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Ngo Dinh Nhu

For his wife, see Madame Nhu.

Ng nh Nhu (; 7 October 1910 2 November 1963) was the younger brother and chief political advisor of South Vietnam's first president, Ng nh Di m. Although he held no formal executive position, he wielded immense unofficial power, exercising personal command of both the ARVN Special Forces (a paramilitary unit which served as the Ng family's de facto private army) and the C n Lao political apparatus (also known as the Personalist Labor Party) which served as the regime's de facto secret police.

In his early age, Nhu was a quiet and bookish individual who showed little inclination towards the political path taken by his elder brothers. While training as an archivist in France, Nhu adopted the Roman Catholic ideology of personalism, although critics claimed that he misused that philosophy. Upon returning to Vietnam, he helped his brother in his quest for political power, and Nhu proved an astute and ruthless tactician and strategist, helping Di m to gain more leverage and outwit rivals. During this time, he formed and handpicked the members of the secret C n Lao Party, which swore its personal allegiance to the Ng family, provided their power base and eventually became their secret police force. Nhu remained as its head until his own assassination.

In 1955, Nhu's supporters helped intimidate the public and rig the 1955 State of Vietnam referendum that ensconced his elder brother, Di m, in power. Nhu used the C n Lao, which he organised into cells, to infiltrate every part of society to root out opposition to the Ng family. In 1959, he organized a failed assassination attempt via mail bomb on Prince Sihanouk, the leader of neighbouring Cambodia, with whom relations had become strained. Nhu publicly extolled his own intellectual abilities. He was known for making such public statements as promising to demolish the X L i pagoda and vowing to kill his estranged father-in-law, Tr n V n Chu ng, who was the regime's Ambassador to the United States, after the elder man condemned the Ng family's behavior and disowned his daughter, Nhu's wife, Madame Nhu.

In 1963, the Ng family's grip on power became unstuck during the Buddhist crisis, during which the nation's Buddhist majority rose up against the pro-Catholic regime. Nhu tried to break the Buddhists' opposition by using the Special Forces in raids on prominent Buddhist temples that left possibly hundreds dead, and framing the regular army for it. However, Nhu's plan was uncovered, which intensified plots by military officers, encouraged by the Americans, who turned against the Ng family after the pagoda attacks. Nhu was aware of the plots, but remained confident he could outmanoevre them, and began to plot a counter-coup, as well as the assassinations of U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and other American and opposition figures. Nhu was fooled by the loyalist General T n Th t nh, who had turned against the Ng family. On 1 November 1963, the coup proceeded, and the Ng brothers (Nhu and Di m) were detained and assassinated the next day.


Early years

Nhu's family originated from the central Vietnamese village of Ph C m. His family had served as mandarins in the imperial court in Hu . His father, Ng nh Kh , was a counselor to Emperor Thanh Thai during the French colonisation. After the French deposed the emperor on the pretext of insanity, Kh retired in protest and became a farmer. Nhu was the fourth of six sons, born in 1910.[1]

In his early years, Nhu was aloof from politics and was regarded as a bookish and quiet personality who preferred academic pursuits. By the 1920s, his three elder brothers Ng nh Kh i, Ng nh Th c and Ng nh Di m were becoming prominent figures in Vietnam. Th c became the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hu . In 1932, Di m became the interior minister but resigned within a few months after realising that he would not be given any real power.[2] Nhu showed little interest in following in their footsteps.[3]

Nhu completed a bachelor's degree in literature in Paris and then studied paleography and librarianship, graduating from the cole Nationale des Chartes, an archivists' school in Paris.[3] He returned to Vietnam from France at the outbreak of World War II. He was influenced by personalism, a concept he had acquired in the Latin Quarter. It had been conceived in the 1930s by Catholic progressives such as Emmanuel Mounier. Mounier's heirs in Paris, who edited the left wing Catholic review Esprit denounced Nhu as a fraud.[4] Personalism blamed liberal capitalism for the Great Depression and individualistic greed and exploitation, and disagreed with communism due to its opposition to spirituality. [5]

Nhu worked at Hanoi's National Library and in 1943,[3] he married Tr n L Xu n, later known universally as "Madame Nhu". She was a Buddhist but converted to her husband's religion. The French dismissed Nhu from his high-ranking post,[3] due to Di m's nationalist activities, and he moved to the central highlands resort town of L t and lived comfortably, editing a newspaper.[6] He raised orchids during his time in L t.[3]

After the August Revolution of 1945, when H Ch Minh's communist Vietminh declared independence, various groups as well as the French colonialists jockeyed for political control.[7] Nhu became more politically active, especially in helping his brothers to establish a political base among Vietnamese Catholics.[3] By this time, Kh i had been assassinated by the communists, so Di m became the leading political figure in the family.[7] Di m had little success in the late 1940s and went into exile in 1950 to campaign from abroad after the communists sentenced him to death in absentia.[8]

Up to this point, Nhu had kept a relatively low-key profile.[3] However, he appeared to imbue personalist ideas into his elder brother, who used the philosophy's terminology in his speeches. Di m and Nhu thought that personalism went well with their "Third Force" anti-communist and anti-colonial ideology.[5] After 1950, Nhu became a leading figure in the mobilizing of his elder brother's support based among anti-communist Vietnamese. He became assertive in pushing personalism as a guiding ideology for Vietnam's social development. In April 1952, Nhu gave a talk on the topic at the newly opened Vietnamese National Military Academy in L t. He said the Catholic concept was applicable to people from all backgrounds,[5] especially in the fight against communist and unadulterated capitalism. He called on all Vietnamese to engage in a personalist-driven social revolution to strengthen the society and country. [9]

Nhu was known for making long, abstract and difficult-to-understand speeches, something which many Vietnamese resented.[9] Although Nhu was known for his pretensions as an intellectual and political philosopher, he was to become quite effective as a political organizer.[9] Around 1950, Nhu started the forerunner of what would become C n Lao (Personalist Labor Party), forming the power base and control mechanism of the Ng family. A secret organization, initially, little is known of the C n Lao's early years. The body consisted of a network of cells, and most members knew the identities of only a few colleagues. After 1954, its existence was declared, but the public knew little of its activities, which were mostly hidden from public view or oversight.[9] In the early 1950s, the C n Lao was used to mobilize support for Di m's political campaign.[9] Around 1953, Nhu began an alliance with Tr n Qu c B u, a trade unionist who headed the Vietnamese Confederation of Christian Workers. Nhu and his supporters began publishing a Saigon journal called Xa Hoi (Society), which endorsed B u's movement and trade unionism in general.[10]

At the time, opportunities for opposition politicians began to open up. B o i, head of state of the State of Vietnam, an associated state of the French Union became increasingly unpopular as the citizens became increasingly impatient with his strategy of allying with the French against the communists in return for gradually increased autonomy and eventual independence. Many felt that the B o i's policies would never deliver meaningful self-determination.[11]

In late-1953, Nhu began to try to foment and exploit anti-B o i sentiment. He organised a Unity Congress, a forum of various anti-communist nationalists such as Nguy n T n Ho n's i Vi t Qu c D n ng (Nationalist Party of Greater Vietnam), various Catholic groups and activists, as well as the H a H o and Cao i religious sects, and the Binh Xuy n organised crime syndicate. Nhu's real objective was to gain publicity for Di m, especially while B o i was overseas and unable to respond effectively. The conference turned into chaos, but Nhu achieved his objective of gaining publicity for his brother; additionally, the other groups had engaged in angry denunciations against B o i.[12]

The Emperor B o i announced that a National Congress would be opened in October. The leaders of most of the other parties agreed to participate, but Nhu and his organizations were absent. He was worried that the body might play into B o i's hands by endorsing him. This appeared to be the way the delegates were heading at first, but a sudden change saw an upsurge of condemnation against B o i's policies of coexistence with France.[13]

Rise to power

Nhu's brother Di m had been appointed Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam by B o i after the French had been defeated at i n Bi n Ph . At the start of 1955, French Indochina was dissolved, leaving Di m in temporary control of the south.[14] A referendum was scheduled for 23 October 1955 to determine the future direction of the south. It was contested by B o i, who advocated for the restoration of the monarchy, while Di m ran on a "republican" platform. The elections were held, with Nhu and the family's C n Lao political apparatus, which supplied Di m's electoral base, as well as organising and supervising elections.[15][16]

Campaigning for B o i was prohibited, and the result was rigged, with B o i supporters attacked by Nhu's workers. Di m recorded 98.2% of the vote, including 605,025 votes in Saigon, where only 450,000 voters were registered. Di m's tally also exceeded the registration numbers in other districts.[15][17] Nhu created a web of covert political, security, labor and other organizations, and built a structure of five-man cells to spy on dissidents and promote those loyal to Di m's regime.[6]


Nhu held no official role in the government, but ruled the southern region of South Vietnam, commanding private armies and secret police. Along with his wife and Archbishop Th c, he lived in the Presidential Palace with Di m.[18] Pervaded by family corruption, Nhu competed with his brother Ng nh C n, who ruled the northern areas for U.S. contracts and rice trade.[19] He controlled the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces commanded by Colonel L Quang Tung, not for fighting the Vietcong but in Saigon to maintain the authoritarian rule of his family.[6] Tortures and killings of "communist suspects" were committed on a daily basis. The death toll was put at around 50,000 as well as 75,000 imprisonments, and extended beyond communists to anti-communist dissidents and anti-corruption whistle-blowers.[20] His agents infiltrated labor unions and social organizations, and he expanded the police forces from 20 to 32 officers. They conducted arrests without warrants and selective suppression of criminal activity and graft while turning a blind eye to regime loyalists.[21]

Nhu was an opium addict and Adolf Hitler admirer. He modeled the C n Lao secret party apparatus on those designed by the Nazi Party decades earlier.[22] Nhu and his wife amassed a fortune by running numbers and lottery rackets, manipulating currency and extorting money from Saigon businesses.[23] In 1956, Di m created a rubber stamp unicameral legislature, the National Assembly. Nhu won a seat in the body, ostensibly as an independent, but never bothered to attend a single session of debate or vote, but this made no difference as Di m's policies were overwhelmingly approved in any formal show of numbers.[24]

In June 1958, the ARVN were involved in border clashes with Cambodia and made gains in the northeastern Cambodian province of Stung Treng.[25] This provoked a war of words between Di m and Sihanouk.[26] On 31 August 1959, Nhu failed in an attempt to assassinate Sihanouk. He ordered his agents to send parcel bombs to the Cambodian leader. Two suitcases were delivered to the Sihanouk's palace, one addressed to the head of state, and the other to Prince Vakrivan, his head of protocol. The deliveries were labeled as originating from an American engineer who had previously worked in Cambodia and purported to contain gifts from Hong Kong. Sihanouk's package contained a bomb, but the other did not; however, Vakrivan opened both on behalf of the monarch and was killed instantly, as was a servant. The explosion happened adjacent to a room in the palace where Sihanouk's parents were present.[27][28] At the same time, anti-Sihanouk broadcasts emanated from a secret transmitter located somewhere in South Vietnam, widely attributed to Nhu.[29] Sihanouk quickly blamed the Ng s and his aides made statements implying the United States might have played a role in the assassination attempt.[27]

The relationship between the two countries became strained thereafter, and Cambodia gave refuge to Vietnamese military personnel involved in attempts to overthrow Di m. Colonel Nguy n Ch nh Thi and Lieutenant Colonel V ng V n ng were given immediate refuge after a failed coup in November 1960,[30] and Vietnam Air Force pilot Lieutenant Nguy n V n C was accorded the same treatment after his aerial bombardment of Independence Palace failed to kill the Ng s.[31][32]

Strategic Hamlet Program

In 1962, Nhu began work on the ambitious Strategic Hamlet Program, an attempt to build fortified villages that would provide security for rural Vietnamese. The objective was to lock the Vietcong out so that they could not operate among the villagers. Colonel Ph m Ng c Th o supervised these efforts, and when told that the peasants resented being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and put into forts they were compelled to build, he advised Nhu it was imperative to build as many hamlets as fast as possible.[33] The Ng s were unaware Th o, ostensibly a Catholic, was in fact a communist double agent acting to turn the rural populace against Saigon.[34] Th o helped to ruin Nhu's scheme by having strategic hamlets built in communist strongholds. This increased the number of communist sympathisers who were placed inside the hamlets and given identification cards. As a result, the Vietcong were able to more effectively penetrate the villages to access supplies and personnel.[35][36]

Buddhist crisis

In May 1963, the Buddhist crisis broke out after nine Buddhist protestors were killed in Hu while protesting a ban on the Buddhist flag on Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. This prompted the Buddhist majority to stage widespread demonstrations against Di m, who discriminated in favour of Catholics, for religious equality. The movement threatened the stability of the family's rule. Nhu was known to favor a stronger line against the Buddhists. He had made statements calling for the suppression of the protests through his English language newspaper, the Times of Vietnam.[37] During this time, his wife Madame Nhu, herself a Catholic convert from Buddhism and the de facto first lady (due to Di m's bachelor life), inflamed the situation by mockingly applauding the suicides of Th ch Qu ng c and others, referring to them as "barbecues", while Nhu stated "if the Buddhists want to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline".[38]

7 July was the ninth anniversary of Di m's 1954 ascension to Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam.[39] American pressmen had been alerted to a Buddhist demonstration to coincide with Double Seven Day at the Chanatareansey pagoda in northern Saigon. [39][40] When the Buddhists filed out of the pagoda into an adjacent alley, they were blocked by Nhu's secret police. When Peter Arnett and Malcolm Browne began taking photos,[40] the police punched Arnett in the nose, floored him, threw rocks and broke his camera.[41] Browne took photos of Arnett's bloodied face, and while the police smashed his camera, the film survived. Photos of Arnett's bloodied face were circulated in US newspapers and caused further embarrassment for Di m and Nhu.[42][43] The Saigon press corps officially protest Nhu's "open physical intimidation to prevent the covering of news which we feel Americans have a right to know".[42]

There were persistent reports that Nhu was seeking to usurp real power from Di m and would attack the Buddhists.[37] In a media interview, Nhu said that if the Buddhist crisis was not resolved, he would stage a coup, quickly demolish the X L i pagoda, where the Buddhists were massing to coordinate their activities, and head a new anti-Buddhist government. The news was promptly published, although the Americans were not sure if Nhu was serious.[44]

On the evening of 18 August, a group of senior ARVN generals met to discuss the Buddhist crisis and decided that the imposition of martial law was needed to disperse the monks who had gathered in Saigon and other regional cities and return them to their original pagodas in the rural areas. [45][46][47] On 20 August they met Nhu for consultations and made their request. Most of the group were already involved in plotting against the Ng family by this time.[46][48] The generals played on Nhu's prejudices by saying that the pagodas were infiltrated with communists and that they needed to be dispersed.[46][47] Hearing this, the brothers agreed to declare martial law effective on the next day, without consulting the cabinet. The real purpose of the generals' request was to maneuver troops in readiness for a coup, and they had no concrete plans to use the regular army to raid the pagodas. However, Nhu took the opportunity to discredit the army by using Tung's Special Forces and the combat police to attack the pagodas.[49][50]

With the approval of Di m, Nhu used the declaration of martial law to order armed men into the Buddhist pagodas. Nhu purposely chose a time when the U.S. Embassy was leaderless. Frederick Nolting had returned to he United States and his successor Lodge was yet to arrive. As the high command of the ARVN worked closely with the American advisers, Nhu used the combat police and Tung's Special Forces, who took his orders directly from Nhu. The men were dressed in regular army uniforms,[51] such as paratrooper uniforms,[52] in order to frame the army for the raids. Nhu's motive was to shift the responsibility for a violent operation that would anger the Vietnamese public and the American officials onto the army. In doing so, he intended to dent the public and American confidence in the senior army officers, who were plotting against him. Nhu hoped the Buddhist majority and the Americans would blame the army for the raids and become less inclined to support a coup by the generals. In the past, Nhu's Machiavellian tactics in playing the generals against one another had kept conspirators off-balance and thwarted coup attempts.[51][52]

Squads of Special Forces and combat police flattened the gates of the X L i pagoda and smashed their way in at around 00:20, 21 August 1963.[53][54] Nhu's men were armed with pistols, submachine guns, carbines, shotguns, grenades and tear gas. The red bereted Special Forces were joined by truckloads of steel-helmeted combat police in army camouflage uniforms.[54] Two of Nhu's senior aides were seen outside X L i directing the operation.[52] Monks and nuns were attacked with rifle butts and bayonets, and overpowered by automatic weapons fire, grenades and battering rams.[55] It took around two hours to complete the raids because many of the occupants had barricaded themselves inside the various rooms.[53]

Nhu's men vandalized the main altar and confiscated the intact charred heart of Th ch Qu ng c, the monk who had self-immolated in protest against the policies of the regime. However, some of the Buddhists were able to flee the pagoda with a receptacle with the remainder of his ashes. Two monks jumped the back wall of the pagoda into the grounds of the adjoining United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission, where they were given asylum. Thich Tinh Khiet, an eighty year old Buddhist patriarch, was seized and taken to a military hospital on the outskirts of Saigon.[56] Military control, press censorship and the airport closures were enacted in Saigon.[57][58]

The violence was worse in heavily Buddhist Hu . Pro-Buddhist civilians left their homes upon hearing of the raids to defend the city's pagodas. At T m Pagoda,[57] which was the temple of Buddhist protest leader Th ch Tr Quang[59], government soldiers, firing M1 rifles, overran the building and demolished a statue of Gautama Buddha and looted and vandalized the building,[53][57] before leveling much of the pagoda with explosives. Many Buddhists were shot or clubbed to death. [60] The most determined resistance occurred outside the Di u Pagoda in Hu . As troops attempted to erect a barricade across the bridge leading to the pagoda, the crowd fought back, and the military finally took control after five hours, leaving an estimated 30 dead and 200 wounded. [57][60]

Some 500 people were arrested in the city, and 17 of the 47 professors at Hu University, who had resigned earlier in the week in protest against the family's policies,[56] were arrested.[57] The raids were repeated in cities and towns across the country. The total number of dead and disappeared was never confirmed, but estimates range up to several hundred. At least 1,400 were arrested.[56][60][61] No further mass Buddhist protests occurred during the remainder of Di m's rule, which would amount to little more than two more months, in any event.[62]

Government sources claimed that at the X L i, n Quang and other pagodas, soldiers had found machine guns, ammunition, plastic explosives, homemade mines, daggers, and Vietcong documents; these had been planted by Nhu's men.[63] A few days later, Madame Nhu said that the raids were "the happiest day in my life since we crushed the Binh Xuy n in 1955", and assailed the Buddhists as "communists".[64] Nhu accused the Buddhists of turning their pagodas into headquarters for plotting insurrections. He claimed the Buddhist Intersect Committee operated under the control of "political speculators who exploited religion and terrorism".[65]

Nhu's actions prompted riots from university students, which were met by arrests, imprisonment, and university shutdowns. The high school students followed suit, and followed their university counterparts into jail.[66] Thousands of students from Saigon's leading high school, most of them children of public servants and military officers, were sent to re-education camps.[67] The result was a further drop in morale amongst the putative defenders of the Ng family.[68] In a media interview, Nhu vowed to kill his father-in-law (for publicly renouncing him), saying: "I will have his head cut off. I will hang him in the center of a square and let him dangle there. My wife will make the knot on the rope because she is proud of being a Vietnamese and she is a good patriot."[69] In the same interview, Nhu claimed to have invented helicopters and pioneered their use in military combat.[69]

On 24 August, the Kennedy administration sent Cable 243 to Lodge in Saigon, marking a change in American policy. The message advised Lodge to seek the removal of the Nhus from power, and to look for alternative leadership options if Di m refused to remove them. As the probability of Di m doing so was seen as highly unlikely, the message effectively meant the fomenting of a coup. Lodge replied that there was no hope of Di m removing Nhu, and began to make contact with possible coup plotters through CIA agents.[70][71][72] The Voice of America broadcast a statement blaming Nhu for the pagoda raids and absolving the army of culpability.[73] Lodge believed Nhu's influence had risen to unprecedented levels and that Nhu's divide and conquer tactics had split the military into three power groups.[65]

One of the recommendations of the Krulak Mendenhall mission, was to stop American funding for the Motion Picture Center, which produced hagiographic films (propaganda) about the Nhus.[74] and to pursue covert actions aimed at dividing and discrediting Tung and Major General T n Th t nh.[74] nh was the youngest general in ARVN history, primarily due to his loyalty to the Ng family. He was given command of the III Corps forces surrounding the capital as he and Tung were the most trusted officers and could be relied upon to defend the family against any coup.[75][76]

The McNamara Taylor mission resulted in the suspension of funding for Nhu's special forces until they were placed under the command of the army's Joint General Staff (JGS) and sent into battle.[77][78] The report noted that one of the reasons for sending Tung's men into the field was because they "are a continuing support for Di m". [79] The Americans were also aware that removing the special forces from Saigon would increase the chances that a coup attempt would succeed, thereby encouraging the army to overthrow the president.[79] Di m and Nhu were undeterred by suspension of aid, keeping Tung and his men in the capital.[80] Nhu accused the Americans of "destroying the psychology of our country" and called the U.S. ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a "man of no morality".[81]

At Nhu's request, Tung was reported to have been planning an operation under the cover of a government-organised student demonstration outside the U.S. embassy. In this plan, Tung's men would assassinate Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and other key officials among the confusion. Another target was the Buddhist leader Th ch Tr Quang, who had been given asylum in the embassy after being targeted in the pagoda raids. According to the plan, Tung's men would then burn down the embassy and stage it as a riot provoked by communists and other enemies of the United States.[69]

Another notable instance of religious warfare was perpetrated by Nhu's right-hand man in 1963. A hugely oversized carp was found swimming in a small pond near N ng. Local Buddhists began to believe that the fish was a reincarnation of one of Gautama Buddha's disciples. As more people made pilgrimages to the pond, Ng family officials mined the pond and raked it with machine gun fire, but the fish survived.[82] Nhu's special forces grenaded the pond, finally killing the fish. This backfired, however, because it generated more publicity newspapers across the world ran stories about the miraculous fish. ARVN helicopters began landing at the site, and paratroopers filled their bottles with water they believed to be magical.[82]

Coup and death

By this time, Di m and Nhu knew that a group of ARVN generals and colonels were planning a coup, but didn't know T n Th t nh was among them.[83] Nhu ordered nh and Tung[84] to plan a fake coup against the Ngo family. One of Nhu's objectives was to trick dissidents into joining the false uprising so that they could be identified and eliminated.[85] Another objective of the stunt was to give a false impression of the strength of the regime.[83]

Codenamed Operation Bravo, the first stage of the scheme would involve some of Tung's loyalist soldiers, disguised as insurgents led by apparently renegade junior officers, faking a coup and vandalising the capital.[86] During the orchestrated chaos of the first coup, the disguised loyalists would riot and in the ensuing mayhem, kill the leading coup plotters, such as Generals D ng V n Minh, Tr n V n n, L V n Kim and junior officers assisting them. The loyalists and some of Nhu's underworld connections were also to kill some figures who were assisting the conspirators, such as the titular but relatively powerless Vice President Nguy n Ng c Th , CIA agent Lucien Conein, who was on assignment in Vietnam as a military adviser, and Lodge.[87] These would then be blamed on "neutralist and pro-communist elements".[87] Tung would then announce the formation of a "revolutionary government" consisting of opposition activists who had not consented to being named in the government, while Di m and Nhu would pretend to be on the run and move to V ng T u. A fake "counter-coup" was to follow, whereupon Tung's men, having left Saigon on the pretext of fighting communists, as well as nh's forces, would triumphantly re-enter Saigon to reaffirm the Di m regime. Nhu would then round up opposition figures.[86][88][89]

nh was put in charge of the fake coup and was allowed the additional control of the 7th Division based in M Tho, south of the capital, which was previously assigned to Di m loyalist General Hu nh V n Cao, who was in charge of the IV Corps in the Mekong Delta. The reassignment of the 7th Division to nh gave his III Corps complete encirclement of Saigon. The encirclement would prevent Cao from storming the capital to save Di m as he had done during the 1960 coup attempt.[88][90][91][92]

Nhu and Tung, remained unaware of nh's switch in loyalties and were fooled. nh told them fresh troops were needed in the capital[93], opining that "If we move reserves into the city, the Americans will be angry. They'll complain that we're not fighting the war. So we must camouflage our plan by sending the special forces out to the country. That will deceive them."[93] Nhu had no idea that nh's real intention was to engulf Saigon with rebel units and lock Tung's loyalists in the countryside where they could not defend the Ng family. [89] Tung and Nhu agreed to send all four Saigon-based special forces companies out of the capital on 29 October 1963.[93]

Diem's dead body in the back of an armoured personnel carrier On 1 November 1963, the real coup went ahead, with Cao and Tung's troops isolated outside Saigon, unable to rescue Di m and Nhu from the rebel encirclement.[90] By the time the Ng brothers realised that coup was not the fake action organised by the loyalists, Tung had been called to the Joint General Staff headquarters at the airbase, under the pretense of a routine meeting, and was seized and executed. Attempts by Di m and Nhu to make contact with nh were blocked by other generals, whose staff claimed that nh was elsewhere, leading Nhu and Di m to believe he had been captured.[91] Around 20:00, with the Presidential Guard hopelessly outnumbered, Di m and Nhu hurriedly packed and escaped the palace, with two loyalists: Cao Xu n Vy, head of Nhu's Republican Youth, and Air Force Lieutenant Th , Di m's aide-de-camp. Th 's uncle was Colonel M u, the director of military security and a participant in the coup plot. [94] The brothers were believed to have escaped through a secret tunnel, and emerged in a wooded area in a nearby park, where they were picked up and taken to a supporter's house in the Chinese merchant district of Cholon.[94][95] Nhu was reported to have suggested to Di m that the brothers split up, arguing that this would enhance their chances of survival. Nhu proposed that one travel to join Cao's IV Corps, while the other would go to the II Corps of General Nguy n Kh nh in the central highlands. Nhu believed the rebel generals would not dare kill one of them while the other was free, in case the surviving brother were to regain power. Di m turned down this idea.[94]

The brothers sought asylum from the embassy of the Republic of China, but were turned down and stayed in the safehouse as they appealed to ARVN loyalists and attempted to negotiate with the coup leaders.[96] Nhu's agents had fitted the home with a direct phone line to the palace, so the coup generals believed that the brothers were still besieged inside Gia Long. Neither the rebels nor the loyalist Presidential Guard had any idea that at 21:00 they were about to fight for an empty building, leading to futile deaths.[95] Diem and Nhu refused to surrender, so the 5th Division of Colonel Nguy n V n Thi u besieged the palace and captured it by dawn.[97]

In the early morning of 2 November, Di m and Nhu agreed to surrender. The ARVN officers had promised the Ng brothers safe exile and an "honorable retirement".[98] The U.S. did not want Di m and Nhu near Vietnam "because of the plots they will mount to try to regain power".[99] When D ng V n Minh found the palace empty, he was angered, but was soon informed of the Ng brothers' location.[100] Nhu and Di m fled to the nearby Catholic Church of St. Francis Xavier,[99] where they were taken into custody and put into an armoured personnel carrier,[101] to be taken back to military headquarters. The convoy was led by General Mai H u Xu n and the brothers were guarded inside the APC by Major D ng Hi u Ngh a and Captain Nguy n V n Nhung, Minh's bodyguard.[102] Before the convoy had departed for the church, Minh was reported to have gestured to Nhung with two fingers. This was taken to be an order to kill both brothers. An investigation by General Tr n V n n later determined that Ngh a shot the brothers at point-blank range with a semi-automatic firearm and that Nhung sprayed them with bullets before repeatedly stabbing the bodies with a knife.[103]

Nghia gave his account of what occurred during the journey back to the military headquarters: "As we rode back to the Joint General Staff headquarters, Di m sat silently, but Nhu and the captain [Nhung] began to insult each other. I don't know who started it. The name-calling grew passionate. The captain had hated Nhu before. Now he was charged with emotion."[101] Nghia said that "[Nhung] lunged at Nhu with a bayonet and stabbed him again and again, maybe fifteen or twenty times. Still in a rage, he turned to Di m, took out his revolver and shot him in the head. Then he looked back at Nhu, who was lying on the floor, twitching. He put a bullet into his head too. Neither Di m nor Nhu ever defended themselves. Their hands were tied."[101] According to historian Howard Jones, the fact "that the killings failed to make the brothers into martyrs constituted a vivid testimonial to the depth of popular hatred they had aroused." [104] Some months later, Minh reportedly confided to an American source that "We had no alternative. They had to be killed. Di m could not be allowed to live because he was too much respected among simple, gullible people in the countryside, especially the Catholics and the refugees. We had to kill Nhu because he was so widely feared and he had created organizations that were the arms of his personal power."[105]

The two brothers (Nhu and Di m) were buried by the junta in a location that remains unknown. The speculated burial places include a military prison, a local cemetery, and the grounds of the JGS headquarters at Tan Son Nhut; there are also reports of cremation.[106][107]


  • Ngo Dinh Le Thuy was killed in April 1967, in an automobile accident in Longjumeau, France.
  • Ngo Dinh Trac became a agricultural engineering graduate, is married and has four children (3 boys, 1 girl).
  • Ngo Dinh Quynh graduated from ESEC (Ecole Superieur du Commerce et de I'Economie), a private school training professionals in the economy. He works as a trade representative for a U.S. company in Brussels, Belgium.



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