Merit of late President Ngo Dinh Diem for Vietnam

Ngô Đình Diệm was born on January 3, 1901, in Đại Phong village, Lệ Thủy district, Quảng Bình province, Vietnam. He was born into a family of mandarins in the Nguyễn dynasty. His father, Ngô Đình Khả, served as the Minister of State (a top-ranking official) in the Nguyễn court.

In 1913, at the age of 12, Ngô Đình Diệm was admitted to Collège Quốc học, a French-language school in Huế. His father, Ngô Đình Khả, was the principal of the school.

According to historian Mark Moyar, Ngô Đình Diệm’s independent personality was not compatible with the strictures of the Catholic Church. In addition, Ngô Đình Diệm inherited from his father a spirit of resistance to French colonial rule.

Ngô Đình Diệm was the leader of the Cần Lao Nhân Vị Party, which was the ruling party during the First Republic of Vietnam.

Ngô Đình Diệm served as the Prime Minister of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1955, and as the President of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. He was assassinated in a coup d’état in 1963. He is often praised for his efforts to build a strong and independent South Vietnam, but he is also criticized for his authoritarian rule and his close ties to the United States.

Leaving the Nguyen Dynasty

Ngo Dinh Diem is second from right

In July 1933, while serving as Minister of State in the Nguyễn dynasty, Ngô Đình Diệm submitted a book proposing reforms to reduce French control over the Huế court. In the book, he proposed that the Huế court should be granted more autonomy, and that the French government should limit its interference in Vietnam’s internal affairs.

However, Ngô Đình Diệm’s book was not approved by Bảo Đại, the emperor at the time. Bảo Đại was a weak and indecisive ruler who relied on French support. He rejected Ngô Đình Diệm’s proposals and maintained the status quo.

The rejection of Ngô Đình Diệm’s book led to his disappointment and frustration. He resigned from office and returned to his hometown in Quảng Bình. There, he began to engage in anti-French activities more actively.

He founded several anti-French organizations and launched protests and campaigns demanding independence for Vietnam. He was also arrested and expelled from Vietnam by the French government.

Ngô Đình Diệm’s anti-French activities contributed to the Vietnamese national liberation movement. He was one of the most important figures in the struggle against French and American colonialism in Vietnam.

Here are some specific details about Ngô Đình Diệm’s book:

  • The book was written in French, titled “Une réforme administrative pour l’Indochine” (A reform of administration for Indochina).
  • The book addressed issues such as:
    • Strengthening the autonomy of the Huế court
    • Limiting French interference in Vietnam’s internal affairs
    • Reforming Vietnam’s administrative system
  • The book caused much controversy in the Huế court and the French government.

Ngô Đình Diệm’s resignation from office and return to his hometown was a turning point in his life. It marked the beginning of a new phase in his struggle for independence and freedom for Vietnam.

Return to Vietnam to become Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam

Bảo Đại consulted with US Secretary of State Foster Dulles about inviting Diệm. The US knew Diệm’s reputation in Vietnam thanks to his family’s record of fighting the French, so they approved Bảo Đại’s decision to invite him. However, the US also had a vested interest in Diệm’s return. They saw him as a strong leader who could resist the Viet Minh and build a pro-US government in South Vietnam.

Bảo Đại (right) and Hồ Chí Minh (middle)

On June 16, 1954, Diệm officially accepted Bảo Đại’s invitation. His return to Vietnam marked a turning point in the country’s history. He would lead South Vietnam through a period of war and political turmoil, ultimately leading to his assassination in 1963.

Additional information:

  • Diệm’s family had a long history of resistance to French rule. His father, Ngô Đình Khả, was a high-ranking official in the Nguyễn dynasty who was exiled by the French for his anti-colonial activities.
  • The US was concerned about the growing influence of the Viet Minh in South Vietnam. They believed that Diệm was the best person to lead the fight against communism in the region.
  • Diệm’s return to Vietnam was met with mixed reactions. Some people welcomed him as a strong leader who could unify the country, but some one saw him as a puppet of the US.

Welcome refugees from North Vietnam

Ngô Đình Diệm was a nationalist who wanted to unify his country. He strongly opposed the Geneva Accords, which divided Vietnam into two countries. However, he was unable to prevent the partition, which was supported by the major powers, including France, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

Despite the partition, Ngô Đình Diệm opened the door to nearly one million refugees from North Vietnam who were fleeing the brutality of the communist government. The communist government in the North had used the Land Reform campaign to confiscate the property of people who were wealthier than them, to settle personal scores, and to trample on the law. Thousands of innocent civilians were brutally executed, including some who had supported the revolution.

One of the victims of the Land Reform was Mrs. Cát Hanh Long. She was a wealthy woman, but she was also a patriot. She had donated food, sheltered communist cadres, and had a son who was a lieutenant in the Viet Minh. However, she was sentenced to death by the communist government for being a “landlord.”

Ngô Đình Diệm’s decision to welcome refugees from North Vietnam was a humanitarian act and a testament to his patriotism. He showed that he was a leader who cared about the well-being of his people, even those who disagreed with his policies.

  • Ngô Đình Diệm ordered the army and police to move to the border provinces to help the refugees.
  • He also established refugee camps to provide food, shelter, and medical care to the refugees.
  • The North Vietnamese government opposed Ngô Đình Diệm’s decision to welcome refugees. They called it a “counter-revolutionary” act.

Forced the French out of Vietnam

The Geneva Accords of 1954 divided Vietnam into two countries, with the French Union forces withdrawing to the North of the 17th parallel. However, Ngô Đình Diệm was determined to implement his policies to force the French out of Vietnam.

Diệm’s policies

Diệm implemented a number of policies to force the French out of Vietnam, including:

  • Replacing French officers in the Vietnamese National Army with Vietnamese officers. This weakened French influence over the Vietnamese National Army.
  • Strengthening ties with the United States. The United States had become a powerful force in Southeast Asia, and Diệm sought to rely on US support to counter the French.
  • Boycotting the Geneva Accords. Diệm believed that the Geneva Accords were an unfair compromise, and he refused to implement the terms of the agreement.
  • Diệm threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with France if they did not withdraw their forces.
  • France opposed Diệm’s efforts to force them out of Vietnam, but they were unable to stop him.
The last parade of French before leave from Vietnam

Results

Thanks to his policies, Diệm was able to force the French out of Vietnam. On May 20, 1955, French forces withdrew from Saigon. By July, the French military presence in Vietnam was down to 30,000. In August 1955, France agreed to close its colonial administrative offices in Cochinchina.

The birth of the Republic of Vietnam

The atmosphere of the National Day of the Republic of Vietnam. Oct 26, 1955

Ngô Đình Diệm was a nationalist who wanted to unify his country. He strongly opposed the Geneva Accords, which divided Vietnam into two countries. However, he was unable to prevent the partition, which was supported by the major powers, including France, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

With his achievements, Diệm’s prestige grew. In the fall of 1955, he subdued the National Army of Vietnam, which was a pro-French force. The army followed his orders to defeat the secessionist forces, including the army of General Nguyễn Văn Hinh.

On October 26, 1955, Diệm declared the establishment of the Republic of Vietnam, with himself as President. This regime was a major turning point in history, marking the birth of an independent, democratic, and humane state in South Vietnam.

The Republic of Vietnam regime was a blessing for the people of South Vietnam

The Republic of Vietnam regime was a democratic and humane regime. The people of the South enjoyed the right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of religion, etc. They also enjoyed a high-quality education, with leading universities in the region.

The Republic of Vietnam regime was also a developed market economy. South Vietnam was one of the most developed economies in Southeast Asia at the time.

In contrast, the people of North Vietnam were not as fortunate. They lived under a communist regime that denied them basic human rights and freedoms. They were not allowed to express their opinions freely, to assemble, or to practice their religion. They also suffered from poverty and economic stagnation.

The comparison between the two regimes highlights the importance of freedom and democracy. The people of South Vietnam were lucky to have lived under a regime that respected their rights and freedoms. This allowed them to build a prosperous and thriving society.

First Asian leader to be welcomed by the United States with a state visit

US President Eisenhower welcomed President Ngo Dinh Diem

In May 1957, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent his private plane, Columbine III, to invite the newly elected president of South Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm, to visit the United States. When the plane landed at National Airport, Eisenhower himself was there to greet him. This was the second time in his two terms that Eisenhower had given a state welcome to a foreign leader. (The first was for the King of Saudi Arabia, a country that was hundreds of times wealthier than Vietnam thanks to oil.)

Diệm was invited to the White House to give a speech. The U.S. president, secretary of state, senators, representatives, and bipartisan congressmen were all in attendance. Diệm was the first Asian leader to receive this honor.

At the speech, Diệm spoke English fluently without a translator, despite his Huế accent, which made some words difficult to understand.

He said, “The only wish of the Vietnamese people is to live in peace and freedom, and they are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend their freedom and independence. They only ask for the support of the American people and government in terms of material and financial assistance.” He emphasized this point as a subtle reminder that South Vietnam only needed financial support, not U.S. troops. This stance would ultimately lead to the events of November 2, 1963.

President Ngo Dinh Diem gave a speech to the US Senate in 1957

Attention:

  • Diệm was the first Asian leader to be welcomed by the United States with a state visit.
  • He was invited to the White House to give a speech before President Eisenhower, Secretary of State, senators, representatives, and bipartisan congressmen.
  • He said that the Vietnamese people only needed financial support from the United States, not troops.
  • This stance of Diệm’s led to a number of controversies. Some people believed that this stance was correct, as it showed the patriotism of the Vietnamese people. However, others believed that this stance was incorrect, as it made the United States less likely to intervene militarily in Vietnam to help the South.
  • Despite the controversies, Diệm’s stance remains an important part of Vietnamese history. It shows the desire of the Vietnamese people for a peaceful, free, and independent country.

New York welcomes the new President of Vietnam

Welcome gate to President Ngo Dinh Diem in New York. 1957

In New York, Mayor Robert F. Wagner organized a parade to welcome the first President of Vietnam. Few foreign guests have been welcomed in such a way. People poured into the streets to cheer. From the skyscrapers, colorful flowers were showered down on the open-top limousine carrying him. The press unanimously praised, speaking of “A newly born free country.” The New York Times called President Diệm “an Asian liberator;” Life magazine: “The tough and miraculous man of Vietnam” (A tough miracle man of Vietnam). Later, Vice President Lyndon Johnson (during the Kennedy administration) also called Diệm the “Churchill of Asia.”

Diệm’s visit to the United States was a major event in Vietnamese history. It marked the beginning of the close relationship between the United States and South Vietnam. Diệm’s reception in New York was a sign of the support that he enjoyed from the American people and government.

New Yorkers flocked to the streets to welcome the new Vietnamese President sitting in an open-top limousin

Achievements of Ngô Đình Diệm

During the years Diệm served as President, South Vietnam achieved a number of important achievements, including:

  • Economic development: South Vietnam achieved high economic growth rates in the 1950s and 1960s. Per capita GDP increased from $200 in 1955 to $500 in 1963.
  • Political stability: Diệm established a stable government in South Vietnam, ending the division and political instability after France withdrew from Vietnam.
  • Improved living standards: Diệm implemented a number of policies to improve the living standards of the people, including free healthcare and primary education.
  • On the achievements of Ngô Đình Diệm:
    • In addition to the achievements you mentioned, Ngô Đình Diệm also had other achievements, including:
      • Establishing a national army, which helped South Vietnam to defend itself against the North Vietnamese army.
      • Promoting education, which helped to raise the literacy rate in South Vietnam.
      • Strengthening relations with Western countries, which helped South Vietnam to obtain economic and military assistance.

However, Diệm also had limitations, including:

  • Lack of leadership experience: Diệm was a talented leader, but he lacked experience leading a nation. This led to some mistakes in his policies.
  • Repression policies: Diệm implemented a number of repressive policies against opposition groups, including Buddhists and communists. This led to public dissatisfaction and contributed to the collapse of his regime.
  • On the limitations of Ngô Đình Diệm:
  • In addition to the limitations you mentioned, Ngô Đình Diệm also had other limitations, including:
    • Family rule: Ngô Đình Diệm appointed many members of his family to important positions in the government, which led to public dissatisfaction.
    • Lack of openness and listening to the opinions of others: Ngô Đình Diệm often did not listen to the opinions of his advisors, which contributed to the collapse of his regime.
Rural people were happy when President Ngo Dinh Diem visited

Conclusion

Overall, Ngô Đình Diệm was a leader who made significant contributions to South Vietnam. He helped the country regain independence and unity, and also achieved a number of important economic and social achievements. However, his limitations also contributed to the collapse of his regime.

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