The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Prof. Miller Gives Talk on Ngo Dinh Diem and the Vietnam War

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Addressing a mixed audience of both students and community members, Associate Professor of History Edward Miller invited his audience to reconsider a frequently under-addressed chapter of America's history. 

In a talk entitled "Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Roots of America's Intervention in the Vietnam War", Professor Miller challenged conventional views that the final actions of Diem and his brother were driven by desperation. On the contrary, according to Miller, Diem went to his grave with the firm belief that "he was the smartest guy in the room." Diem and his brother firmly believed that they were winning the war, their Strategic Hamlet Program was succeeding in winning over the populace, and that government loyalists also in the military would swiftly crush any coup against the Diem regime. It was this final assumption, accompanied by Diem's refusal to flee the capital and his subsequent belief that he would be safe in military custody, which cost Diem his life.

As he recounted Diem's stumbles, Professor Miller encouraged his audience to see "Kennedy and Diem's fates [as] intertwined", noting, "they both considered the relationship between the U.S. and South Vietnam to be important. They both took steps to improve it. They liked each other a lot." Ultimately, in spite of these shared interests, the Buddhist crisis led Kennedy to support a policy of regime change in South Vietnam, triggering the coup that toppled Diem. Unfortunately, rather than stabilizing the situation in Vietnam, this coup served to further the conditions that led to direct U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. As with its existence, the ending of America's misalliance with Diem was characterized by missteps. 

--Written by Jonathan Lu ’16, MLDP Participant Fall 2013

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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences