One Turning Point in the Vietnam War Valerie L. Kroll
September 21, 2014
Professor Melissa Tennyson
There were quite a few events during the Vietnam War that can be considered “turning points.” One such event was the Buddhist crisis in 1963. The Buddhist crisis is a sorrowful and disheartening portion of history that could have very well been circumvented. Diem the president of South Vietnam provoked the Buddhist community. Diem operated his civilian and military organizations almost entirely with Catholics. Many had recently migrated south, and he saw to it that Catholic villages collected most of the U.S. aid funds (Moss, 2010). These strangers had exclusive pleasures; they did not speak the local languages, and did not understand their individual troubles. Southern Buddhist peasants begrudged having northern Catholics, who looked down on them and were not concerned to their well-being. The preferential treatment the Catholic’s received from Diem created impossibility for Diem’s administration to gain the confidence and devotion of many southern peasants (Moss, 2010). The government prohibiting the flying of the Buddhist flag prompted the Buddhist crisis (Moss, 2010). South Vietnam Buddhists started to gain attention around the world for their religious persecution through the circulation of writings in addition to demonstrations through hunger strikes, extreme acts that included of self-sacrifice, along with peaceful protests (Toong, 2008). As these protests and exhibitions elevated to extreme levels, the public that had once supported Ngo Dinh Diem and the US’ role in backing his leadership began to decline. According to Moss, “Diem’s extreme actions caused U.S. officials, including President Kennedy, to support the coup that destroyed the Diem family oligarchy” (pg. xv). Diem and Nhu, Diem’s younger brother, executed a sequence of malicious acts that “sealed their fate” (Moss, pg.106). Nhu’s American trained bodyguards; supported by local police, initiated midnight attacks on pagodas all over South Vietnam. Over 2,000 sanctuaries were attacked and “more than 1,400 monks, nuns, neophytes, and ordinary citizens were arrested. “Hundreds were killed or injured” (Moss, pg.106). Thousands of high school and college students, usually apolitical, poured to the streets in Saigon and Hue to defend the Buddhists (Moss, 2010). Diem commanded their incarceration and closed down their schools and colleges. He then went on Saigon radio to broadcast that he was assigning martial law to South Vietnam. A curfew was imposed. Troops and the police were under orders to shoot anyone found on the streets during certain hours that he had executed. Public assemblies were ordered forbidden. “Military personnel performed all government functions. Diem had turned his country into an armed camp” (Moss, p. 106). The exhibitions, protests, and acts of self-sacrifice followed because of the religious discrimination. The media coverage it created fostered the Kennedy administration to back a coup d’état against Ngo Dinh Diem. The succeeding handling of the Buddhist crisis by the Diem administration and the international media coverage that followed played a major role in the Kennedy administration’s decision to overthrow the Diem government, thus changing the course of the Vietnam War. For this reason, the Buddhist Riots, or Buddhist crisis of 1963 is considered a major turning point in the Vietnam War. The United States decision to appoint Diem as the leader of South Vietnam, I believe, was the initial mistake that led to the Buddhist crisis. Diem became a tyrannical leader. He prohibited the Buddhists to practice as they chose. He provided the Catholic’s special privileges. The Buddhist crisis could have been avoided if Diem promoted peace and equality. The event of peace became impossible as long as...
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