Page 6, 9th August 1963

9th August 1963
Page 6
Page 6, 9th August 1963 — THE BATTLE FOR VIETNAM

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Locations: Washington, Geneva, London


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Continued from page 1 strations, they are not supported by the "traditional" Buddhists, of whom there are at least 800,000.

The fever is high in Saigon, the capital. and in the ivory tower of Hue. the Buddhists "mecca", where a Greek chorus of journalists rapidly gathers around every major public protest. More suicides and strikes are threatened.

But in a province like Quong Ngai, where the battle against the Communist guerillas of the Viet Cong will be lost or won, the local Buddhists are embarrassed by the orders they receive from their religious H.Q. in Saigon or Hue.

The situation is almost Gilbertian. The Provincial Director, Nguyen Van Tat, is a Catholic, and he is on excellent terms with the local army commander, Colonel LU Lan, who is a Buddhist.

Recent!). when the Buddhists received an order to go on hunger strike,' the local monks looked so shamefaced that the Catholic governor tdered to supply medical aid, water and blankets to facilitate the procedure, and in the end presided personally over the starvation session in the town hall.

The story was pieced together by Major John Kelly of the American Military Advisory Group.


The fact remains. however. that the austere family of the president very nearly is the government. One brother is his closest adviser, another is Ambassador in London. and a thi,rd is a powerful archbishop.

His sister-in-law. Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. has secured the outlawing of polygamy, prostitution, contraception, and even dancing. Her father is ambassador in Washington.

There are Buddhists in the administration, but not in the key security posts. Many provincial chiefs are Catholics. Buddhists allege that their religious practice is hampered and that they do not get the sort of government aid that goes to Catholic schools and institutions.

Some of this is fair enough, though not all, A quarter or the Buddhist pagodas in Vetnam have been built since the Diem govern

ment came to power. Another quarter have been restored.

Diem has granted £45,000 of government money for the purpose, and personally donated £3,000 to the construction of the Xa Loi pagoda in Saigon. Ironically, the body of the first priest who committed ritual suicide was taken there.

There has been no suppression of religious observance, private or public. Nor is there any evidence of restriction on Buddhists in professional. university and commercial life.

On the other hand, six of the 80 accused recently before a military tribunal were Catholics. Fr. i.e Van Phiem, an opponent of the President, is serving a three-year sentence. Catholic foreign missionaries are only given residence permits for a year, and they are taxed.

half the Catholic seminarians are bound to military service for an indefinite period. Buddhist monks are deferred.

One of the reasons for the rigidity of the Diem government. and its emphasis on "personalist" government, is that the country has suffered from traditional corruption on an appalling scale. He feels there are few people he can wholly trust, and probably feels that C.atholics are more likely to be loyal to him personally.

His form of government is right of centre politically and left of centre economically. Buddhists have played their part in the antiCommunist campaign, but Diem is said to believe that they are less wholehearted than Christians about this.

His record

Ngo Dinh Diem's family was converted to Catholicism three centuries ago. He is himself an ascetic, living under a perpetual vow of chastity, who forsook politics many years ago to live in a European monastery.

After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in l54. the Geneva conference split the country, giving the industrial north to the Communist Viet Minh. whereupon a million refuges poured down to the impoverished south.

To save South Vietnam from chaos. Ngo Dinh Diem, the little man with the umbrella, returned with all his possessions in a single suitcase to take over the reins of government. With the help of a dynamic bishop, the refugees were housed and integrated. New industries evert started. American aid moved in.

The warring sects, like the Has Han and the Binh Xuyen, who ran their own armies, casinos, brothels and bin business, were smashed. Then the Communists switched their efforts to subversive guerilla tactics by small groups working from the inside.

Diem built a network of fortified villages to protect the rural populations and their crops. In many cases priests led the anti-terrorist resistance. The Americans sent in experts to train the people in antiguerilla tactics. There are 11.000 uniformed U.S. troops on Vietnamese soil. Viet Gong forces are estimated at about 22,000.

But for all his achievements, Diem's rigidity has made him very unpopular, and relations with the Americans have recently been increasingly strained because of it. Police measures against the Buddhist demonstrators have been

extremely severe, and many Catholics here have deplored them.

The two-week truce two months ago between the government and the Buddhists. when 268 of the arrested demonstrators were released, was bound to break down.

It had been signed largely under U.S. pressure on Diem. after nine demonstrators had been killed. many of them removed in cartloads, and a 70-year-old Buddhist priest, Thuch Quang Due, solemnly killed himself in public.

The Buddhists eventually conceded that the nine deaths were the work of Communists. but demanded an end to terrorist police methods, and a removal of alleged restrictions on religious practice.

The U.S.

An ill-timed government prohibition on the flying of the Buddhist flag was the immediate cause or the flare-up, but the restriction applied equally to the papal flag. Allegations of intimidation were based on incidents in the provinces. Only three out of 40 provinces were cited. Buddhists also complain that their associations are not given proper status. This is due. however, to a law made in 1950. some years before Diem took office, and an official commission for amending it has been set up.

Some observers here consider that there is no strong surge of popular support for the Buddhist campaign. and point to the 50,000 strong demonstration in Colombo. capital of Ceylon. as evidence of a flat-out anti-Catholic campaign in the Far East, In Colomb6, the small Catholic minority were accused of trying to destroy the Buddhist religion and culture.

The aim of the Vietnamese Buddhists would seem to be to put pressure on the Americans, who are facing elections next year. The U.S. government may he afraid of accusations that they are supporting religious persecutors. Non-Catholic clergy in the U.S. have already signed a protest against aid to Vietnam.

(Editorial, page 4.)

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