Buddhist crisis

The Buddhist crisis (Vietnamese: Biến cố Phật giáo) was a period of political and religious tension in South Vietnam between May and November 1963, characterized by a series of repressive acts by the South Vietnamese government and a campaign of civil resistance, led mainly by Buddhist monks.[1]

The crisis was precipitated by the shootings of nine unarmed civilians on May 8 in the central city of Huế who were protesting a ban of the Buddhist flag. The crisis ended with a coup in November 1963 by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, and the arrest and assassination of President Ngô Đình Diệm on November 2, 1963.


In South Vietnam, a country where the Buddhist majority was estimated to comprise between 70 and 90 percent of the population in 1963,[2][3][4][5][6] President Ngô Đình Diệm's pro-Catholic policies antagonized many Buddhists. A member of the Catholic minority, his government was biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as in the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions.[7] Diem once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that he was a Buddhist, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted."[8] Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) converted to Catholicism in the belief that their career prospects depended on it, and many were refused promotion if they did not do so.[8] Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Viet Cong guerrillas was done so that weapons were only given to Catholics.[9] Some Catholic priests ran private armies,[10] and in some areas forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas occurred.[11] Some Buddhist villages converted en masse to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diem's regime.[12]

The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and the "private" status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French, which required official permission to conduct public activities, was not repealed by Diem.[13] The land owned by the church was exempt from land reform,[14] and Catholics were also de facto exempt from the corvée labor that the government obliged all other citizens to perform; public spending was disproportionately distributed 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.[15] The Vatican flag was regularly flown at major public events in South Vietnam.[16] Earlier in January 1956, Diệm enacted Order 46 which permitted "Individuals considered dangerous to the national defense and common security may be confined by executive order, to a concentration camp."[17] This order was used against dissenting Buddhists.[17]


May 1963

A rarely enforced 1958 law—known as Decree Number 10—was invoked in May 1963 to prohibit the display of religious flags. This disallowed the flying of the Buddhist flag on Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. The application of the law caused indignation among Buddhists on the eve of the most important religious festival of the year, as a week earlier Catholics had been encouraged to display Vatican flags at a government-sponsored celebration for Diem's brother, Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục, the most senior Catholic cleric in the country.[18][19] However, Diệm proclaimed the flag embargo because he was annoyed with the commemoration for Thục.[20] On May 8, in Huế, a crowd of Buddhists protested against the ban on the Buddhist flag. The police and army broke up the demonstration by firing guns at and throwing grenades into the gathering, leaving nine dead.[21][22]

On May 30, more than 500 monks demonstrated in front of the National Assembly in Saigon. The Buddhists had evaded a ban on public assembly by hiring four buses and filling up and pulling the blinds down. They drove around the city before the convoy stopped at the designated time and the monks disembarked. This was the first time that an open protest had been held in Saigon against Diệm in his eight years of rule.[23] They unfurled banners and sat down for four hours before disbanding and returning to the pagodas to begin a nationwide 48-hour hunger strike organized by the Buddhist patriarch Thich Tinh Khiet.[24]

June 1963

On June 1, Diệm's authorities announced the dismissal of the three major officials involved in the Huế incident: the province chief and his deputy, and the government delegate for the Central Region of Vietnam. The stated reason was that they had failed to maintain order. By this time, the situation appeared to be beyond reconciliation.[25]

Thích Quảng Đức self-immolation
Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation

On June 3, Vietnamese police and troops of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam poured chemicals on the heads of praying Buddhist protestors in the South Vietnamese city of Huế. 67 people were hospitalized and the United States privately threatened to withdraw aid.

On June 11, Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection in protest against Diệm's policies.

July 1963

On July 7, 1963, the secret police of Ngô Đình Nhu—the brother of President Ngô Đình Diệm—attacked a group of journalists from the United States who were covering Buddhist protests on the ninth anniversary of Diem's rise to power. Peter Arnett of the Associated Press (AP) was punched in the nose, but the quarrel quickly ended after David Halberstam of The New York Times, being much taller than Nhu's men, counterattacked and caused the secret police to retreat. Arnett and his colleague, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and photographer Malcolm Browne, were later accosted by police at their office and taken away for questioning on suspicion of attacking police officers.[26][27][28]

August 1963

On Sunday, August 18, the Buddhists staged a mass protest at Xá Lợi Pagoda, Saigon's largest, attracting around 15,000 people, undeterred by rain.[29][30] The attendance was approximately three times higher than that at the previous Sunday's rally.[31][32] The event lasted for several hours, as speeches by the monks interspersed religious ceremonies.[30] A Vietnamese journalist said that it was the only emotional public gathering in South Vietnam since Diem's rise to power almost a decade earlier.[29] David Halberstam of The New York Times speculated that by not exploiting the large crowd by staging a protest march towards Gia Long Palace or other government buildings, the Buddhists were saving their biggest demonstration for the scheduled arrival of new US ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., in the following week. As a government attack on Xa Loi was anticipated, Halberstam concluded that the Buddhists were playing "a fast and dangerous game".[33] He wrote that "the Buddhists themselves appeared to be at least as much aware of all the developments, and their protest seemed to have a mounting intensity".[29]

On the evening of August 18, ten senior generals of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam met to discuss the situation and decided that martial law would need to be imposed. On August 20, Nhu summoned seven of the generals to Gia Long Palace for consultation. They presented their request to impose martial law and discussed dispersion of the monks. Nhu sent the generals to see Diệm. The president listened to the group of seven, led by General Trần Văn Đôn. Đôn claimed that Communists had infiltrated the monks at Xá Lợi Pagoda and warned that ARVN morale was deteriorating because of the civil unrest. He claimed that it was possible that the Buddhists could assemble a crowd to march on Gia Long Palace. Hearing this, Diệm agreed to declare martial law effective on the next day, without consulting his cabinet. Troops were ordered into Saigon to occupy strategic points. Đôn was appointed as the acting Chief of the Armed Forces in the place of General Lê Văn Tỵ, who was abroad having medical treatment. Don noted that Diệm was apparently concerned with the welfare of the monks, telling the generals that he did not want any of them hurt. The martial law orders were authorized with the signature of Đôn, who had no idea that military action was to occur in the early hours of August 21 without his knowledge.[34][35]

Shortly after midnight on August 21, on the instructions of Nhu, troops of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces under Colonel Lê Quang Tung executed a series of synchronized attacks on the Buddhist pagodas in South Vietnam. Over 1400 Buddhists were arrested. The number killed or "disappeared" is estimated to be in the hundreds. The most prominent of the pagodas raided was that of Xá Lợi, which had become the rallying point for Buddhists from the countryside. The troops vandalized the main altar and managed to confiscate the intact charred heart of Thích Quảng Đức, the monk who had self-immolated in protest against the policies of the regime. The Buddhists managed to escape with a receptacle holding the remainder of his ashes. Two monks jumped the back wall of the pagoda into the grounds of the adjoining US Aid Mission, where they were given asylum. Thich Tinh Khiet, the 80-year-old Buddhist patriarch, was seized and taken to a military hospital on the outskirts of Saigon.[36] The commander of the III Corps of the ARVN, Tôn Thất Đính soon announced military control over Saigon, canceling all commercial flights into the city and instituting press censorship.[37]

Once the US government realized the truth about who was behind the raids, they reacted with disapproval towards the Diệm regime. The Americans had pursued a policy of quietly and privately advising the Ngos to reconcile with the Buddhists while publicly supporting the alliance, but following the attacks, this route was regarded as untenable. Furthermore, the attacks were carried out by American-trained Special Forces personnel funded by the CIA, and presented incoming Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., with a fait accompli.[38][39] The State Department issued a statement declaring that the raids were a "direct violation" of the promise to pursue "a policy of reconciliation".[36][40]

On August 24, the Kennedy administration sent Cable 243 to Lodge at the embassy in Saigon, marking a change in American policy. The message advised Lodge to seek the removal of Nhu from power, and to look for alternative leadership options if Diem refused to heed American pressure for reform. As the probability of Diệm's sidelining Nhu and his wife was seen as virtually nil, the message effectively meant the fomenting of a coup.[41][42][43] The Voice of America also broadcast a statement blaming Nhu for the raids and absolving the army of responsibility.[44]

September 1963

After the events of August, Diệm's regime became a major preoccupation for the Kennedy administration and a fact-finding mission was launched. The stated purpose of the expedition was to investigate the progress of the war by South Vietnam and their American military advisers against the Viet Cong insurgency. The mission was led by Victor Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall. Krulak was a Major General in the United States Marine Corps, while Mendenhall was a senior Foreign Service Officer experienced in dealing with Vietnamese affairs. The trip lasted four days.[45]

In their submissions to the NSC, Krulak presented an extremely optimistic report on the progress of the war, while Mendenhall presented a very bleak picture of military failure and public discontent. Krulak disregarded the effects of popular discontent in combating the Viet Cong. The general felt that the Vietnamese soldiers' efforts in the field would not be affected by the public's unease with Diệm's policies. Mendenhall focused on gauging the sentiment of urban-based Vietnamese and concluded that Diệm's policies increased the possibility of religious civil war. Mendenhall said that Diệm's policies were causing the South Vietnamese to believe that life under the Viet Cong would improve the quality of their lives.[45]

The divergent reports led US President John F. Kennedy to famously ask his two advisers, "The two of you did visit the same country, didn't you?"[46][47]

The inconclusive report was the subject of bitter and personal debate among Kennedy's senior advisers. Various courses of action towards Vietnam were discussed, such as fostering a regime change or taking a series of selective measures designed to cripple the influence of the Nhus, who were seen as the major causes of the political problems in South Vietnam.[45]

The inconclusive result of Krulak and Mendenhall's expedition resulted in a follow-up mission.

November 1963

On November 1, 1963, after six months of tension and growing opposition to the regime, generals from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam conducted a coup, which led to the fall of the Diem government and the arrest and assassination of the president.


  1. ^ Adam Roberts, 'Buddhism and Politics in South Vietnam', The World Today, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, vol. 21, no. 6, June 1965, pp. 240–50 analyses the causes of the Buddhist crisis and its significance as a case of non-violent struggle.
  2. ^ Moyar, pp. 215–216.
  3. ^ "The Religious Crisis". Time. June 20, 1963. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
  4. ^ Tucker, pp. 49, 291, 293.
  5. ^ Maclear, p. 63.
  6. ^ "The Situation in South Vietnam – SNIE 53-2-63". The Pentagon Papers (Gravel ed.). July 10, 1963. pp. 729–733. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
  7. ^ Tucker, p. 291.
  8. ^ a b Gettleman, pp. 280–282.
  9. ^ "South Vietnam: Whose funeral pyre?". The New Republic. June 29, 1963. p. 9.
  10. ^ Warner, p. 210.
  11. ^ Fall, p. 199.
  12. ^ Buttinger, p. 993.
  13. ^ Karnow, p. 294.
  14. ^ Buttinger, p. 933.
  15. ^ Jacobs p. 91.
  16. ^ "Diệm's other crusade". The New Republic. June 22, 1963. pp. 5–6.
  17. ^ a b Manhattan, Avro (1987). Vietnam: Why Did We Go?. Chick Publications. pp. 78–79.
  18. ^ Hammer, pp. 103–105.
  19. ^ Jacobs, p. 142.
  20. ^ Miller, p. 266.
  21. ^ Jacobs, p. 143.
  22. ^ Hammer, pp. 113–114.
  23. ^ Gettleman, p. 279.
  24. ^ Hammer, pp. 118, 259.
  25. ^ Jones, pp. 259–260.
  26. ^ Prochnau, pp. 328–330.
  27. ^ Langguth, p. 219.
  28. ^ Hammer, p. 157.
  29. ^ a b c Halberstam, p. 140.
  30. ^ a b Sheehan, p. 354.
  31. ^ Hammer, p. 164.
  32. ^ Dommen, p. 524.
  33. ^ Halberstam, p. 141.
  34. ^ Hammer, p. 166.
  35. ^ Jones, p. 300.
  36. ^ a b Hammer, p. 168.
  37. ^ Jones, p. 298.
  38. ^ Halberstam, p. 147.
  39. ^ Halberstam, p. 151.
  40. ^ Jacobs, p. 153.
  41. ^ Jacobs, pp. 162–163.
  42. ^ Karnow, pp. 303–304.
  43. ^ Halberstam, pp. 157–158.
  44. ^ Halberstam, p. 152.
  45. ^ a b c Jones, pp. 356–360.
  46. ^ Jones, p. 357.
  47. ^ "Viet Nam Was JFK's Greatest Failure", Nov 26 1965, Herald-Journal


  • Buttinger, Joseph (1967). Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled. New York City: Praeger.
  • Dommen, Arthur J. (2001). The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33854-9.
  • Fall, Bernard B. (1963). The Two Viet-Nams. London: Praeger.
  • Gettleman, Marvin E. (1966). Vietnam: History, documents and opinions on a major world crisis. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books.
  • Halberstam, David; Singal, Daniel J. (2008). The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-6007-4.
  • Hammer, Ellen J. (1987). A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. New York City: E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24210-4.
  • Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-4447-8.
  • Jones, Howard (2003). Death of a Generation: how the assassinations of Diem and JFK prolonged the Vietnam War. New York City: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505286-2.
  • Karnow, Stanley (1997). Vietnam: A history. New York City: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-84218-4.
  • Langguth, A. J. (2000). Our Vietnam: the war, 1954–1975. New York City: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81202-9.
  • Maclear, Michael (1981). Vietnam:The Ten Thousand Day War. New York City: Methuen Publishing. ISBN 0-423-00580-4.
  • Miller, Edward (2013). Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam. Boston: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-07298-5.
  • Moyar, Mark (2006). Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965. New York City: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-86911-0.
  • Prochnau, William (1995). Once Upon a Distant War. New York City: Times Books. ISBN 0-8129-2633-1.
  • Sheehan, Neil (1988). A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York City: Random House. ISBN 0-679-72414-1.
  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-040-9.
  • Warner, Denis (1963). The Last Confucian. New York City: Macmillan.
1963 South Vietnamese parliamentary election

Parliamentary elections were held in South Vietnam on 27 September 1963. All but three of the 123 seats in the National Assembly were won by President Ngo Dinh Diem's regime. Three seats were won by the opposition Social Democratic Party and the Dai Viet Progressive Party. As the elections took place during the Buddhist crisis, the government allowed elements of the opposition to stand during the elections as one of the concessions to Buddhist protest leaders. However, due to the 1963 South Vietnamese coup, the National Assembly was not able to convene for its first inaugural session and was forced to dissolve by the military.

Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces (Vietnamese: Lực Lượng Đặc Biệt Quân Lực Việt Nam Cộng Hòa or LLDB) were the elite military units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (commonly known as South Vietnam). Following the establishment of the Republic of Vietnam in October 1955, the Special Forces were formed at Nha Trang in February 1956. During the rule of Ngô Đình Diệm, the Special Forces were run by his brother, Nhu, until both were assassinated in November 1963 in a coup. The Special Forces were disbanded in 1975 when South Vietnam ceased to exist after the Fall of Saigon.

Cable 243

DEPTEL 243, also known as Telegram 243, the August 24 cable or most commonly Cable 243, was a high-profile message sent on August 24, 1963, by the United States Department of State to Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the US ambassador to South Vietnam. The cable came in the wake of the midnight raids on August 21 by the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem against Buddhist pagodas across the country, in which hundreds were believed to have been killed. The raids were orchestrated by Diem's brother Ngô Đình Nhu and precipitated a change in US policy. The cable declared that Washington would no longer tolerate Nhu remaining in a position of power and ordered Lodge to pressure Diem to remove his brother. It said that if Diem refused, the Americans would explore the possibility for alternative leadership in South Vietnam. In effect, the cable authorized Lodge to give the green light to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) officers to launch a coup against Diem if he did not willingly remove Nhu from power. The cable marked a turning point in US-Diem relations and was described in the Pentagon Papers as "controversial". Historian John W. Newman described it as "the single most controversial cable of the Vietnam War".The cable also highlighted an internal split in the Kennedy administration, with anti-Diem officials in the State Department prevailing over generals and Department of Defense officials who remained optimistic that the Vietnam War was proceeding well under Diem. This was underlined by the manner in which the cable was prepared before being transmitted to Lodge.

Diệu Đế Pagoda

Diệu Đế Pagoda (Vietnamese: Chùa Diệu Đế) is a Buddhist temple in the central city of Huế in Vietnam. It is named for the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, which are called Tứ Diệu Đế in Vietnamese. During the 19th century Nguyễn dynasty, Emperor Thiệu Trị declared it to be one of the national pagodas of Vietnam. Outside of Vietnam, the temple is best known as a site of activism during the 1960s, as well as against the Vietnam War. On the night of 21 August 1963, it was the site of a bloody battle between the government forces of President Ngô Đình Diệm and rioting pro-Buddhist civilians who were attempting to stop the troops from raiding the pagoda to arrest dissident monks who were calling for religious equality during the Buddhist crisis.

Double Seven Day scuffle

The Double Seven Day scuffle was a physical altercation on July 7 (7/7), 1963, in Saigon, South Vietnam. The secret police of Ngô Đình Nhu—the brother of President Ngô Đình Diệm—attacked a group of journalists from the United States who were covering protests held by Buddhists on the ninth anniversary of Diệm's rise to power. Peter Arnett of the Associated Press (AP) was punched on the nose, and the quarrel quickly ended after David Halberstam of The New York Times, being much taller than Nhu's men, counterattacked and caused the secret police to retreat. Arnett and his colleague, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and photographer Malcolm Browne, were later accosted by police at their office and taken away for questioning on suspicion of attacking police officers.

After their release, the journalists went to the US embassy in Saigon to complain about their treatment at the hands of Diệm's officials and asked for US government protection. Their appeals were dismissed, as was a direct appeal to the White House. Through the efforts of US Ambassador Frederick Nolting, the assault charges laid against the journalists were subsequently dropped. Vietnamese Buddhists reacted to the incident by contending that Diệm's men were planning to assassinate monks, while Madame Nhu repeated earlier claims that the US government had been trying to overthrow her brother-in-law. Browne took photographs of Arnett's bloodied face, which were published in newspapers worldwide. This drew further negative attention to the behaviour of the Diệm régime amidst the backdrop of the Buddhist crisis.

Huế Phật Đản shootings

The Huế Phật Đản shootings were the deaths of nine unarmed Buddhist civilians on 8 May 1963 in the city of Huế, South Vietnam at the hands of the army and security forces of the Roman Catholic government of Ngô Đình Diệm. The army and police fired guns and launched grenades into a crowd of Buddhists who had been protesting against a government ban on flying the Buddhist flag on the day of Phật Đản, which commemorates the birth of Gautama Buddha. Diệm denied governmental responsibility for the incident and blamed the Việt Cộng, which added to discontent among the Buddhist majority.

The incident spurred a protest movement by Buddhists against the religious discrimination which they felt was perpetrated by the Diệm regime, known as the Buddhist crisis, and this led to widespread civil disobedience among the South Vietnamese. Generals from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam conducted a coup on 1 November 1963, after six months of tension and growing opposition to the regime; this led to the arrest and assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm on 2 November 1963.

Huế chemical attacks

The Huế chemical attacks occurred on 3 June 1963, when soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) poured liquid chemicals from tear gas grenades onto the heads of praying Buddhists in Huế, South Vietnam. The Buddhists were protesting against religious discrimination by the regime of the Roman Catholic President Ngô Đình Diệm. The attacks caused 67 people to be hospitalised for blistering of the skin and respiratory ailments.

The protests were part of the Buddhist crisis, during which the Buddhist majority in South Vietnam campaigned for religious equality after nine people were killed by government forces while defying a ban that prevented them from flying the Buddhist flag on Vesak. The incident prompted the United States to privately threaten to withdraw support for Diệm's government and when the Americans finally reduced aid a few months later, the army took it as a green light for a coup. An inquiry determined that the chemical used in the attack was a liquid component from old French tear gas grenades that had never functioned properly. The findings exonerated the ARVN soldiers from charges that they had used poison or mustard gas. The outcry over the attack had already forced Diệm to appoint a panel of three cabinet ministers to meet with Buddhist leaders for negotiations regarding religious equality. The talks led to the signing of the Joint Communique, but the policy changes it provided were not implemented and widespread protests continued, leading to the assassination of Diệm in a military coup.

Joint Communiqué

The Joint Communiqué was an agreement signed on 16 June 1963 between the South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm and the Buddhist leadership during the "Buddhist crisis".

Krulak–Mendenhall mission

The Krulak–Mendenhall mission was a fact-finding expedition dispatched by the Kennedy administration to South Vietnam in early September 1963. The stated purpose of the expedition was to investigate the progress of the war by the South Vietnamese regime and its US military advisers against the Viet Cong insurgency. The mission was led by Victor Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall. Krulak was a major general in the United States Marine Corps, while Mendenhall was a senior Foreign Service Officer experienced in dealing with Vietnamese affairs.

The four-day whirlwind trip was launched on September 6, 1963, the same day as a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, and came in the wake of increasingly strained relations between the United States and South Vietnam. Civil unrest gripped South Vietnam as Buddhist demonstrations against the religious discrimination of President Ngô Đình Diệm's Catholic regime escalated. Following the raids on Buddhist pagodas on August 21 that left a death toll ranging up to a few hundred, the US authorized investigations into a possible coup through a cable to US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

In their submissions to the NSC, Krulak presented an optimistic report on the progress of the war, while Mendenhall presented a bleak picture of military failure and public discontent. Krulak disregarded the popular support for the Viet Cong, feeling that the Vietnamese soldiers' efforts in the field would not be affected by the public's unease with Diệm's policies. Mendenhall focused on gauging the sentiment of urban Vietnamese and concluded that Diệm's policies increased the possibility of religious civil war, and were causing the South Vietnamese to believe that life under the Viet Cong would improve the quality of their lives. The divergent reports led US President John F. Kennedy to ask his two advisers "You two did visit the same country, didn't you?"

The inconclusive report was the subject of bitter and personal debate among Kennedy's senior advisers. Various courses of action towards Vietnam were discussed, such as fostering a regime change or taking a series of selective measures designed to cripple the influence of Ngô Đình Nhu, Diệm's brother and chief political adviser. Nhu and his wife Madame Ngô Đình Nhu were seen as the major causes of the political problems in South Vietnam. The inconclusive result of Krulak and Mendenhall's expedition resulted in a follow-up mission, the McNamara–Taylor mission.

Madame Nhu

Trần Lệ Xuân (22 August 1924 – 24 April 2011), more popularly known in English as Madame Nhu, was the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. She was the wife of Ngô Đình Nhu, who was the brother and chief-advisor to President Ngô Đình Diệm. As Diệm was a lifelong bachelor and because she and her family lived in Independence Palace together with him, she was considered to be the first lady.

Known for her harsh and incendiary comments that denounced anti-government protests by some Buddhist sects and the strong U.S. influence and presence in the country, she had to live in exile in France after her husband and her brother-in-law, Diệm, had been assassinated in 1963.

McNamara–Taylor mission

The McNamara–Taylor mission was a 10-day fact-finding expedition to South Vietnam in September 1963 by the Kennedy administration to review progress in the battle by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and its American advisers against the communist insurgency of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. The mission was led by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and General Maxwell D. Taylor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The mission came in the wake of the Krulak–Mendenhall mission in which United States Marine Corps General Victor Krulak and State Department official Joseph Mendenhall gave diametrically differing outlooks on the military and political situation in Vietnam. Upon their return, McNamara and Taylor recommended measures intended to restrict the regime of President Ngô Đình Diệm, feeling that Diệm was pre-occupied with suppressing dissent rather than fighting the communists. The measures also sought to pressure Diệm to respect human rights more.

Michael Forrestal

Michael Vincent Forrestal (November 26, 1927 – January 11, 1989) was one of the leading aides to McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Advisor of President John F. Kennedy. He was seen as a pivotal figure in the changing of U.S. foreign policy, including recommending support for the coup d'état that deposed the first president of South Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm.

Following the arrest and assassination of Diệm, which was backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, General Dương Văn Minh assumed the presidency in November, 1963. The negative repercussions from the coup and the John F. Kennedy assassination, which occurred later in the month, led to Forrestal's retirement from government service in 1965. Speculation at the time suggested that he left the White House because of his decreasing influence in the administration of Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Other than his political life, Forrestal was a senior partner in Shearman & Sterling and a legal advisor to the state-owned Algerian oil company, Sonatrach during the 1970s. Forrestal also had a role in the German-based Allied Control Council and the U.S.–USSR Trade and Economic Council.

Ngo Dinh Diem

Ngô Đình Diệm (; Vietnamese: [ŋō ɗìn jîəmˀ] (listen); 3 January 1901 – 2 November 1963) was a Vietnamese politician. He was the final prime minister of the State of Vietnam (1954–55), and then served as President of South Vietnam from 1955 until he was deposed and killed during the 1963 military coup.

Diệm was born into a prominent Catholic family, the son of a high-ranking civil servant, Ngô Đình Khả. He was educated at French-speaking schools and considered following his brother Ngô Đình Thục into the priesthood, but eventually chose to pursue a civil-service career. He progressed rapidly in the court of Emperor Bảo Đại, becoming governor of Bình Thuận Province in 1929 and interior minister in 1933. However, he resigned the latter position after three months and publicly denounced the emperor as a tool of the French. Diệm came to support Vietnamese nationalism, promoting an anti-communist and anti-colonialist "third way" opposed to both Bảo Đại and communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. He established the Can Lao Party to support his political doctrine of Person Dignity Theory.

After several years in exile, Diệm returned home in July 1954 and was appointed prime minister by Bảo Đại, the head of the Western-backed State of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords were signed soon after he took office, formally partitioning Vietnam along the 17th parallel. Diệm soon consolidated power in South Vietnam, aided by his brother Ngô Đình Nhu. After a rigged referendum in 1955, he proclaimed the creation of the Republic of Vietnam, with himself as president. His government was supported by other anti-communist countries, most notably the United States. Diệm pursued a series of nation-building schemes, emphasising industrial and rural development. From 1957, he was faced with a communist insurgency backed by North Vietnam, eventually formally organized under the banner of the Việt Cộng. He was subject to a number of assassination and coup attempts, and in 1962 established the Strategic Hamlet Program as the cornerstone of his counterinsurgency effort.

Diệm's favoritism towards Catholics and persecution of South Vietnam's Buddhist majority led to the "Buddhist crisis" of 1963. The violence damaged relations with the United States and other previously sympathetic countries, and his regime lost favour with the leadership of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. On 1 November 1963, the country's leading generals launched a coup d'état with assistance from the CIA. He and his younger brother Nhu initially escaped, but were recaptured the following day and murdered on the orders of Dương Văn Minh, who succeeded him as president. Diệm has been a controversial historical figure in historiography on the Vietnam War. Some historians have considered him a tool of the United States, while others portrayed him as an avatar of Vietnamese tradition. Some recent studies have portrayed Diệm from a more Vietnamese-centred perspective as a competent leader focused on nation building and the modernisation of South Vietnam.

Ngô Đình Cẩn

Ngô Đình Cẩn (Vietnamese: [ŋo˧ ɗɨ̞̠n˦˩ kəŋ˦˩]; 1911 – 9 May 1964) was a younger brother and confidant of South Vietnam's first president, Ngô Đình Diệm, and an important member of the Diệm government. Diệm put Cẩn in charge of central Vietnam, stretching from Phan Thiết in the south to the border at the 17th parallel, with Cẩn ruling the region as a virtual dictator. Based in the former imperial capital of Huế, Cẩn operated private armies and secret police that controlled the central region and earned himself a reputation as the most oppressive of the Ngô brothers.

In his youth, Cẩn was a follower of the nationalist Phan Bội Châu. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he worked to organise support for Diệm as various Vietnamese groups and international powers sought to stamp their authority over Vietnam. Cẩn, who succeeded in eliminating alternative nationalist opposition in central Vietnam, became the warlord of the region when his brother became president of the southern half of the partitioned nation in 1955. He became notorious for his involvement in smuggling and corruption, as well as his autocratic rule. Cẩn was regarded as an effective leader against the Viet Cong communist insurgency, which was much weaker in central Vietnam than in other parts of South Vietnam. His Popular Force militia was regarded by US officials in central Vietnam as a successful counter to the communists.Cẩn's influence began to wane after his elder brother Ngô Đình Thục was appointed the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Huế. Thục overshadowed Cẩn and aggressively promoted Catholicism, which led to the banning of the Buddhist flag in 1963 during Vesak, the celebration of the birthday of Gautama Buddha. Cẩn's forces opened fire on a crowd who were protesting the ban, killing nine and precipitating the Buddhist crisis. Ongoing demonstrations intensified throughout the summer as the regime responded with increased brutality, sparking the toppling of the Diem regime in a November 1963 coup. Cẩn had been offered asylum by the US Department of State, but ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. had CIA agent Lucien Conein arrest the fallen Ngô in Saigon. Cẩn was turned over to the military junta, which tried and executed him in 1964.

Ngô Đình Nhu

Ngô Đình Nhu (listen; 7 October 1910 – 2 November 1963) was a Vietnamese archivist and politician. He was the younger brother and chief political advisor of South Vietnam's first president, Ngô Đình Diệm. Although he held no formal executive position, he wielded immense unofficial power, exercising personal command of both the ARVN Special Forces (a paramilitary unit which served as the Ngô family's de facto private army) and the Cần Lao political apparatus (also known as the Personalist Labor Party) which served as the regime's de facto secret police.In his early age, Nhu was a quiet and bookish individual who showed little inclination towards the political path taken by his elder brothers. While training as an archivist in France, Nhu adopted the Roman Catholic ideology of personalism, although critics claimed that he misused that philosophy. Upon returning to Vietnam, he helped his brother in his quest for political power, and Nhu proved an astute and ruthless tactician and strategist, helping Diệm to gain more leverage and outwit rivals. During this time, he formed and handpicked the members of the secret Cần Lao Party, which swore its personal allegiance to the Ngô family, provided their power base and eventually became their secret police force. Nhu remained as its head until his own assassination.In 1955, Nhu's supporters helped intimidate the public and rig the 1955 State of Vietnam referendum that ensconced his elder brother, Diệm, in power. Nhu used the Cần Lao, which he organised into cells, to infiltrate every part of society to root out opposition to the Ngô family. In 1959, he organized a failed assassination attempt via mail bomb on Prince Sihanouk, the prime minister of neighbouring Cambodia, with whom relations had become strained. Nhu publicly extolled his own intellectual abilities. He was known for making such public statements as promising to demolish the Xá Lợi Pagoda and vowing to kill his estranged father-in-law, Trần Văn Chương, who was the regime's ambassador to the United States, after the elder man condemned the Ngô family's behavior and disowned his daughter, Nhu's wife, Madame Nhu.In 1963, the Ngô family's grip on power became unstuck during the Buddhist crisis, during which the nation's Buddhist majority rose up against the pro-Catholic regime. Nhu tried to break the Buddhists' opposition by using the Special Forces in raids on prominent Buddhist temples that left hundreds dead, and framing the regular army for it. However, Nhu's plan was uncovered, which intensified plots by military officers, encouraged by the Americans, who turned against the Ngô family after the pagoda attacks. Nhu was aware of the plots, but remained confident he could outmaneuver them, and began to plot a counter-coup, as well as the assassinations of US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and other American and opposition figures. Nhu was fooled by the loyalist General Tôn Thất Đính, who had turned against the Ngô family. On 1 November 1963, the coup proceeded, and the Ngô brothers (Nhu and Diệm) were detained and assassinated the next day.

Peter Kalischer

Peter Kalischer (1915–1991) was an American journalist best known for his reporting of the early stages of the Vietnam War in the 1960s as a television correspondent for CBS News. He won the Overseas Press Club award in 1963 for his reporting during the Buddhist crisis that led to the fall of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. In 1968, while covering the Tet Offensive, he had dinner on the rooftop restaurant of the Caravelle Hotel with Walter Cronkite who was preparing a special report on the war and helped to convince him that the war could not be won militarily, that a stalemate was inevitable. From 1966 to 1978, Kalischer was the Paris correspondent and bureau chief for CBS News. He covered the Korean War, writing multiple articles about it.Kalischer later became a professor of communications at Loyola University, a position he held until 1982.

Thích Quảng Đức

Thích Quảng Đức (Vietnamese: [tʰǐk̟ kʷâːŋ ɗɨ̌k] (listen); 1897 – 11 June 1963; born Lâm Văn Túc) was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Quảng Đức was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngô Đình Diệm. Photographs of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm government. John F. Kennedy said in reference to a photograph of Đức on fire, "No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one." Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the monk's death.Quảng Đức's act increased international pressure on Diệm and led him to announce reforms with the intention of mollifying the Buddhists. However, the promised reforms were not implemented, leading to a deterioration in the dispute. With protests continuing, the ARVN Special Forces loyal to Diệm's brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing Quảng Đức's heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks followed Quảng Đức's example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, a U.S.-backed Army coup toppled Diệm, who was assassinated on 2 November 1963.

William Trueheart

William Trueheart (December 18, 1918 – December 24, 1992) was a diplomat who served as the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 1969–1971, and as the acting U.S. Ambassador and chargé d'affaires in South Vietnam from May–July 1963.

Đỗ Cao Trí

Lieutenant General Đỗ Cao Trí (20 November 1929 – 23 February 1971) was a general in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) known for his fighting prowess and flamboyant style. Trí started out in the French Army before transferring to the Vietnamese National Army and the ARVN. Under President Ngô Đình Diệm, Trí was the commander of I Corps where he was noted for harsh crackdowns on Buddhist civil rights demonstrations against the Diệm government. Trí later participated in the November 1963 coup which resulted in the assassination of Diệm on 2 November 1963.

Years later, Trí was exiled by Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, the most powerful member of the junta, but when Nguyễn Văn Thiệu came to power, he was called back to command III Corps. He led III Corps during the 1970 Cambodian Campaign, earning the laudatory sobriquet as "the Patton of the Parrot's Beak". In 1971, Trí was ordered north to take command of I Corps in Operation Lam Son 719, an incursion into Laos, which had gone astray. He was killed, aged 41, in a helicopter accident before being able to take control.

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