Dec 10, 2020 in Analysis

Ngo Dinh Diem Relationship With Vietnam


The very name of the country might carry the somewhat opinionated connotation of coupling Southern Viet with the perceived dominance of the southern rule. Regardless of whether this emotive anchor may have driven some of the early resolve on Diems part, the arbitrary division of many of Indochina hosted nations politically did embark on prior polar divide in the language dialects and possibly some prevalent spiritual patterns that underpin these gaps. On the other hand, subsequent reunification could seem about as natural in retrospect as the initial chasm, both running in cycles of what could parallel dharmas samsaric emanations. For the non-Buddhist, it might be a challenge in its own right distinguishing between the phenomenology of dharma versus that of maya, or perception versus delusion. For the Buddhist, however, the line is about as fuzzy between dharma, or dhamma, as innate order versus the resultant or accommodative societal and geopolitical harmony. For the jaded onlooker, it might turn out altogether intractable coming to terms with their apparently violent behavior when submission and humility would have been expected. For that matter, it remains to be seen whether the two supposedly polar external doctrines or designs are all that foreign to the native legacy embarking a dialectic vision and pragmatic indifference vis-a-vis imperfect equilibria or means. Regardless of whether the mechanisms of social movements and deviant outbreaks could suffice in pinning down their leaders ways, the present study will be an attempt at taking home the history of Diems relationships with the US and Vietnam amidst each partys plans that went unreported.

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Qualifying Historical Background

Vietnam has seen major breakaways following a history of long-standing integration, with the partial existence modes not appearing very remote to have justified deviance in the first place. Spinning off from an Imperial China back in the late 900s never did usher in a breakup along core cultural lines, with the archaic name recovered as it were amid a nostalgic fit. The secessionist area still maintained a linguistic schism while resembling the pan-Sinic archaics all to closely for any genuinely separable identity ever to have emerged. Largely the same scripts well into the 1920s, along with martial arts a thousand years on, would lend themselves well to the shared heroic cults of folk religion that is about as difficult to desolate from the core doctrines as it is just natural to reconcile along Taoist lines.

The French assault in the late 1860s may have fared as a follow-on culturation surge in the aftermath of Portugese proselytism as early as the late 17th century. For the same token, the American bandwaggon stand-by could be treated along similar lines, with political standoff genuinely reminding utter religious zeal, with the rational component largely confined to cynical pragmatism for lack of systemic ideology prior to the 1960s. It was not until then that the early Nobel prize giveaways were administered to people like Samuelson and Solow for having come up with economic models capable of putting basic ideology on wheels not too far off the Marxian system when it comes to rigor and elegance. Although the US and ally economies had long recovered, it was not without building on Keynesian premises that owe themselves to Marx one way or the other. Major wins had to be secured, if the coalition were to be victorious. Add JFKs commie flair, and one immediately realizes in hindsight this trail of things un-American had to be curbed and contained, which set the timing. Nearly any allies coming right up that alley would do, with the flipside being that rivals had to be deterred on any ideological grounds, whether pure or mixed.

What was largely overlooked had to do with basic nationalism that Vietnam had every right to and would not give away unless that was a tongue-in-a-chick strategy. Stripping Vietnam of its complex identity would be quite the opposite of what strife was all about, even though it remains to be seen whether the two competing models, southern versus northern, actually retained that common core or lower bound not subject to bargaining.

The French may have gone even more aggressive early on in spilling over or imposing an exogenous cultural dominant that would seem to be ushering in little profit. Unlike British expansion in India bridging linguistic gaps across a plethora of regions and tribes, French exercises in cruelty across Indochina may have been perceived as but an extension of Catholic inquisition, with both resulting in violent deaths of up to one-third of the Christian populace. It is unclear whether this kind of massacre was ever construed as a kind of sacrificial rite, perhaps dating back to pre-Buddhist practices. In any event, it may have been perceived as a natural cumulative response or indeed a matter of restoring the status quoas long as anything compromising the prior dharma was evil enough to stumble onto an adequate karmic backlash.

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Further Cultural Pillars

The committed Buddhist need not be strongly pro-vegan when faced with blood-shed scenarios. Just like many may hypocritically turn around saying they do not mind eating flesh so long as it has not been for them that life was taken anyway, Buddhist pragmatism or economy could be about staying put or unmoved between outcomes or means inasmuch as the critical outcomes do differ. Of course, this does not imply being indifferent about the Southern versus Northern models as ends or interim goals. Rather, it is about who to cooperate with as means, or ways of suffering maya the least where it cannot just be shunned. One implication is that, the US may never have been perceived as a permanent ally from day one, and nor was the North deemed as deadly foe for good. For the same token, although not all Buddhist are good or practicing ones, even the best of them could easily have condoned some excesses of market democracy much the way it is the case in Japan these days, rather than fully indulging in its perceived boon and perks.

Lasting commitment to folk religion could be akin to common law, which varies across regions and legacies while building on a core of similar principles. Although folk religions might not have traveled well between, say, mainland China and Vietnam, or for that matter between the two chunks of the latter with each region having heroes of its own, still the premises were slow to evolve over hundreds of years. Utter disregard for the local tradition on the part of the outsiders may have been perceived on par with the local infidels or apostates about-face on support for the ongoing leaders, Diem being one. However, this need not have been upheld the other way around, or at any rate on the national leaders part vis-a-vis the outside allies or their stance on their own, supposedly common, enemy.

Among other things, folk religions have cherished the bellicose ideal of past heroes, which may have lent some intransigence to both the combatant parties some of the time, with unprincipled stance being the flipside at other times. Again, in line with securing the status quo or the lasting order, with the historical right being one Western counterpart stemming from the English or Gaul law, the incumbents may have opposed the allies and the direct rivals alike. It should not appear any alien with respect to the Confucian reverence for the high ranks, or inherent revealed merit whether manifest in status or in the ultimate virtue. So long as the Vietnamese allies felt they could find anything of importance in the market-democratic paradigm, they could remain committed ontologically or beyond manipulative rhetoric or pragmatic phenomenology. Other times, they would turn their tables whenever Marxist dialectics might signal better fit with the Tao at the very least.

In light of sustained attempts at chastening cultural and governance nationalism with an anti-Communist cat-o-nine-tails betrays the allies having spoken past each other from the outset in what pertains to ends and means alike. The Japanese imperial pre-1947 pan-Mongolism only added fuel to the fire in the aftermath of sheer atrocities and a meaningless civilian death toll, even though it was not until the US and UK allies followed suit in challenging the Axis that Vietnam could figure its candidate counterparts. On the whole, anachronistic inference may be lame, as it took awhile before the perceived correlation between decolonization and the early socialist spillover could dust-settle following the initial downturn of most mature empires other than the UK and the US. Not least, bearing in mind one other rule of thumb whereby it was by fascist regimes by and large that Communists were being suppressed now and then, it should come as little surprise that further schism accrued following the early interim social governance by Minh that had lasted far longer than the interregnum did.

Getting rid of Bao Dai may have been Diems single biggest defecting blunder that signaled to the US more in the way of opportunism than resolve. While at it, a deadly precedent was established by someone who was supposedly to buy into the democratic premises of never faking on referenda unless an end game is meant as drawing near. Following that choice, major disloyalty little short of unscrupulous cleaning-up could have been expected as coming from either endnortherners or Langley. For that matter, a virtual coup as staged by kith and kin would border on an utterly corrupt design that was prone to about-face reform, be it reunion on the alternate, communist terms or downright retreat to autarkic traditionalism. In any event, an interim model was to last only as far as his officeboth meaning all to short a while. Although most US stooges have been much alike ever sincecorrupt yet ambitious visionaries having a lot to hold back and unlikely ever to get unhookedthat only really pointed to their summary project deadlines and a wrap-up stage nearing amid such like candidacies queueing up. They may have relied on go-go rhetoric as a kind of run-around for the hosts albeit garnering little buy-in domestically following the initial post-coup phase with incumbents and the protestants swapping their plays and charisma no longer passing as vision.

Deviance and defecting on the delinquents may take a variety of forms, guerrilla war being one and the other terminal threat coming from the former third-party supporters having no more faith and flexing their secret muscle at liberty. The only circumstance that fended the latter possibility off was the rivals third-party supporter, namely the Soviet Russia, stepping in committed to leverage the arms stoke-up. The Bay of Pigs gate was one other standoff to signal stakes were high and the parties meant business in a poker-of-lies game that could easily turn an endspiel, had the competing ideologies depleted their creative faculties for real. Since the slack was still big, brinkmanship mapped to more sublime Cold War with many of the quick gains delayed. One remaining question is how come the democratic player overlooked a multiple losing outcome over a short time horizon, which could have signaled systemic weaknesses to the rest of the coalition, in the first place.

As ever, military regimes succeeded the corrupt revolutionaries without quite uprooting the crony design. Just like it is safe to blame the rebels death on fellow rebels delinquency amidst all-out turbulence and discontent, it was largely due to power left up for grabs that the alternate model filled the gap while shaping the modality of transition that could not have been offset or undone via external funding alone.

In other words, it would appear that there was more room for rational political process than for emotive resource mobilization this time around. The US linchpin behind the coalitions was weakening domestically and in the exterior amidst continued failures and lack of multi-stage calculus. It still remained a pivotal player, yet dominance was far harder to sustain than it was in the aftermath of an ally campaign leaving the post-WWII allies just thatlessees and loan takers.

In this light, Diem would have been too costly to keep working with, as no budgets would suffice to undo the cumulative tension and irritant causes that posed more concerns than solutions. Rather than aligning his Catholic prophanes extra stance against the sentiments of a Buddhist majority, Diem indulged in corrupt designs that could count as costly means to map into vaguely defined endsin sharp contrast with the socialist model advocating equality and equity along near-asangha lines. In other words, his death and Northern bias were two natural cognates acting to reinforce and expedite each other. The US strategy was one of cost minimization in a downside setup following the game collapsing to all-bad equilibria early on due to sheer abuse of escalatory short-cuts.

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Afterthoughts on Literary Review

Certainly, the aforementioned was no clear-cut defeat as far as the US was concerned, as it still managed to hijack China out of the Soviet coalition. Compared to that, Vietnam did not weigh in too heavy marginal payoffs for comparable agency to get paid. It is ironic, though, that if anyone, it was Diem that could have secured a buffer between the two semi-allies owing to a mixed identity of his own. As a Roman Catholic, he definitely felt attached to the West, whereas as a Confucian, he could have sensed ways of not having the Vietnamese model run at loggerheads with China over the eventually-mixed development path. As an ambitious would-be bishop, he may have materialized his crave for power by dint of inculcating his ill-defined plans into those minds on the verge of deviance or identity crisis. However, there is no assurance in presuming in retrospect that those opposing communist rule would never have had a bone to pick with the polar model being propelled aggressively. Tapping the Freudist terrain of sublimation with reference to his celibacy would be an altogether different domain that is too overwrought to provide any value added despite the surefire tips.

Somehow, as a province higher-up, he had an early exercise in striking a balance of power and liability. Yet as someone having a good rapport with the French, he could hardly raise the empathy to feel the pain of those opposing the French hegemonylet alone sympathy to promote that cause. Paradoxically, he did insist that more autonomy be granted to Vietnam even though the overlapping agenda as aired by some of the communists may have lent credibility to his denial of both these and Emperor Bao Dai he was able to posit as a French puppet. In a sense, staying distant vis-a-vis all the extremes seemed Buddhist and Confucian enough for him to push it to the extreme of his own when playing it into Americas hand as one umpire between the non-Communist parties or sects. On the other hand, separately negotiating independence with the Japanese in the early 1940s was no saner politically than it would have been for the Slavic states to overlook or downplay Hitlers Strife. On second thought, if his perennial quest after a third force or way that could be equidistant from communism and French colonialism was indiscriminate enough, then the US may not have felt very serious about the ad-hoc partnership, either. For that matter, if he perceived the French sponsored State of Vietnam a fake one, he could be nearly as careless about any interim state designs of his own crafting.

In a sense, his sectarian pursuits could, to many, be stinking of rent seeking, in just how readily a corrupt design fostered conversion to a Catholic clique with an eye on power and resource distribution amidst the vast majority being denied that. A minority government may have exercised the pivotal power yet clearly amid mounting tensionmore so given that non-violent protest was being suppressed by deadly means. It remains to be seen whether most people can abide by rules denying them their right to life or identity while positing an irrelevant third alternative as the alleged raison detre. In other words, the concept of independence he sought for Vietnam was totally pointless and sterile to the majority of practicing Buddhists back then. Chapman finds along similar lines that, with Bao Dai divested on the bulk of his powers, too, amid full support on the US end, the defeat of hybrid sects was a short-lived outcome having a high cost as its flipside.

In a more recent account, however, Chapman has argued that Diem effectively opposed a host of destabilizing forces that could put at risk any sustainable model. Statlers thesis suggests that the US opposed and ejected France as a matter of trivial competition without ever succeeding in nation building for Vietnam. However, it could be of even greater importance to spot traces of resemblance to the recently observed correlation between failed state status and structural uncertainty that dims the expected payoffs while unwinding the delinquency spiral.

Of special interest could come JFKs own thoughts or rhetoric on the subject area immediately preceding his own death. For instance, in his letter to Diem as of 14 December 1961, escalation with French fueled communism, or perhaps around the geopolitical stakes, takes the form of increased support being pledged (Letter ). The hypocrisy of the message shined through the recognition of discontent about any violations of the Geneva Accord to which the US was not party anyway, and which it implicitly mocked by supporting activities that aroused unrest rather than alleviating it in line with the pronouncements. One other primary source unveils JFKs recording which was either taped or tapped. In this last recording JFK accedes that Diem was in fact too independent and opinionated rather than flex, and that public opinion would have gone hard on him anyway.

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The perceived controversy surrounding Diems persona fits just squarely into that embedded in the countrys complex identity as well as the relationships of both with the key stakeholders. Ironically, it is the intransigent nature of both the alternate models that have underpinned their flex nature with respect to means or ad-hoc alliances. Failure to distinguish between religious versus political bargaining power was in a sense reflective of Americas own stance in short-changing between geopolitical stakes versus creed pillars. As windfalls translated into longer-term or latent uncertainty, cooperation with Diem turned too much of a burden that could have compromised a more scale-efficient strategy of aggravating the divide between the Soviet Union and China. Convergence of the latter to a mixed model could be a success story rendering Vietnam a prior battlefield experiment.

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