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Forward March: an American Dilemma

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Forward March: an American Dilemma
Stephanie C. Perkins
DeVry University
HIST 415: Vietnam & 20th Century Experience
Fall B, 2014

Forward March: an American Dilemma
On assuming office, a government’s leader is charged with making decisions, based on input from trusted collaborators, advisors, and associates. This element of cooperation, at times, has resulted in exposure to the possibility of being party to actions based on willfully manipulated information, creating political embarrassment, or worse, betrayal.
America in early 1960s, believed the situation in South Vietnam was under control, since the President believed it was. President Kennedy had made public declarations in December of 1962, on the successes of the Diem regime in South Vietnam, in creating a stable government aligned with the American ideals of democracy, and progressing in the fight against the communists (Moss, 2010, p. 102). This optimism, despite numerous reports from diplomats as well as military personnel, advising Kennedy of the disintegration of the armed forces, as well as Diem’s dictatorial approach to his job (Winters, 1988).
Definite Dictator
Diem, although not a communist, based his stewardship of South Vietnam on an equally autocratic approach, described in his terms, as the management of “…an enlightened sovereign” (Moss, 2010, p.69).
To Diem, those words meant centralizing all political powers under direct control of his government, much akin to the imperialists he displaced, abolishing traditional local authorities, consolidating power onto himself, and, by extension, the rest of the Ngo Dinh clan, ruling alongside him (Moss, 2010, p. 69). Funding from the American government was unfairly channeled y to fellow Catholics, who were generally treated with favoritism over the rest of the population; jobs both in the military as well as civilian positions were routinely reserved for Catholics (p.70). Citizens were unhappy.
Chaos and Schisms
In his army, officers held positions not according to military standards but were direct political appointees by Diem, who viewed them as his bodyguards, treated them as such, while sending lesser-trained peasants to die in battle (Ford, 2007). Social unrest continued to foment, but was mostly repressed (Moss, 2010, p. 70). However, the Buddhists became the strongest dissenters against the Diem government, publicly defying their edicts (Moss, 2010).
The Kennedy administrations’ attempted diplomacy in efforts for Diem to institute social, political and economic reforms were futile (Moss, 2010, p.93). Meanwhile, demonstrations by the Buddhists were continuing, the generals would not order their troops to fight the communist insurgents, hence the loss of the battle in Ap Bac in early 1963, and the Americans, duly embarrassed as Spring 1963 arrived (Moss, 2010, p. 104): In May of 1963, nine people were killed when Buddhist demonstrators were fired on by government troops (Moss, 2010, p. 104). The public self-immolation of a Buddhist monk in June of that same year, as well as the depraved destruction of life and property of Buddhists later in August, directed by Diem’s brother, served as catalysts for the Kennedy administration to escalate its strategy of solving the intractable problem of the Diem regime (Moss, 2010, p. 107).
Kennedy’s Indecision
After prolonged vacillation on how to achieve “…changes…” in “…policy…” and “…personnel…” Kennedy (as quoted in Moss, 2010, p. 108), the Kennedy administration remained divided on action against the Diem regime. Kennedy’s concerns about re-election, as well as fears of aggravating the Soviet Union, hindered decisiveness, which, along with subterfuge from some of his staff, resulted in a coup and the assassination of Diem and his brother Nhu on November 1, 1993 (Ford, 2007).
References
Ford, H. (2007). CIA and the Vietnam policymakers: three episodes 1962-1968. Episode 2. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/csi/books/vietnam/
Moss, G. D. (2010). Vietnam: an American ordeal, (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Winters, F. X. (1988). They shoot allies, don’t they? National Review, 40(23), 34-37.

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