Vietnam A History 1

America’s Mandarin 11

He was also persuaded that the Communist guerrillas were not— and never would be—a real threat. Swayed by his Korean experience, he argued that the potential danger to the south was a massive invasion from the north. Thus he rejected the necessity for renovating the society and instead urged Diem to focus on building up a conventional army. Diem needed ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 10

A local supervisor disclosed what had gone on: “The rice and cash grants are being stolen by officials, who also rob the fertilizer sent here and sell it. I’d like to tell President Diem how they are profiting from the sweat of the people.” “Have you protested?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “and I’m due to be transferred to another ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 9

Then, as later in the war, every statement coming out of both Saigon and Hanoi repeated the same stereotype—that the struggle could not be won without the peasants, who comprised the majority of Viet¬nam’s population. About that time, accompanied by an interpreter, I wandered into hamlets and villages in the Mekong Delta, along the coast of central Vietnam, and into ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 8

The movement at that stage was far more clandestine than ever, since Diem’s forces scoured the area more thoroughly than the French had done. Police and informers pervaded every village, and many remembered Bo from his Vietminh days. He assumed an alias, Hai Cao, or “second tall one, ” a reference to his height and to his status as second ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 7

I myself watched an interrogation in a Mekong Delta town on a blistering hot day in the late 1950s. Soldiers had brought in a lean youth in black cotton pajamas who looked like any peasant. He squat¬ted impassively, as if stoically awaiting a fate he could not avoid. The soldiers wired his fingers to a field telephone, then cranked it ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 6

When Ho Chi Minh returned to Hanoi in October 1954, after eight years in the jungle, his problems differed from those that faced Diem. There were no fractious sects and gangsters to challenge his authority. The French army was leaving the north in orderly fashion, and the massive flight of the Catholics to the south made his control easier, since ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 5

Lansdale also helped Diem to outsmart his domestic adversaries. He nipped General Nguyen Van Hinh’s planned coup d’etat in the bud, for example, by hustling his chief lieutenants off on a trip to Manila. And when the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao defied the regime, Lansdale bribed several of their leaders to rally to Diem, paying them as much as ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 4

Dulles used the same argument that month in Paris against Prime Minister Mendes-France, who described Diem as “wholly negative.” The following May, a similar dispute was to set Dulles against Mendes-France’s successor, Edgar Faure, who called Diem “not only incapable but mad.” Faure’s fury secretly delighted Dulles, since it precipitated a French decision to pull out of Vietnam prematurely— which ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 3

Diem made no headway with the Eisenhower administration, then committed to the French. In May 1953, he quit the United States for a Benedictine monastery in Belgium, but he shuttled frequently to Paris to visit his youngest brother, Luyen, an engineer, who had been lobbying for him among exiled Vietnamese in France. Diem needed French endorsement, American approval and an ... Read More »

America’s Mandarin 2

Following in the footsteps of an older brother, Khoi, who had enrolled in the civil service, Diem studied law and administration at a French school that trained native bureaucrats. Promoted rapidly after graduation, he became a provincial governor at the age of twenty- five, and entered what may have been the happiest period of his career. He rode horseback through ... Read More »