Ngô Đình Diệm

Ngô Đình Diệm was born on January 3, 1901 in Quảng Bình, French Indochina. He was a mandarin of the Nguyễn dynasty during the 1920s until his resignation in the 1930s due to disagreements with Emperor Bảo Đại, calling the emperor “nothing but an instrument in the hands of the French”. He then lived as a private citizen but formed secret alliances with the Japanese during the Second World War, persuading them to support Vietnam’s independence from French colonialism. After the Japanese withdrawal from Vietnam, Hồ Chí Minh asked Ngô Đình Diệm to join him in the fight against the French. Ngô Đình Diệm refused to join the communists because they had previously murdered his brother Ngô Đình Khôi. In 1954 Bảo Đại named him Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam. Through electoral fraud, a heavily rigged referendum and a successful smear campaign against Head of State Bảo Đại, Ngô Đình Diệm became the first president of the Republic of Vietnam in 1955. He established the Personalist Revolution Party of Vietnam, simply known as Cần Lao. It was a combination of Western and Asian values, with an emphasis on Catholicism and Confucianism, and giving special privileges to Catholics while being abusive towards Buddhists. The Buddhist crisis led to his and his brother Ngô Đình Nhu’s assassination on November 2, 1963 by Captain Nguyễn Văn Nhung. The coup d’état was a joint effort between Vietnamese generals and the American government.

Aside from being a dictator under the guise of a kind, religious man, he deserves credit for modernizing South Vietnam with improvements to the economy and the educational system, stabilizing it in spite of his dislike of the Geneva Accords, helping to relocate refugees fleeing from the north into the south with American aid, and allowing citizens more freedom than the communists in the north. (Citizens who fled the south to enter the north received little to no assistance from the communist government.)

Photo:
South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm in Washington on May 8, 1957

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Photo credit: Department of Defense. Department of the Air Force. NAIL Control Number: NWDNS-342-AF-18302USAF (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ngo_Dinh_Diem_-_Thumbnail_-_ARC_542189.png)

Nguyễn Ngọc Loan & the Photo that Sparked the Anti-War Movement

Nguyễn Ngọc Loan (born on December 11, 1930) gained international attention when a photo of him shooting communist Nguyễn Văn Lém was published worldwide. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography but he regretted the effect it had on Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s reputation. The image became an anti-war icon among those who misunderstood the story behind it.

To the uninformed, the picture showed a South Vietnamese general executing a communist in cold blood. To the informed, a South Vietnamese general was executing a communist captain who just killed South Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Tuấn, his wife, their six children, and his 80-year-old mother in cold blood by cutting their throats. Furthermore, Communist Captain Nguyễn Văn Lém was captured by a mass grave of 34 bodies where he proudly admitted to killing those civilians during the Tết Offensive. General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executed him in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC News television cameraman Vo Suu.

The execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém meant that Nguyễn Ngọc Loan had prevented further mass murders by this one individual, yet the anti-war movement sympathized with the mass murderer instead. Many uninformed people saw only the cold blooded execution of a communist and immediately jumped to conclusions, condemning Nguyễn Ngọc Loan as if he was a war criminal. During the fall of Saigon in 1975, he fled to the United States where he was harassed by anti-war activists. Photographer Eddie Adams said that on his last visit to Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s pizza parlor in Washington, the toilet wall had graffiti saying, “We know who you are, fucker”.

Eddie Adams has apologized to Nguyễn Ngọc Loan and his family for the damages that the photo had done. At the premature death of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Eddie Adams stated, “The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.” Nguyễn Ngọc Loan was forced into early retirement by the ignorance of the anti-war movement and died of cancer on July 14, 1998.

Photo:
February 1, 1968, under the social democratic regime of President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu
General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan Executing a Việt Cộng Prisoner in Saigon

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Photographer: Eddie Adams, Associated Press