9. The Assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem
South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem was staunch Catholic, who pursued discriminatory policies that favored Catholics for public service and military positions, land distribution, tax concessions, and business arrangements. Some Catholic priests even ran private armed militias, which they put to use demolishing Buddhist pagodas and forcing people to convert – activities to which the government turned a blind eye. Since Catholics were a distinct minority, and most South Vietnamese were Buddhists, Diem’s pro-Catholic tilt did not sit well with most of his countrymen.
Nonetheless, Diem was a staunch anticommunist, which earned him years of staunch American support. However, with South Vietnam on the verge of collapse, Diem became more of a liability than an asset. People questioned America’s support for Diem’s government, and Kennedy did not oppose a coup that overthrew it a few months later. On the night of November 1-2, South Vietnamese soldiers attacked the presidential palace, and captured it after a bloody siege. Diem and his advisor and younger brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, surrendered after they were promised a safe exile, and were placed in the back of an armored personnel carrier that was to take them to a military airbase. Instead, they were assassinated by South Vietnamese officers en route.