Ngo Dinh Diem

(1901–1963) South Vietnamese leader

Ngo Dinh Diem was president of South Vietnam from 1955 until his death in 1963. He was born into a privileged family from the Vietnamese elite. Ngo Dinh Diem’s ancestors were among the first to convert Vietnamese to Catholicism in the 17th century. As a Catholic, he was closely aligned with the French colonial rule in Vietnam.

In 1933 Ngo Dinh Diem was appointed to the Ministry of the Interior under the emperor Bao Dai, who ruled under French tutelage. However, he was soon forced to resign since the French opposed his proposed reforms. For 12 years he resided in Hue without holding public office. He did not return to power until 1954, when Bao Dai invited him to join his new government. Nevertheless, within a year he had engineered the ousting of the emperor and established himself as president of South Vietnam with dictatorial powers. He had been able to achieve this because of the support of the United States, which believed that his opposition to communism would make him the best candidate to lead a pro-Western united Vietnam.

The United States was soon frustrated by Ngo Dinh Diem’s intransigence and refusal to accede to the terms under which the United States had backed him. These included most notably the implementation of the Geneva Accords, which required general elections throughout the country in 1956. Instead he appointed members of his family to senior positions within the administration.

When it became clear that he had no intention of following U.S. policies, U.S. authorities withdrew their support and permitted Vietnamese army officers to assassinate him in November 1963.

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