Tag Archives: Buddhist Vietnam

The Vietnam Conflict Novels

As many of my readers know, I am writing a series of novels based on the “real history” from behind the scenes of the Vietnam Conflict. I wrote several reviews on the Ken Burn’s / PBS excellent documentary on Vietnam. Over the last few months, I have watched Oliver North’s Fox Business News series titled War Stories, which covered the same time periods as my first two novels. Two espisodes in particular got my attention. One focused on the Diem Coup, while another dealt with President Johnson having more interest in his 1964 presidential campaign than in managing the evolving conflict in Vietnam. Three major events—the role of the CIA, the role of illegal drugs, and the Buddhist/Catholic conflicts—are left out of these documentaries that I cover extensively in my novels. They are all controversial topics, which is why they are rarely discussed. Yet, these areas are critical to understanding all that went on in Indochina from the period after World War II through the end of the Vietnam Conflict in 1975.

Besides intense research into this time period, I also sought out individuals who served honorably in this conflict to obtain their reactions. In my privileged conversations with those who fought and had friends who died, it has emerged that our troops never lost a big battle. In my studies, the battles the US didn’t win were often when the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese were allowed to sneak into Cambodia, Laos or back into North Vietnam, and the U.S. troops were not permitted to pursue by orders from above. This was the first war the U.S. fought where ground was not captured. It turned into a war of body counts. Interestingly, the official military records of some of those interviewed don’t record them being in places they remember being in. Coincidence? I think not.

Why was Vietnam, Vietnam? First and foremost, Vietnam was the first war that was not about defeating the enemy. It was about preserving South Vietnam in any form of government but communist. It was the first war in which journalists were able to broadcast live. Naturally, the press, seeking to broadcast high drama, sometimes presented things that were never shown during World War II and Korea, when the government censored the war film footage. As Ken Burn’s put it, “America got to witness the war first hand in their living room”—and war can get ugly. Ask anyone who has served. Most won’t even talk about it because they want to dredge up hidden memories.

Within the next couple of weeks, my second novel, Pawns: Kings in Check, will be released on Kindle and in paperback. It covers the period during President Johnson’s re-election in 1964. In this book, as with my other novels, I have no agenda to present or protect. I am only offering the facts and some unknown truths so the reader may draw his own conclusions. I hope you will give a read to my latest novel. Thanks again for your support.

The Diem Presidency (1960-1962)

Ngo Dinh Diem was elected president of South Vietnam because of his vision for growing the country’s economy and protecting its population. With the United States’ financial assistance, Diem industrialized several regions within the country. He came from one of the elite families of Indochina, he was educated in British Malaya, and, before going into politics, he considered going into the priesthood. His presidency was greatly influenced by his strong religious beliefs. Initially, his social reform was structured around Catholic and Confucian beliefs, such as closing brothels and opium dens, some of which ran contrary to long-practiced standards. He made divorce and abortion illegal. With this growth came the establishment of respectable universities within South Vietnam. He also promised land reform, since much of the country’s property was held by a small minority, predominately Catholic families. Moreover, the Catholic Church was the largest landowner in South Vietnam.

There was a dark side to what appeared to be positive developments. While implementing his plans for social and economic change, he was also consolidating his power against the other warlords and their families throughout South Vietnam. By 1960, the Diem Presidency and his political party, Can Lao, were on shaky ground due to his provocation of the predominately Buddhist population. Diem selected mostly Catholics to political appointments. Even in the military, Catholics climbed the promotion ladder faster than Buddhist officers. President Diem also jailed approximately 40,000 political prisoners. Additionally, his special police force, run by his ruthless brother Nhu, killed an estimated 12,000 opponents to his policies. 

The 1961 inauguration of United States President John F. Kennedy brought a fresh set of eyes to Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular. President Eisenhower had been willing to fight communist advances at every single doorstep. Kennedy defeated Eisenhower’s Vice President Richard Nixon by running on a change in policy with more emphasis on economic growth at home along with more social reform.

Kennedy was a young, inexperienced politician who brought a considerable number of fresh faces into his administration. Kennedy felt compelled to move forward with several foreign operations, since they were already developed so far  he had no choice. One of the those was the Bay of Pigs, which failed miserably due in part to his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s last-minute decision. But that development caused Kennedy to quickly stop and review many of Eisenhower’s programs—specifically, the US involvement in South Vietnam and the CIA. Kennedy removed Allen Dulles as head of the CIA and appointed John McCone, an industrialist with no government experience. However, in a surprising move, he appointed Edward Lansdale, who had run OPERATION MONGOOSE, the Cuban debacle, to a special position in the Department of Defense to assist with South Vietnam. Why, you ask? Because Lansdale had spent time in Vietnam in the 1950s and was very close to President Diem. Kennedy needed insight and experience. He had begun to wonder about the stability of the Diem Presidency and the military role the United States served in that country. Kennedy was under pressure from all sides to make something positive come from situations that had only negative options.  First, the military wanted to increase its role in South Vietnam, yet retired General Douglas MacArthur told Kennedy that Vietnam was no place for ground troops. Next, Kennedy had concerns about Diem but was unable to come up with a suitable replacement who would be willing to work with the United States. And third, there was political pressure for the Free World to confront the Communist World at every opportunity. Kennedy, a Democrat, did not want to be lumped in with Democratic President Harry Truman, who was perceived to have mishandled the Korean War. Kennedy believed there had to be a resolution for South Vietnam or it would be used against him in the 1964 re-election campaign.

Just after Kennedy was elected, an attempted military coup on Diem failed. On December 20, 1960, the North Vietnamese government, lead by Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan, saw these internal divisions within South Vietnam, coupled with the military coup, as a sign of weakness. They formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), or, more commonly called the Viet Cong.

President Diem attempted to counter the renewed Viet Cong activity with another program called the Strategic Hamlet Program, which was designed to move individuals from smaller, unprotected villages into newly constructed “hamlets” complete with housing, schools, wells, and a watchtower. Additionally, the US supplied weapons, via the South Vietnamese Army, to the people in the hamlets to aid in their protection. The program was designed to protect the population from harassment by the Viet Cong. Yet, many of the villagers resented being moved from their homes, including some who had occupied their land for many years. Moreover, many of the displaced citizens were farmers, not fighters, so they allowed the US weapons to fall into the hands of the Viet Cong. The irony of moving the population around was that 75% of the land was still owned by 15% of the population, mostly Catholics.

As unrest grew among the population, Diem started cracking down on the Buddhist Monks, whom he believed had turned political and were keeping the population upset. This served only to make Diem even more unpopular. In February 1962, there was another military coup when the Air Force bombed the Presidential Palace. Again, they failed.

This is where my novel series begins. My series will cover many of the events of the recent Vietnam Documentary presented by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. However, my novels also deal with key elements of the Vietnam Conflict that were not addressed within this well-done documentary, such as the role of the CIA and illicit drugs.

I want to show my readers the real history behind the Vietnam Conflict, not just what we were taught in school.

Do you have any special insights into what really happened? If so, please drop me an email or leave a comment. I would love to chat with you.

Vietnam Conflict – The Early Diem Presidency

President Ngo Dinh Diem was a controversial figure even before claiming presidency of South Vietnam. Once it became public that the United States backed him on his run for president, the French issued a statement claiming that Diem was “not only incapable, but mad.” However, Colonel Edward Lansdale and Lieutenant Colonel Lucien Conein believed Diem, a warlord from Hue, was the best available choice to keep South Vietnam from falling under the control of communism. Diem, a devout Catholic, was born into one of the elite families associated with the Vietnamese imperial family. Immediately after World War II, Ho Chi Minh, who was forming his government in North Vietnam, asked Diem to take a position in his administration. Diem turned him down. Ho had hoped to take advantage of Diem’s religion to gain support from Catholics.

In an attempt to provide close guidance, Lansdale moved into the palace with President Ngo Dinh Diem before his election and stayed until late 1956. Lansdale and Diem became close friends, and to a large extent, Lansdale was able to keep Diem focused on his presidency while continuing his psy-ops program, named Saigon Military Mission, against the North.

Lansdale was transferred back to Washington, DC, in 1957 and promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations working out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Shortly after Lansdale left, Diem changed how he conducted himself as president. Diem had campaigned for land reform and to remove the anti-Buddhist laws that had been imposed by the French. The French, which were predominately Catholic, had controlled most of the land and the wealth in Indochina for decades, despite representing only ten percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the largest landowner in Vietnam was the Catholic Church. Most of Diem’s government officials were Catholics, yet seventy percent of the country was Buddhist. Needless to say, like most politicians, Diem failed to keep his campaign promises. At the end of the 1950s, the anti-Buddhist laws were still on the books and seventy-five percent of the land was still held by fifteen percent of the population.

The North Vietnamese government pressed Diem to comply with the Geneva Accords by holding elections in July 1956, to which Diem had not agreed and which he refused to do. Ho Chi Minh harassed the South Vietnamese government by sending loyalists from the North to organize armed citizens against the Diem government. By 1959, some 1,200 of South Vietnamese government officials were murdered by the North Vietnamese or by South Vietnamese who were loyal to the North.

Diem pushed back hard. First, he arrested and imprisoned communists and socialists. Next, he went after journalists, trade-unionists and leaders of religious groups, mainly Buddhists. Even children found writing anti-Diem messages on walls were put in prison. As a result of Diem’s actions, soon 100,000 people were in prison camps. Still, the US poured money into South Vietnam and encouraged Catholic refugees from the North to come to the South to escape the communist-leaning Ho Chi Minh.

By the end of the Eisenhower presidency, there were rumblings within the US government against Diem’s governing practices—mainly, that  he was not following US suggestions. But they were stuck with the seated president because they did not believe there were any alternatives.

So by the end of the 1950s, Vietnam had a large number of issues. Were you aware of how bad this situation had become?