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Ngo Dinh Diem


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(b. 3 Jan. 1901, d. 2 Nov. 1963).

President of South Vietnam 1955–63 Born in Hue into a family of mandarins (i.e. officials) in the Vietnamese imperial court, he graduated in law from the French University of Hanoi. He served as a provincial Governor (1919–32), and then became Minister of the Interior (1933). He rejected Emperor Bao Dai's subservience to the French colonial authorities as excessive, however, and resigned in the same year. The devout Catholic withdrew from politics, but in 1945 was captured by forces of Ho Chi Minh, who offered him a place in his government. He refused, and in 1947 founded the National Union Front instead, a non‐violent, anti‐Communist party, which was equally anti‐French. This background made him an appealing candidate for political leadership with the USA, which took over as the leading foreign influence in Vietnam after the Geneva Agreements.

In 1954 he was invited to become Prime Minister of South Vietnam, because of strong pressure from Eisenhower. In October 1955, he deposed Bao Dai as President of the new Republic of (South) Vietnam, and had himself confirmed in a rigged election in 1956. Personally an austere man, his preferential treatment of Catholicism at the expense of Buddhism, and his failure to carry out a land reform, alienated many groups in Vietnamese society. He maintained order through a harsh, anti‐Communist, repressive regime, with his brother head of the political police. Increasingly out of favour with the USA for his brutality, he was assassinated along with his brother, with tacit US approval. His assassination deprived South Vietnam of its last strong leader with the ability to maintain his authority, before the country slid into the Vietnam War.

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