A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR
By: Richard F. Newcomb
conference. By more than a little coincidence he was in France, and so was Bao Dai, the on-and-off emperor of Vietnam. With the fall of Dien Bien Phu, Bao Dai thought it time to reassert himself; he summoned Diem to his chateau near Cannes, and on June 18, 1954, appointed him prime minister of Vietnam, an entity that existed only in Bao Dai's mind.
To the Americans, Diem seemed heaven-sent. He was a true Vietnamese, fifty-four years old, anti-French, anti-Communist, with some experience in the colonial bureaucracy, and a [Roman] Catholic. [Never mind that South Vietnam was 85 percent Buddhist] Furthermore, he had powerful American friends, among them Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York; William O. Douglas, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; and a young senator named John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Diem had fled Vietnam in 1950 [the Communists hated him, and the French had condemned him to death in absentia] and lived for two years in the Maryknoll [Roman Catholic] Seminary in Lakewood, New Jersey. He had made American friends during that hegira, and then had gone to Europe, placing himself in readiness for the call that came in 1954.
Soon after the Geneva partition, Diem returned to Saigon, ready to function as Bao Dai's prime minister. He was a short man, barely five feet tall, and rotund, and when he sat in the ruler's chair his feet just touched the ground. But he was not a figure of fun; he dressed impeccably and took life very seriously. He was intelligent, honest, dedicated to fashioning a reputable government, but not above a little nepotism. He named a younger brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, as his chief adviser, and two other brothers to regional posts. Yet another brother was [Roman] Catholic archbishop of Hue, and other relatives held numerous lesser posts.
The real trouble was Nhu and Nhu's wife, a beautiful and imperious woman who had opinions on all subjects and stated them with stridency. Nhu was one of the few people Diem trusted, and thus the Nhus came to be seen as alter egos of the ruler.
Diem was [Roman] Catholic, and very intransigent. He could not be moved from his opinions or his contemplated actions, nor would he delegate even slight amounts of power. He never married, his only sin was incessant smoking, and he did not mix well; he could not relate to the people he ruled, being a true mandarin at heart.
Within weeks after the Geneva partition, Vietnam's first Great Migration began. By land and sea Vietnamese men, women, and children began streaming south from the Hanoi-Haiphong area, desperate to escape what many feared would be a Communist bloodbath. Most refugees were [Roman] Catholics, as was Diem, who abetted the migration with a slogan, "God has gone south." An armada of boats, including many United States Navy craft, carried the human waves south amid near panic. No one knows how many made the exodus, but accepted estimates put the number at about nine hundred thousand. At the same time, about ninety thousand Vietnamese went north. According to popular belief, the tide each way contained Communist agents, some moving south to infiltrate that area, others moving north to join Ho's forces for a later return south, as military conquerors.
August 1954 was an extremely busy month in Washington, where the Geneva
LUCE AND HIS EMPIRE by Swanberg, pub by Schribner,
about Henry Luce, publishing [ TIME & LIFE ] tycoon
contains a picture captioned:
Cardinal Spellman and Luce with the Vietamese
they both backed, Ngo Dinh Diem