Vietnam Notebook: 1962 Diem Survives Coup Attempt

Madame Ngô Đình Nhu and Lyndon Baines Johnson,...

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In February 1962 South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was unharmed as two planes bombed the presidential palace in Saigon. Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilots Lieutenants Pham Phu Quoc and Nguyen Van Cu tried to eliminate Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu by bombing and strafing the presidential palace. Both men escaped but Madame Nhu sustained a broken arm when she fell through a floor.

Lieutenant Quoc was arrested after his fighter-bomber crash-landed near Saigon. Lieutenant Cu fled to Cambodia, where he remained until November 1963.

The attack confirmed Diem’s conviction that his main adversaries were domestic. As a result, he retreated deeper into himself, delegating more authority to his brother Nhu, who set about eradicating dissidents–dozens of Diem political opponents disappeared, and thousands more were sent to prison camps. The coup attempt clearly elevated the level of paranoia in the Palace to new heights.

The Viet Cong were able to exploit the situation to their own advantage effectively and led the way in taunting and resisting the regime. The flames got even hotter in 1963– fanned by the Buddhists, their student supporters, the Viet Cong, and an impatient and conflicted White House– Diem and Nhu did not survive the heat. Then President Kennedy was killed three weeks later. Vietnam continued to spiral out of control. Only faster…

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