da Nang. A mob of 10,000 looted government buildings in the south central coast town of Qui Nhơn, while some 2,000 soldiers as well as some senior officers demonstrated.
The protests were at their most violent in the capital Saigon, where pro-Buddhist students rioted, using bicycle chains and sticks as weapons, vandalised cars, threw rocks and shouted anti-American slogans. Street battles erupted between Kỳ's loyalist police and troops, as the dissidents fought tear gas with rocks, homemade spears, glass bottles and sometimes a hand grenade. The police frequently lost the ascendancy to the rioters, who dispersed them and forced them to flee. At one stage, the military mayor of Saigon went onto the streets in attempt to try to convince the rioters to stop, but he was pelted with projectiles as well. Often the protesters wore makeshift masks made of plastic bags and threw tear gas canisters back at the police and military, and regardless of who was on the receiving end, this often necessitated momentary retreats due to eye irritation. Some 300 Buddhists staged a sit-down protest at the national radio station in capital before the police used clubs to disperse them. The riots were repeated in the Central Highlands towns of Da Lat, Pleiku and Ban Me Thuot.
Kỳ took personal command and found that the roads leading into the city as being blocked by Buddhist civilians and pro-Thi portions of the I Corps. After a stand-off, Kỳ realized that he could not score a decisive victory and had lost face. He arranged a meeting and media event with Chuan, and various Struggle Movement supporters.
During the unrest of early April, the Buddhists called for a constitution, for the junta to hand power to an elected civilian executive and legislature, which Kỳ had repeatedly promised to honour in the future. The Buddhists wanted the Constituent Assembly, which would draft the constitution, to be chosen from regional and city councils, which were dominated by Buddhists, something that Kỳ objected to. Having miscalculated in his deployment of marines and paratroopers to Da Nang for a show of force, the humiliated Kỳ arrived back in Saigon, where he met with Buddhist leaders for negotiations. The Buddhists demanded an amnesty for rioters and mutinous soldiers, and for Kỳ to withdraw the marines from Da Nang back to Saigon where they formed part of the strategic reserve. The monks said they would order the Struggle Movement "temporarily suspend all forms of struggle to prove our good will". Thich Tam Chau took a moderate line on the matter of the constitution, however, Thích Trí Quang refused and the protests continued.
Walt was caught between the two Vietnamese military factions. On April 9 the tension escalated. Pro-Struggle Movement ARVN Colonel Dam Quang Yeu ordered a convoy of infantry, tanks and artillery to proceed north from Hội An to Da Nang. The Americans finally waded into the dispute when Major General Wood B. Kyle, the commanding officer of the 3rd Marine Division, ordered the 9th Regiment to block Route 1 and stop the convoy. A platoon from the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines, supported by two antitank vehicles, blocked a truck on the bridge outside the city and took up positions on the northern bank. A group of VNAF fighter planes flew overhead the rebel convoy, threatening to bomb them. Colonel Yeu responded by aiming 155mm howitzers at the Da Nang Air Base where Kỳ's forces were located.
Walt dispatched Colonel John R. Chaisson to the standoff at the bridge. Chaisson warned Yeu not to raise the stakes any higher. To add weight to his arguments, a group of Vought F-8E attack aircraft flew over the bridge with rockets and bombs. Walt further told the marines to aim 155mm and 8-inch guns at the rebel position.
Yeu told Chaisson that he was a friend of the marines but that "he had come to fight the Saigon government troops who threatened the local people. He had come to lay down his own life if necessary." Yeu's men unpacked and fused their artillery shells. Chaisson warned Yeu that his rebels would be destroyed if they fired on his men, then returned to his helicopter and departed. Tensions eased over the next week. The Vietnamese marines returned to the capital and the I Corps forces resumed fighting against the communists. Thi publicly disassociated himself from the Buddhists. However, he remained in I Corps and was still regarded as a significant political influence.
Kỳ later claimed to be unconcerned by the apparent challenge to his authority by protestors and the military in I Corps, claiming that they represent a small fraction of Vietnamese society.
While the Johnson administration maintained a low-key approach during this period of stalemate and tension, mant American commentators and cartoonists blamed Johnson for situation, saying that his overt enthusiasm and support of Kỳ had made the South Vietnamese people view him as an American puppet. There Americans were publicly pretending to be uninvolved in the Vietnamese dispute, Secretary of State Dean Rusk saying "This is in part an effort by some civilian groups to carve out a certain position in relation to the steps that have been announced for some time by the military government to move toward a constitutional system."
When General Chuan, the I Corps Commander, asked for the marines to be withdrawn from Da Nang, the others on the ten-man junta unanimously removed him; he also voted for his own ouster. Kỳ replaced him with General Tôn Thất Đính. Kỳ felt that General Tôn Thất Đính's aggressive attitude following the Xá Lợi Pagoda raids staged under the Diệm regime in 1963 indicated a willingness to suppress Buddhist dissidents. Đính arrived in Huế on April 15.
The Buddhists reacted to Đính's appointment with dismay. They openly took responsibility for organising all future demonstrations, releasing a proclamation to that effect through the Vien Hoa Dao. They declared the country to be in "a state of emergency" and demanded civilian rule immediately, calling for an escalation in protests.
After a week, Đính announced that he had restored Saigon's authority over the region. He proclaimed that he had regained control of the radio stations in Da Nang and Huế from the dissidents and that he had convinced the mayor of Da Nang to stay loyal to Saigon. Đính announced a deal whereby the Buddhists would have regular air time in return for relinquishing control of the radio station. This move was interpreted in different ways. Some felt that Đính was attempting to gain favour with the Buddhists in anticipation of Kỳ's fall from power, while Frances FitzGerald felt it was the only sensible government action during the crisis.
On April 19, clashes erupted in Quảng Ngãi between the Buddhists and the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ, Vietnamese Nationalist Party), who supported the continuation of the anti-communist war, prompting Đính to forcibly restrain the two groups.
However, the easing tensions did not last. Kỳ was still looking to make a show of force. Without telling the figurehead President Thiệu or Westmoreland, Kỳ ordered General Cao Văn Viên to lead a force into Da Nang. On May 15, government Vietnamese marines and airborne units were airlifted from the capital to Da Nang. Landing at dawn, they proceeded into the city centre and captured the local ARVN headquarters.
Washington called Walt to ask for an update on the situation. According to Kỳ, the American general was "furious at an assault without warning on what he regarded as his territory." Kỳ ordered a plane to fly over the positions of the pro-Buddhist forces and drop messages threatening to liquidate them if they shot at his men. At the time the Viet Cong were quiet, and did not take advantage of the situation.
The surprised Đính abandoned his post and flee to the headquarters of US General Lewis W. Walt. Đính asked Walt for help and was flown to Huế, where the pro-Thi and pro-Buddhist elements were still in control. Kỳ's surprise attack led to conflict between the ARVN rebels and loyalists, with the American ground forces caught in the middle, effectively creating a civil war within a civil war. Kỳ eventually quelled the rebellion and briefly jailed Đính.
Later on the morning of May 15, two VNAF aircraft loyal to Kỳ strafed rebel ARVN units located near US Marine positions to the north of Da Nang. Wanting to avoid bloodshed, Walt asked Kỳ's junta to withdraw his loyalist forces from the city.
The next day, Cao, accompanied by Colonel Archelaus L. Hamblen, the senior U.S. Army advisor in I Corps, and Brigadier general Jonas M. Platt, Chief of Staff to III MAF, flew to Huế to visit the headquarters of ARVN 1st Division. A hostile pro-Buddhist crowd rioted and broke into the division's command post as Cao prepared to depart south for Da Nang. As the American helicopter lifted off, a pro-Buddhist ARVN lieutenant hit it with two pistol shots. In response, the US Army door gunner fired a burst that killed the lieutenant and wounded two adjacent soldiers. Struggle Movement supporters railed against the Americans for what they regarded as inappropriate interference in internal South Vietnamese dispute.
Still unwilling to remove his forces and seek a peaceful solution, Kỳ relished the opportunity for a confrontation with the American military. According to his memoirs, Kỳ told his loyalist officers in Da Nang to train their heaviest artillery at the American Marine base. If the Americans took action to hinder the aggressive pro-Kỳ aircraft, the commanders should "destroy the Marine base. That is an order." Kỳ then claimed that he flew to the city to reprimand Walt for improperly interfering in a domestic matter.
During the sporadic fighting that followed, the marines gradually pushed the rebel soldiers towards the east of the Tourane River. By that time, the government soldiers had already retaken the Da Nang City Hall and radio station.
The rebel soldiers then seized a bridge across the Tourane River, heavily used by the US military, they mined the bridge and the ammunition dump—which contained 6,000 tons— to prevent government soldiers from crossing to the other side.
On May 18 the government soldiers were preparing to cross the bridge and rebel gunners opened fire on them. The rebels then warned the government forces of the charges. In an effort to prevent the destruction of the bridge, General Walt attempted to ease the hostilities between the two sides by sending Chaisson back to the scene.
Chaisson talked Kỳ's marines into pulling back, and relieved them with a company of his marines on the western banks of the bridge. He then asked permission from rebel officer to place his marines on the other side of the bridge, but was rejected. Chaisson ignored the rebel officer and ordered his men to deploy to the Struggle Movement positions anyway. The Americans simply sat down on the road among the rebels without using any force. Walt then arrived and he and Chaisson walked across the bridge. They never reached the other side, as a rebel warrant officer ordered them to halt, threatening to explode the bridge. In the meantime, the rebels fired machine guns low at the Americans, briefly forcing them to duck.
Walt began debating with the warrant officer who mined the bridge but it was fruitless; the Vietnamese rebel told him "General, we will die together" and brought his hand down. Another rebel officer, a military engineer, plunged the detonator. Walt recalled that "There was no doubt he expected the bridge to blow on his signal". However, the Americans had sent military engineers to defuse the explosives on the bridge and at the munitions dump, ending the standoff.
The Struggle Movement still controlled held several key strategic positions in Da Nang. Sporadic machine gun fire was exchanged between the two Vietnamese factions. On May 21, Walt heard that Kỳ had decided to use airstrikes against the rebels, and feared that the ordnance would cause civilian casualties; at the time, there were more than 1,000 American civilians in the city. Walt told Cao of his concerns. However, Cao was afraid of his own men killing him, and fled to Walt's headquarters seeking protection from Kỳ's airstrikes.
Walt went to talk to the VNAF commander at Da Nang Air Base, but could not dissuade him. Instead, VNAF planes took off from the base loaded with rockets and bombs. As a result, Walt ordered the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing to arm four jet fighters in preparation for air-to-air combat.
Rebel machine gunners located near US positions opened fire on loyalist troops, prompting two VNAF planes to fire rockets, but they were missed and instead three projectiles instead hit American positions, wounding eight marines. Walt ordered two jets into the air and tail Kỳ's pilots and shoot them if they fired onto Da Nang. The VNAF responded by sending more planes into the air to trail the Americans and responded with a counterthreat, to which Walt reacted by sending more planes into the air. After two hours, the Vietnamese planes returned to the ground. Washington received a complaint from Saigon over Walt's interference, but after the general explained his position, he was given permission to act as he saw fit.
Thi met with Westmoreland on May 24, and with Kỳ three days later at Chu Lai, after the Americans had organised a meeting in an attempt to get Thi to support Kỳ or end his opposition, hoping that it would end the unrest without Kỳ having to attack Huế. The meeting resulted in the deposed general agreeing to leave the region for the good of the country. Before his departure for exile, Thi tried to convince Cao to return corps command. Cao, refused, fearing for his family's safety, and asked Westmoreland for asylum in America, saying that he wanted "to become an American citizen, to join the Marines or Army, to fight against the Communists" after returning to Vietnam.
By the end of May, the marines under Premier Kỳ's command finally broken the remaining pockets of rebel soldiers and Buddhist militants in Da Nang, the Buddhist fighters managed to hold out for four hours against government ground assaults at Tan Ninh Pagoda.
On May 26, a large pro-Buddhist crowd attended the funeral of the rebel ARVN lieutenant who was killed after shooting at General Cao's departing helicopter. Afterward, the protestors rioted and burned down the US Information Service Library. Over the next week, three Buddhist clergy self-immolated in protest at US policies. The Buddhist activist leader Thích Trí Quang, went on a hunger strike, denouncing American support for the Kỳ-Thiệu junta, which he viewed as inappropriate interference in domestic affairs.
The ARVN 1st Division sent guards to protect the US Consulate in Huế, but they fled when an anti-Kỳ mob rioted and overran the mission, setting it ablaze. With the assistance of the Americans, Kỳ sent Vietnamese marine and airborne battalions to the army base at Phu Bai. By June 19, the old imperial capital was under government control. US Ambassador Lodge publicly praised Kỳ regime for suppressing the Struggle Movement, calling it "a solid political victory".
In mid June, the Saigon-based Buddhist leader Thich Tam Chau, regarded as being more moderate than Thích Trí Quang, called for passive resistance instead of rioting, and denounced any peace talks with the communists as a "surrender". However, he then called for the resignations of Kỳ and Thiệu within 48 hours, threatening that all Buddhist monks would otherwise nominate for "voluntary imprisonment".
Thích Trí Quang responded to the situation by calling on Buddhists in Huế to place their altars onto the street to block the junta's troops. Thousands complied, and the police did not stop them. For two days, the altars stopped all road traffic and prevented convoys from travelling north of the city for a military buildup. He later relented and allowed a few hours a day for such traffic. He then penned a letter accusing the US of "imperialism" and went on a hunger strike. Kỳ ignored the Buddhist protests and sent 400 combat police to secure the city. They entered unopposed, arrested dissident policemen and removed the altars.
Around 150 Vietnamese from each faction were killed in the uprising; another 700 were wounded. The Americans suffered 23 wounded, 18 of them marines.
Thích Trí Quang was arrested and taken to a local military hospital. He was later taken to Saigon and permanently put under house arrest. The collapse of the Buddhist Uprising effectively ended the Buddhists as a political force.
The High National Council (South Vietnam) (Thượng Hội đồng Quốc gia) (8 September 1964 – 20 December 1964) was a civilian legislative assembly convened by the Military Revolutionary Council (MRC) led by the three generals Dương Văn Minh, Nguyễn Khánh and Trần Thiện Khiêm, under US pressure, after the First Republic led by Ngô Đình Diệm was overthrown by the military junta. Its ultimate objective was to prepare the constitution of the Second Republic of Vietnam. The Council consisted of 16 well-respected citizens: Nguyễn Xuân Chữ, Tôn Thất Hanh, Nguyễn Văn Huyền, Ngô Gia Hy, Nguyễn Đình Luyện, Nguyễn Văn Lực, Trần Đình Nam, Hồ Văn Nhựt, Trần Văn Quế, Lê Khắc Quyến, Phan Khắc Sửu, Lương Trọng Tường, Hồ Đắc Thắng, Lê Văn Thu, Mai Thọ Truyền and Trần Văn Văn.
Phan Khắc Sửu was elected by the Council as its chairman on 27 September 1964, and was nominated as Head of State of South Vietnam on 24 October 1964. The Vice-Chairman was Nguyễn Xuân Chữ, and the General Secretary was Trần Văn Văn. Dr Hồ Văn Nhựt was nominated for the role of Prime Minister of South Vietnam as he had the support from all religious and political parties. It was the first time since the First Republic that this position, of greater power than Head of State, was handed over to a civilian. However, Dr Nhựt wanted a solution for national reconciliation and, after unsatisfactory negotiations with the MRC and American authorities, he declined the offer. Trần Văn Hương, prefect of Saigon, was subsequently appointed Prime Minister. His civilian government was short-lived as it was opposed by Buddhist Uprising and military revolt, resulting in the military reassuming control of the government and dissolving the Council. Thereafter, South Vietnam went through a period of political instability until the Nguyễn Văn Thiệu/Nguyễn Cao Kỳ junta took power in mid-1965.Jonas M. Platt
Jonas Mansfield Platt (September 21, 1919 - July 28, 2000) was highly decorated officer in the United States Marine Corps with the rank of Major General. A veteran of three wars, Platt is most noted for his service during Vietnam War as Assistant Division Commander, 3rd Marine Division and Commander of Task Force Delta. He was also a member of so-called "Chowder Society", special Marine Corps Board, which was tasked to conduct research and prepare material relative to postwar legislation concerning the role of the Marine Corps in national defense.Nguyễn Cao Kỳ
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ (listen; 8 September 1930 – 23 July 2011) served as the chief of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force in the 1960s, before leading the nation as the prime minister of South Vietnam in a military junta from 1965 to 1967. Then, until his retirement from politics in 1971, he served as vice president to bitter rival General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, in a nominally civilian administration.Born in northern Vietnam, Kỳ joined the Vietnamese National Army of the French-backed State of Vietnam and started as an infantry officer before the French sent him off for pilot training. After the French withdrew from Vietnam and the nation was partitioned, Kỳ moved up the ranks of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force to become its leader. In November 1963, Kỳ participated in the coup that deposed president Ngô Đình Diệm and resulted in Diệm's assassination.
In 1964 Kỳ became prominent in junta politics, regarded as part of a group of young, aggressive officers dubbed the Young Turks. Over the next two years, there were repeated coup attempts, many of which were successful, and Kỳ was a key player in supporting or defeating them. In September 1964, he helped put down a coup attempt by Generals Lâm Văn Phát and Dương Văn Đức against Nguyễn Khánh, and the following February he thwarted another attempt by Phát and Phạm Ngọc Thảo. His favored tactic in such situations was to send fighter jets into the air and threaten large-scale air strikes, and given his reputation for impetuosity, he usually attained the desired backdown. After the latter attempt, he also had the weakened Khánh forced into exile and eventually took the leading position in the junta in mid-1965 by becoming prime minister, while General Thiệu was a figurehead chief of state. During his period at the helm, he gained notoriety for his flamboyant manner, womanizing, and risky and brash behavior, which deeply concerned South Vietnam's American allies and angered the Vietnamese public, who regarded him as a "cowboy" and "hooligan". He cared little for public relations, and on occasion publicly threatened to kill dissidents and opponents as well as to flatten parts of North Vietnam and South Vietnamese units led by rival officers with bombings, although none of this materialized.
Nevertheless, Kỳ and Thiệu were able to end the cycle of coups, and the Americans backed their regime. In 1966 Kỳ decided to purge General Nguyễn Chánh Thi, another officer in the junta regarded as his greatest rival, from a command role. This provoked major unrest, particularly in South Vietnam, where some units joined with Buddhist activists supportive of Thi and hostile to Kỳ in defying his junta's rule. Three months of large-scale demonstrations and riots paralyzed parts of the country, and after much maneuvering and some military battles, Kỳ's forces finally put down the uprising, and Thi was exiled, entrenching the former's grip on power.
In 1967, a transition to an elected government was scheduled, and after a power struggle within the military, Thiệu ran for the presidency with Kỳ as his running mate—both men had wanted the top job. To allow the two to work together, their fellow officers had agreed to have a military body controlled by Kỳ shape policy behind the scenes. The election was rigged to ensure that Thiệu and Kỳ's military ticket would win, and strong executive powers meant that junta, in effect, still ruled. Leadership tensions persisted, and Thiệu prevailed, sidelining Kỳ supporters from key military and cabinet posts. Thiệu then passed legislation to restrict candidacy eligibility for the 1971 election, banning almost all would-be opponents; Kỳ and the rest withdrew as it was obvious that the poll would be a sham; Thiệu went on to win more than 90 percent of the vote and the election uncontested, while Kỳ retired. With the fall of Saigon, Kỳ fled to the United States. He continued to heavily criticize both the communists and Thiệu, and the former prevented him from returning. However, in 2004, he became the first South Vietnamese leader to return, calling for reconciliation between communists and anti-communists.Nguyễn Văn Chuân
Major General Nguyễn Văn Chuân was an officer of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. He served as the commander of I Corps, which oversaw the northernmost part of the country, from 14 March 1966 until 9 April of the same year, when he was replaced by Lieutenant General Tôn Thất Đính.During his tenure as I Corps Commander, the Buddhist Uprising started in the region because his predecessor Nguyễn Chánh Thi was very popular and was dismissed by military rival Nguyễn Cao Kỳ. Chuẩn supported the Struggle Movement against the junta in Saigon. Kỳ replaced Chuẩn with Đính in an attempt to shut down the opposition.Ngô Quang Trưởng
Ngô Quang Trưởng (13 December 1929 — 22 January 2007) was an officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Trưởng gained his commission in the Vietnamese National Army in 1954 and moved up the ranks over the next decade, mostly in the Airborne Brigade. In 1966, Trưởng commanded a division for the first time after he was given command of the 1st Division after helping to quell the Buddhist Uprising. He rebuilt the unit after this divisive period and used it to repel the communists and reclaimed the imperial citadel of Huế after weeks of bitter street fighting during the Tết Offensive. In 1970, Trưởng was given command of IV Corps in the Mekong Delta and improved the situation there to such an extent that he allowed some of his forces to be redeployed to other parts of the country that were finding the communist pressure difficult.In 1972, he was made the commander of I Corps after incompetent leadership by General Hoàng Xuân Lãm resulted in a South Vietnamese collapse in the face of the Easter Offensive, a massive conventional invasion by North Vietnam. He stabilized the ARVN forces before turning back the communists.
In 1975, the communists attacked again. This time, President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu gave contradictory orders to Trưởng as to whether he should stand and fight or give up some territory and consolidate. This led to the demoralization of I Corps and its collapse, allowing the communists to gather momentum and overrun South Vietnam within two months. Trưởng fled South Vietnam during the fall of Saigon and settled in Virginia in the United States.Operation Apache Snow
Operation Apache Snow was a joint U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) military operation during the Vietnam War designed to keep pressure on the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) units in the A Sầu Valley and prevent them from mounting any attacks on the neighboring coastal provinces.Operation Austin IV
Operation Austin IV was a search and destroy operation conducted by the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in western Quang Duc and Phước Long Provinces, from 1 to 18 May 1966.Operation Burlington Trail
Operation Burlington Trail was a security operation conducted during the Vietnam War by the U.S. 198th Infantry Brigade in Quảng Nam Province, South Vietnam from 8 April to 11 November 1968.Operation Elk Canyon
Operation Elk Canyon was a search and clear operation during the Vietnam War near Khâm Đức, Quảng Tín Province, that took place from 12 July to 29 September 1970.Operation Essex
Operation Essex was an operation by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in "Antenna Valley", Hiệp Đức District south of An Hoa Combat Base from 6 to 17 November 1967.Operation Fillmore
Operation Fillmore was an operation conducted by the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division in Phú Yên Province, lasting from 26 March to 21 July 1966.Operation Flaming Dart
Operation Flaming Dart was a U.S. and South Vietnamese military operation, conducted in two parts, during the Vietnam War.Operation Manhattan
Operation Manhattan was an operation conducted by the 1st and 2nd Brigades, 25th Infantry Division and the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division in the Ho Bo Woods/Bến Củi area, lasting from 23 April to 7 June 1967.Operation Osceola
Operation Osceola was a security operation around the Quảng Trị Combat Base, Quảng Trị Province, South Vietnam from 20 October 1967 to 16 February 1968.Operation Silver City
Operation Silver City was an operation conducted by the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Biên Hòa Province, lasting from 7 to 23 March 1966.Operation Somerset Plain
Operation Somerset Plain was a joint military operation conducted by the United States and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in the A Sầu Valley from 4-20 August 1968.Religious war
A religious war or holy war (Latin: bellum sacrum) is a war primarily caused or justified by differences in religion. In the modern period, debates are common over the extent to which religious, economic, or ethnic aspects of a conflict predominate in a given war. According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, out of all 1,763 known/recorded historical conflicts, 123, or 6.98%, had religion as their primary cause. Matthew White's The Great Big Book of Horrible Things gives religion as the cause of 13 of the world's 100 deadliest atrocities. In several conflicts including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, religious elements are overtly present but variously described as fundamentalism or religious extremism—depending upon the observer's sympathies. However, studies on these cases often conclude that ethnic animosities drive much of the conflicts.Some historians argue that what is termed "religious wars" is a largely "Western dichotomy" and a modern invention from the past few centuries, arguing that all wars that are classed as "religious" have secular (economic or political) ramifications. Similar opinions were expressed as early as the 1760s, during the Seven Years' War, widely recognized to be "religious" in motivation, noting that the warring factions were not necessarily split along confessional lines as much as along secular interests.According to Jeffrey Burton Russell, numerous cases of supposed acts of religious wars such as the Thirty Years' War, the French Wars of Religion, the Sri Lankan Civil War, 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, the Bosnian War, and the Rwandan Civil War were all primarily motivated by social, political, and economic issues rather than religion.Trần Thanh Phong
Lieutenant General Trần Thanh Phong (19 January 1926 - 1 December 1972) was an officer of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.
Trần Thanh Phong served as the commander of the South Vietnamese I Corps, which oversaw the northernmost part of the country, from 20 May 1964 until 30 May of the same year, when he was replaced by Lieutenant General Hoàng Xuân Lãm. He was one of five different I Corps commanders in two months, as Prime Minister Nguyễn Cao Kỳ struggled to find a leader of whom he approved while the Buddhist Uprising was taking place.
Easter Offensive (1972)
Post-Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)
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