The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

That Diem selection process

Seth Jacobs (p48) comes through with the knowledge (some of it):
As David Anderson notes, the Eisenhower administration's most crucial Vietnam decisions were made after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. For all his circumspection when it came to committing US forces to a land war in Asia, Eisenhower had no intention of allowing Ho Chi Minh to seize all of Vietnam.

Clearly, the French were a broken reed. So holding the line would have to be entrusted to a native:
In [an NSC] meeting on 4 February 1954, over three months before the red flag was hoisted over Dien Bien Phu, CIA Director Allen Dulles complained that "there was no dynamism in the leadership of the Franco-Vietnamese forces." Eisenhower "interrupted" to "inquire if it would be possible to capitalize on the religious issue." Given that "most of the people of Vietnam were Buddhists," the president wondered whether the United States might "find a good Buddhist leader to whip up some real fervor." The sources of the next remark is unnamed, but he clearly voiced a shared sentiment. According to the minutes, "It was pointed out the president that, unhappily, Buddha was a pacifist rather than a fighter." This led to laughter. Vice President Richard Nixon then "expressed some doubt as to the strength and conviction with which the people of Vietnam clung to their religious views." Eisenhower replied that "he still believed that there was something in the idea of religious motivation. While conceding that Emperor Bao Dai was an unlikely guiding star for religious passions, Eisenhower "pointed out how Joan of Arc had managed to defeat a large enemy force and place a timid king upon his throne in France." Picking up on the Joan of Arc theme, Secretary of State Dulles remarked that "there were, of course, a million and a half Roman Catholics in Vietnam, and they included some of the best brains of the country." Eisenhower "suggested the Catholics be enlisted."

That such a deeply informed and impartial discussion should lead to the selection of Diem can scarcely be surprising!

(Subsequently, on April 13 1955 [1], the Operations Coordinating Board
an organization the historian James Arnold Calls Eisenhower's "principal source of information" on Southeast Asia in the second half of the 1950s
produced a report Recommendations Concerning Study of Religious Factors in International Strategy which looks as platitudinous as Ike, to judge from the quotes.

It was, it seems, the foundation of the US policy to rely on Catholics in Vietnam for anything that needed doing around the place. Like fighting Communists.

Not all soi-disant Catholics embodied the paradigm suggested. But
Although neither Diem nor any other American ally was identified by name in the report, the South Vietnamese premier's celibacy, Spartan lifestyle, and repeated declarations of loyalty to the Catholic Church conformed nicely to the OCB's stipulations.

The substantive question not addressed is, of course: Were there any Buddhists who could plausibly have taken Diem's place, had USG's mind not been gradually closed in favour of the notion that the top man in SVN would have to be Catholic?

Skipping on to page 54, we find this:
The views expressed by the OCB and other government authorities give some indication why, when on 10 May 1954, analysts at the State Department's Division of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs produced a list of sixteen Vietnamese politicians whom they considered reliably anticommunist, Ngo Dinh Diem - who had held no political office for over two decades and who had not participated in the struggle to rid his homeland of colonial oppression - headed the list. The analysts described Diem as "[t]he most prominent Catholic leader in Vietnam, perhaps the most popular personality in the country after Ho Chi Minh." They added, "Probably has Vatican support." At least six of the sixteen candidates for South Vietnamese leadership were Catholics, a high number given that Catholics made up only about 10 percent of the population of Vietnam.

Is the list online? Dunno. Yet.

Apparently, the papers dealing with Diem's move from being one of sixteen to getting the job are still classified!

All very unsatisfactory.

  1. I think that should be 1954!

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