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In this Vietnamese name, the family name is Tôn, but is often simplified to Ton in English-language text. According to Vietnamese custom, this person should properly be referred to by the given name Đính.
Tôn Thất Đính
Place of birth Annam, Vietnam, French Indochina
Allegiance Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Cần Lao Party
Years of service 1950s–1966
Rank Major General
Commands held Commander of II Corps (August 1958 – December 1962), III Corps (December 1962 – January 1964), I Corps (April 1966)
Battles/wars 1963 South Vietnamese coup
Other work Interior Minister (November 1963 – January 1964), Senator (1967–1975)

Major General Tôn Thất Đính (born 1926) is a retired officer who served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). He is best known as one of the key figures in the November 1963 coup that deposed and resulted in the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

A favourite of the ruling Ngo family, Dinh received rapid promotions ahead of officers who were regarded as being more capable.[1] He converted to Roman Catholicism to curry favour with Diem,[2] and headed the military wing of the Can Lao Party, a secret Catholic organisation that maintained the Ngos' grip on power.[1][3] At the age of 32, Dinh became the youngest ever ARVN general and the commander of the II Corps, but he was regarded as a dangerous, egotistical and impetuous figure with a weakness for alcohol and partying.[1][1][2][4][5][6][7][8]

In 1962, Dinh was appointed commander of the III Corps, which oversaw the region surrounding the capital Saigon. He was given the post because Diem regarded him as one of his most loyal officers. This position meant that Dinh would be a critical factor in the success or failure of any coup. In late 1963, with Diem becoming increasingly unpopular, Dinh's colleagues recruited him into a coup by playing on his ego. They convinced him to ask Diem for a cabinet post, knowing that the president was adamantly opposed to military officers serving as ministers and would chastise him. Diem promptly rebuffed Dinh, who became upset and was lured into the plot. Diem and his brother and chief advisor Ngo Dinh Nhu were aware of a coup plot, but did not know of Dinh's involvement. Nhu planned a fake coup of his own in an attempt to trap his opponents and generate positive publicity for his family's regime. He put Dinh in charge of the fake coup, and the general promptly redeployed loyal units outside Saigon and rebel forces near the capital. On November 1, the rebels' actual coup proceeded, and the Ngo brothers were deposed and executed.

After the coup, Dinh became one of the 12 members of the Military Revolutionary Council (MRC), serving as the Interior Minister. However, the MRC lasted only three months before being ousted in a bloodless coup by General Nguyen Khanh. Dinh and his colleagues were put under house arrest by Khanh and falsely accused of promoting a neutralist plot. The subsequent military trial collapsed. The generals were convicted of "lax morality" but were eventually allowed to resume their military service, albeit in meaningless desk jobs. Following Khanh's exile by another group of generals, Dinh was appointed to command the I Corps in 1966 in order to put down the Buddhist Uprising, but Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky disapproved of his reconciliatory policies. Ky launched a successful surprise attack against Dinh. Dinh fled, but was later captured and briefly imprisoned by Ky. After being released, Dinh worked in the media sector and was elected to the Senate in 1967. He served in the upper house until the fall of Saigon in April 1975, when he fled the communist victory.


Early years

A portrait of a middle-aged man, looking to the left in a half-portrait/profile. He has chubby cheeks, parts his hair to the side and wears a suit and tie.
Ngo Dinh Diem

A native of central Vietnam, Dinh enlisted in the Vietnamese National Army (VNA) of the French-backed State of Vietnam at Phu Bai in 1949 and trained as a paratrooper in France.[9] He became a protege of Ngo Dinh Can, the younger brother of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.[10] Can, who unofficially controlled the region of central Vietnam near Huế, was impressed by what he considered to be an abundance of courage on the part of Dinh.[6] Within six years of enlisting in the military, Dinh had risen to the rank of colonel and was made the inaugural commander of the newly formed 32nd Division based in Da Nang in the centre of the country on January 1, 1955. Dinh led the unit until November 1956, during which time it was renamed the 2nd Division.[11]

Diem deposed head of state Bao Dai in a fraudulent referendum in 1955 and proclaimed himself president of the newly created Republic of Vietnam (commonly known as South Vietnam).[10] The VNA thus became the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Born into a nominally Buddhist family, Dinh had converted to Catholicism in the hope of advancing his career. The change of religion was widely perceived to be a factor in his rapid promotion above more capable officers. A devout member of the Catholic minority, Diem dedicated the country to the Virgin Mary and gave more legal rights to Catholics.[1][12] Dinh proudly described himself as "fearless and arrogant" and Diem's adopted son[3]—the president was a lifelong bachelor.[13] In August 1957, Dinh was appointed the commander of the 1st Division based in Huế, the old imperial capital and Can's base. Dinh served there for a year, until he became a one-star general and received a wider-reaching command in August 1958,[6][11] making him the youngest ever ARVN general.[14] Dinh's favour among the Ngos saw him appointed in 1958 to head the military wing of the Can Lao Party, the secret organisation of Vietnamese Catholics loyal to the Ngos that maintained family's grip on power.[1][3]

Despite the high regard that the Ngos accorded him, Dinh had a poor reputation among his colleagues. Regarded by his peers as ambitious, vain and impulsive,[1][6] Dinh was known mainly for his drunken presence in Saigon's nightclubs,[2] and the Central Intelligence Agency labelled him a "basic opportunist".[7] He was known for always wearing a paratrooper's uniform with a red beret at a steep angle, and being accompanied by a tall, uncommunicative Cambodian bodyguard.[1][15] Senior Australian Army officer Ted Serong, who worked with Dinh, called him "a young punk with a gun—and dangerous".[8]

Xa Loi Pagoda raids

In August 1958, Dinh was made the commander of the II Corps, which oversaw the central highlands region mainly inhabited by indigenous tribes. He was based in the mountainous town of Pleiku and oversaw the surrounding region and the lowlands to the north of the capital of Saigon.[16] This put him in control of the 5th, 22nd and 23rd Divisions, one third of the divisions in the country.[11] At the time, the CIA had been training Montagnard tribesmen under the Village Defense Program (later to become the Civilian Irregular Defense Group) with the stated intention of resisting communist infiltration, but Dinh regarded it was an attempt to divide and conquer and undermine him. He estimated that 18,000 tribesmen had been armed,[16][17] and said to Ngo Dinh Nhu—one of Diem's younger brothers and his chief adviser—that "the Americans have put an army at my back".[16][17] CIA agent Lucien Conein admitted years afterwards that Dinh's claim was correct;[16] Nhu and Diem had no previous idea of what the Americans had been doing.[18] Dinh also wrote to Diem complaining that his units were being weakened by the policy of promoting officers for political reasons,[19] despite being a beneficiary of the non-merit-based policy.[1]

The reorganisation of the corps boundaries in December 1962 created a fourth region. The entire region surrounding the capital Saigon came under the purview of the III Corps, whereas the previous arrangement saw two corps controlling the regions to the north and south of the capital.[8] As a key supporter of Diem, Dinh was named commander of the III Corps, because the Ngos trusted him to defend them in the face of any coup attempts.[8] Under the III Corps were the 5th and the 25th Divisions.[11] In August 1963, Nhu, who controlled the special forces and secret police, allowed Dinh to have a hand in planning raids against Buddhist dissidents who had been organising at the Xa Loi Pagoda,[1] Saigon's largest.[20] The raids involved the deployment of the 5th Division, based in the town of Bien Hoa on Saigon's northern outskirts, into the capital.[21] Although the execution of the raids—which left hundreds dead—was primarily the responsibility of Colonel Le Quang Tung, the special forces head,[22] Dinh privately claimed responsibility,[23] stating to a journalist, "I have defeated Henry Cabot Lodge [the US ambassador to South Vietnam]. He came here to stage a coup d'etat, but I, Ton That Dinh, have conquered him and saved the country."[23] In the aftermath of the raids, Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau resigned in protest, shaved his head like a monk and sought to leave on a pilgrimage to India; Nhu ordered Dinh to jail him. At the urging of another general, Dinh put Mau under house arrest instead.[24]

During this period, Dinh told a dinner guest that he had the pleasure of dining with a great national hero. When the guest asked Dinh where the hero was, Dinh said "it is me" and claimed to have defeated the Americans.[1] Dinh's ego had been played upon by the Ngo brothers, who had themselves reiterated this point and paid him a large cash bonus after the pagoda raids.[1][4] In the heady times after the attacks, Dinh had a "somewhat incoherent" debate with his American advisor, claiming that "he was without doubt the greatest general officer in the ARVN, the saviour of Saigon ... and soon he would be the top military man in the country".[5]

In a press conference after the raids, Dinh claimed to have saved South Vietnam from Buddhists, communists and "foreign adventurers", a euphemism for the United States.[1][6] After being questioned sharply, Dinh quickly became angry. Ray Herndon of United Press International asked him to name the country that he was referring to, but Dinh dodged the question. Herndon lampooned him by saying that a national hero should be able to identify the national enemy,[1] and asked him to call Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, the First Lady known for her anti-American comments, to get help in identifying the hostile country in question. After several reporters derisively laughed at his comments, Dinh angrily stormed out of the conference.[7][25][26]

Defection and coup

Embarrassed by the events at the press conference,[26] Dinh returned to the officers' mess at the Joint General Staff headquarters.[26] His colleagues, led by General Tran Van Don, were plotting a coup against Diem because of the Buddhist crisis, and attempted to play on Dinh's ego to convince him to join them.[6] They knew that without Dinh's assistance, a coup would be difficult as his forces dominated the region surrounding the capital.[1]

In a series of meetings, the other generals assured Dinh that he was a national hero worthy of political authority, and claimed that Nhu had not realised how important he was in the future of the country. Dinh's colleagues even bribed his soothsayer to predict his elevation to political power.[6][27] The other generals told him that the people were dissatisfied with Diem's cabinet and that Vietnam needed dynamic young officers in politics, and that their presence would reverse the declining morale in the ARVN.[27] They advised Dinh to ask Diem to promote him to Interior Minister, Duong Van Minh to Defence Minister, and Tran Van Minh to Education Minister. The other generals hoped that Diem would reject Dinh and wound his pride.[26]

As a result, Dinh and his fellow generals met Diem at the palace, where Dinh asked the president to promote him to the post of Interior Minister. Diem bluntly chastised Dinh in front of his colleagues, and ordered him out of Saigon to the central highlands resort town of Da Lat to rest.[6][25][26] Dinh felt humiliated and embarrassed, having promised his colleagues that he would be successful. The Ngo brothers had been alarmed by Dinh's request, and put him under surveillance. Dinh found out, further straining his relationship with the palace.[27] Dinh then agreed to join the coup, although with his ambitious nature, the other officers were skeptical and planned to have him assassinated if he tried to switch sides.[28] Without Dinh's troops, the coup would not have been possible.[29]

With Dinh and the Ngo family's increasing focus on the political usage of the army, the military situation in the III Corps deteriorated badly in the second half of 1963, as personnel were redeployed into the cities. In August, he moved a unit away from Ben Tuong, which had been portrayed as a model settlement in the Strategic Hamlet Program that was supposed to isolate peasants into fortified villages to keep the Vietcong out. While the unit was in Saigon cracking down on the Buddhists, the communists overran Ben Tuong.[5] A year earlier, the American media contingent had been invited to the opening ceremony of the settlement, which was supposed to be the flagship of the hamlet program.[30] As Dinh spent most of October in the capital plotting instead of inspecting the countryside, the communists began to systematically dismantle the strategic hamlets.[5]

Tall Caucasian man standing in profile at left in a white suit and tie shakes hands with a smaller black-haired Asian man in a white shirt, dark suit and tie.
Ngo Dinh Nhu (right) meeting Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice President of the United States.

Plotting a false coup

By mid-October, Diem and Nhu knew of the coup plans, but did not know that Dinh was firmly among them, even though they were wary of him.[28] Nhu then decided to outwit the generals with a counter-plot. The generals heard of this and decided to counteract him.[31] The other generals were still suspicious of Dinh, fearing he would betray them. Having found out that Nhu was trying to use him to trap them, and not sure which side he was really on, they promised to make him Interior Minister and offered other rewards if he helped to overthrow the Ngos.[32]

As part of the generals' plot, Dinh sent Colonel Nguyen Huu Co, his deputy corps commander, to My Tho to talk to the 7th Division commander, Colonel Bui Dinh Dam, and two regimental commanders, the armoured unit commander, both subordinate to Dam, and the My Tho province chief.[25] Exhorting them to join the coup, he stated that all the generals were in the plot except the strongly loyalist Huynh Van Cao, and that Dinh would soon join.[25] According to one account, Dinh had intended that loyalists would report Co's activities to Diem and Nhu so that it would give him an opportunity to orchestrate a stunt to ingratiate himself with the palace.[32]

Nhu's agents soon reported Co’s activities to the palace. When the Ngo brothers confronted Dinh with what had happened in My Tho, Dinh feigned astonishment at his deputy's behaviour. He began crying[25] and said "This is my fault, because you have suspected me. I have not really gone to work for the last 15 days but have stayed at home because I was sad. But I am not against you. I was sad because I thought I was discredited with you. So Nguyen Huu Co profited from my absence to make trouble."[25] Dinh claimed to know nothing of Co's activities and raised his voice, vowing to have his deputy killed.[25][33] Nhu opposed this and stated that he wanted keep Co alive to catch the plotters, and tried to use Dinh to this end.[25]

Nhu ordered Dinh and Tung, both of whom took their orders directly from the palace instead of the ARVN command,[34] to plan a fake coup against the government. One objective was to trick dissidents into joining the false uprising so that they could be identified and eliminated.[35] Another aim of the public relations stunt was to give a false impression of the strength of the regime.[28]

Codenamed Operation Bravo, the first stage of the scheme would involve some of Dinh and Tung's loyalist soldiers, disguised as insurgents led by apparently renegade junior officers, faking a coup and vandalising the capital.[36] Tung would then announce the formation of a "revolutionary government" consisting of opposition activists who had not consented to joining the new administration, while Diem and Nhu would pretend to be on the run.[14][36][37]

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 Minh, Don, Le Van Kim and junior officers that were helping them. The loyalists and some of Nhu's underworld connections would also kill some figures who were assisting the conspirators, such as the titular but relatively powerless Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho, CIA agent Lucien Conein, who was on assignment in Vietnam as a military adviser, and Ambassador Lodge.[38] These would then be blamed on "neutralist and pro-communist elements".[38] A fake "counter-coup" was to follow, whereupon Tung's special forces, having left Saigon on the pretext of fighting communists, as well as Dinh's regulars, would triumphantly re-enter Saigon to reaffirm the Diem regime. Nhu would then exploit the scare to round up dissidents.[14][36][37]

Dinh was put in charge of the fake coup and was allowed the additional control of the 7th Division based in My Tho, which was previously assigned to Diem loyalist Cao, who commanded the IV Corps in the Mekong Delta. The reassignment of the 7th Division gave Dinh and his III Corps complete encirclement of Saigon, and would prevent Cao from storming the capital to save Diem as he had done during the 1960 coup attempt.[6][14][25][29]

Nhu and Tung, however, were unaware that Dinh was part of the real coup plot. Dinh told Tung that the fake coup needed to employ an overwhelming amount of force. He said that tanks were required "because armour is dangerous". In an attempt to outwit Tung, Dinh said that fresh troops were needed,[32] opining, "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."[32]

The loyalists were unaware that Dinh's real intention was to engulf Saigon with his rebel divisions and lock Tung's men in the countryside where they could not defend the president.[37] Tung and the palace agreed to send all four Saigon-based special forces companies out of the capital on October 29.[32]

Not trusting Co, Diem put the Catholic loyalist Colonel Lam Van Phat in command of the 7th Division on October 31.[25] According to tradition, Phat had to pay the corps commander a courtesy visit before assuming control. Dinh refused to see Phat and told him to come back on Friday at 14:00, by which time the coup had already been scheduled to start. In the meantime, Dinh had Don sign a counter-order transferring command of the 7th Division to Co. The next day Co took the division’s incumbent officers prisoner and used the unit to block loyalists from storming the capital from the south.[25]

Diem's downfall

Middle-aged black-haired man lies face half-down on the floor, covered on his face and dark suit and trousers with blood. His hands are behind his back.
The dead body of Diem in the back of an armoured personnel carrier

On November 1, 1963, the coup went ahead, with Cao's troops isolated in the far south, and Tung's forces outside Saigon, unable to rescue Diem from the rebel encirclement.[6] Tung was called to the Joint General Staff (JGS) headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base under the pretense of a routine meeting, and was seized and executed. Attempts by Diem and Nhu to make contact with Dinh were blocked by other generals, who claimed that Dinh was elsewhere. This led the Ngo brothers to think that Dinh had been captured, still unaware that he had rebelled. The following morning, Dinh was allowed to have the final word with Diem before the brothers were arrested, allowing him to prove his loyalty to the rebel cause. Dinh subsequently shouted obscenities at the Ngo brothers.[25] Dinh alleged that Nhu's contacts with the communists and threats to make a peace deal with North Vietnam had motivated the coup.[39] When Diem and Nhu were killed by the arresting officers against the orders of the generals, Dinh claimed that he "couldn't sleep that night".[40]

Dinh boasted to the media that he and his troops were responsible for the successful seizure of the broadcasting studios, the police headquarters, Tan Son Nhut, and the release of hundreds of political prisoners such as monks and students.[41] He also claimed that he led the successful siege on Gia Long Palace, although the 5th Division of Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu had actually carried it out.[41][42][43]

Dinh saved the life of Colonel Cao Van Vien, the commander of the Airborne Brigade, who was a Diem loyalist. Vien's fate had been discussed during the planning phase.[44] Dinh, who played mahjong with Vien's wife, convinced Minh to spare the paratroop commander, saying that Vien would not oppose the coup.[44] At the JGS meeting, Vien, who had not known of the plot, removed his insignia and resigned, and was arrested for refusing to join the coup.[45] Vien was allowed to return to his command a month later, and later became the chief of JGS for eight years.[46]


Following the coup, a Military Revolutionary Council (MRC) was formed, comprising 12 generals including Dinh, each of whom had equal voting power. They appointed a cabinet mainly consisting of civilians led by Prime Minister Nguyen Ngoc Tho, who had been the titular Vice President under Diem.[47] Dinh was initially made Interior Minister, although Tho was said to have been personally opposed to the appointment.[48] Eventually Minh, the head of the military junta, struck a compromise whereby Dinh was made Security Minister and Administrative Affairs, which partially covered the Interior Ministry.[48] He was the 2nd Deputy Chairman of the MRC behing Minh and Don.[49]

However, tension persisted as Tho's civilian government was plagued by infighting. According to Tho's assistant Nguyen Ngoc Huy, the presence of Don and Dinh in both the civilian cabinet and the MRC paralysed the governance process. Dinh and Don were subordinate to Tho in the civilian government, but as members of the MRC they were superior to him. When Tho gave a cabinet order with which the generals disagreed, they went into the MRC and give a counter-order.[50] Dinh and the new national police chief General Mai Huu Xuan were accused of arresting people en masse, before releasing them in return for bribes and pledges of loyalty.[51] The junta performed indecisively and was heavily criticised, especially Minh, who was viewed as being too apathetic towards his country's situation. During the MRC's tenure, South Vietnam suffered more and more losses against the Vietcong.[52][53][54]


Dinh was reported to have celebrated his new positions by making conspicuous appearances at Saigon nightclubs and dancing, having lifted Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu's bans on such activities. He reportedly kissed the bar dancers and ordered champagne for all present. Dinh's brash behavior continued to cause public relations problems for the junta. In an interview with the Washington Post and The New York Times, he claimed that he took a leading role in the coup because "we would have lost the war under Diem" and saying that he participated "not for personal ambition, but for the population, the people and to get rid of Nhu".[48] He claimed to be the "specialist" who "gave the orders in only thirty minutes", keeping the plans "all in his head".[48] In an exclusive interview with Herndon, he said "You are the one who started it all, who drove me into making the coup. You are the hero of the revolution."[26] This was a reference to Herndon's sarcastic reference to Dinh as a "great national hero" after the general took credit for the pagoda raids.[26] He also courted controversy with anti-American remarks, stating "On August 21, I was governor of Saigon and loyal to Diem; on November 1, I was governor of Saigon and fighting Diem; maybe in the future I'll be governor of Saigon and fighting against the Americans."[48]

Dinh and the leading generals in the MRC also had a secret plan to end the communist insurgency, which called itself the National Liberation Front (NLF) and claimed to be independent of the government of North Vietnam. They claimed that most of them were first and foremost southern nationalists opposed to foreign military intervention and US involvement and support of Diem. The generals agreed with this viewpoint and thought that an agreement to end the war within South Vietnam was possible.[55] The government also rebuffed American proposals to bomb North Vietnam on the grounds that such actions would cede the moral high ground, which they claimed on the basis of fighting in a purely defensive manner. However, the plans to bring the NLF into the mainstream were never implemented to any degree before the government was deposed.[56]

During his time on the MRC, Dinh persistently raised eyebrows with his volatile behaviour, and the Americans and his colleagues found him difficult to control. General Paul Harkins, the head of the US military presence in Vietnam, advised Dinh to relinquish his control of the III Corps on the grounds that he was already serving as the Interior Minister and that a corps needed a full-time leader, but Dinh refused. As the III Corps surrounded the capital, the most economically productive region in South Vietnam, it also had the most scope for corruption and graft.[57] Dinh told US Embassy officials that he was preparing to "accommodate himself to a neutralist solution for Vietnam".[58] This perturbed the Americans and was interpreted as a threat to not cooperate with the anti-communist struggle if his power was wound back.[58] US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara criticised the arrangement,[59] and in early January 1964, Dinh was relieved by General Tran Thien Khiem. Khiem had been the head of the armed forces until being demoted after the coup against Diem, and he set about overthrowing the MRC.[60]

Deposed by Nguyen Khanh

Dinh's political stay was brief, as General Nguyen Khanh—who was disgruntled at not receiving a high position after Diem's removal—deposed the MRC with the support of Khiem on January 30, 1964, without firing a shot. Khanh used the coup to exact retribution against Generals Don, Dinh, Xuan and Le Van Kim. Khanh had them arrested, claiming that they were part of a neutralist plot with the French government of President Charles de Gaulle to make a peace deal with North Vietnam that would not end communism. Khanh noted that they had all served in the French-backed VNA prior to 1955, although he did as well.[61][62] He also accused the four generals of discussing such a plan with some visiting politicians from de Gaulle’s party during a dinner, although Dinh and his accused colleagues denied that the meeting was anything more than social.[63] The generals were flown to My Khe beach, near Da Nang.[61][62]

Khanh presided over their trial of Dinh and his colleagues on May 28, 1964.[64][65] The generals were interrogated for five and a half hours, mostly about details of their coup against Diem, rather than the original charge of promoting neutralism. As all of the officers were involved in Diem's overthrow, the hearings did not reveal any new information. The court deliberated for over nine hours, and when it reconvened for the verdict, Khanh stated, "We ask that once you begin to serve again in the army, you do not take revenge on anybody".[62] The tribunal then "congratulated" the generals, but found that they were of "lax morality" and unqualified to command due to a "lack of a clear political concept".[62] They were chastised for being "inadequately aware of their heavy responsibility" and of letting "their subordinates take advantage of their positions".[64] Dinh's quartet were allowed to remain in Da Lat under surveillance.[62][64]

The four generals were barred from commanding troops and offices were prepared so they could participate in "research and planning".[62] Worried that the idle group would plot against him, Khanh made some preliminary arrangements to send them to the US for military study, but this fell through.[64][66] When Khanh was himself deposed in 1965, he handed over dossiers proving that Dinh and the other generals were innocent and that his charges were dishonest, before going into exile.[67] Robert Shaplen said that "the case ... continued to be one of Khanh's biggest embarrassments".[64]

During the period of house arrest, Khanh briefly released Dinh and Kim when the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races, known by its French acronym of FULRO, launched an uprising in the central highlands calling for autonomy for indigenous people. Dinh and Kim were sent to Ban Me Thuot in an attempt to end the standoff in September 1964, but after negotiations stalled, they conferred with Khanh and decided to order ARVN troops to crush the rebellion, which was done successfully.[68]

1966 Buddhist protests and senate career

Middle-aged man with side-parted black hair and moustache, in a black suit, white shirt and brown tie. To the left is a clean-shaven Asian man with black hair and a green military cap.
Prime Minister and Air Force chief Nguyen Cao Ky, who jailed Dinh.

With the rise to power of Nguyen Cao Ky—head of the Vietnam Air Force—following Khanh's departure, Dinh returned to a command role in the army. In April 1966, he was appointed to lead the I Corps, based in central Vietnam. Dinh was the third commander of the corps within five weeks. This upheaval came about after the dismissal of General Nguyen Chanh Thi due to his sympathies towards Buddhist activists and because Ky viewed him as a personal threat. In response, Buddhist protesters brought the region to a standstill with anti-American and anti-war demonstrations, some of which descended into rioting. The protests were supported by groups of rebel I Corps soldiers and the mayor of Da Nang, Nguyen Van Man, who had been appointed by Thi. These anti-Ky groups formed a coalition known as the Struggle Movement.[69] Thi’s replacement, General Nguyen Van Chuan, refused to confront the dissidents or shut them down. He was content to let them protest as long as there was no insurrection.[70]

Prime Minister Ky disapproved of Chuan’s approach and replaced Chuan with Dinh. Prime Minister Ky felt that Dinh's aggressive attitude following the Xa Loi Pagoda raids in 1963 indicated a willingness to suppress Buddhist dissidents. Moreover, Dinh was a native of central Vietnam and would have been popular with those who thought along parochial lines.[71] Dinh arrived in Huế on April 15 and, after a week, announced that he had restored Saigon's authority over the region. He proclaimed that he had regained control of the radio stations in Da Nang and Huế from the dissidents, and that he had convinced the mayor of Da Nang to stay loyal to Saigon. Dinh announced a deal whereby the Buddhists would have regular air time in return for relinquishing control of the radio station. This move was interpreted in different ways. Some felt that Dinh was attempting to gain favour with the Buddhists in anticipation of Ky's fall from power, while Frances FitzGerald felt it was the only sensible government action during the crisis.[71] On April 19, clashes erupted in Quang Ngai between the Buddhists and the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD, Vietnamese Nationalist Party), who supported the continuation of the anti-communist war, prompting Dinh to forcibly restrain the two groups.[72]

Soon after, Ky made a surprise attack to assert government control over central Vietnam. He flew out to Da Nang with his own units,[73] without consulting the Americans or officials in I Corps.[74] At this time, Dinh was pursuing a policy of reconciliation and negotiation with the dissident I Corps units, and making contact with the Struggle Movement.[75] Ky decided to attack Da Nang and sent his forces to overrun Dinh's headquarters, forcing the latter to abandon his post and flee to the headquarters of US General Lewis Walt. Fearing that Ky’s forces would kill him, Dinh asked Walt for help and was flown to Huế, where the pro-Thi and pro-Buddhist elements were still in control. Dinh was then formally replaced by General Huynh Van Cao.[76] Walt’s assistance to Dinh provoked a reaction from General William Westmoreland, the commander of US forces in Vietnam. Walt and Westmoreland were often in conflict, and the latter responded to his subordinate’s evacuation of Dinh by imploring Ky to attack Huế.[73]

Ky's surprise attack led to conflict between the ARVN rebels and loyalists, with the American ground forces caught in the middle, effectively creating a civil war within a civil war.[73] Ky eventually quelled the rebellion and briefly jailed Dinh, who claimed that he was incarcerated because he refused to back up Ky’s account of the conflict with the Buddhists, which he regarded as false.[77]

Dinh left the army and won election to the newly created Senate in 1967, serving there until the fall of Saigon in 1975, when he fled to the United States.[14] In February 1968, while serving in the Senate, Dinh started a newspaper called the Cong Luan.[78] He also served as the head of the Vietnamese Publishers Association.[79] In 1998, Dinh claimed that he felt remorse for the deposal and execution of the Ngo brothers, and claimed that he was opposed to their policy of religious discrimination against Buddhists, which had fomented national disunity and the eventual communist victory.[80]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Halberstam, p. 181.
  2. ^ a b c Jacobs, p. 169.
  3. ^ a b c Wright, p. 40.
  4. ^ a b Sheehan, pp. 356–357.
  5. ^ a b c d Catton, p. 203.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Karnow, pp. 307–322.
  7. ^ a b c Prochnau, pp. 442–443.
  8. ^ a b c d Blair (2001), p. 56.
  9. ^ Sheehan, p. 356.
  10. ^ a b Jacobs, pp. 86–89.
  11. ^ a b c d Tucker, pp. 526–533.
  12. ^ Jacobs, pp. 88–95.
  13. ^ Jacobs, p. 19.
  14. ^ a b c d e Tucker, pp. 288–289.
  15. ^ Jones, p. 397.
  16. ^ a b c d Hickey, pp. 100–101.
  17. ^ a b Blair (2001), p. 62.
  18. ^ Catton, p. 155.
  19. ^ Toczek, p. 45.
  20. ^ Karnow, p. 301.
  21. ^ Blair (2001), p. 59.
  22. ^ Halberstam, p. 145.
  23. ^ a b Halberstam, p. 147.
  24. ^ Sheehan, p. 357.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Halberstam, David (1963-11-06). "Coup in Saigon: A Detailed Account". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-29.  
  26. ^ a b c d e f g Halberstam, p. 182.
  27. ^ a b c Halberstam, pp. 182–183.
  28. ^ a b c Karnow, p. 318.
  29. ^ a b Hatcher, pp. 145–146.
  30. ^ Catton, pp. 173–175.
  31. ^ Jones, p. 398.
  32. ^ a b c d e Jones, p. 399.
  33. ^ Moyar, p. 265.
  34. ^ Karnow, p. 317.
  35. ^ Jones, pp. 398–399.
  36. ^ a b c Hatcher, p. 149.
  37. ^ a b c Karnow, p. 319.
  38. ^ a b Sheehan, p. 368.
  39. ^ Jones, p. 421.
  40. ^ Jones, p. 429.
  41. ^ a b Wright, p. 41.
  42. ^ Jones, pp. 412–415.
  43. ^ Hammer, p. 299.
  44. ^ a b Hung, p. 79.
  45. ^ Moyar, p. 267.
  46. ^ Tucker, p. 62.
  47. ^ Jones, pp. 99–100.
  48. ^ a b c d e Jones, pp. 437–438.
  49. ^ Kahin, p. 648.
  50. ^ Jones, p. 437.
  51. ^ Shaplen, p. 221.
  52. ^ Blair (1995), p. 91.
  53. ^ Shaplen, pp. 220–224.
  54. ^ Karnow, p. 340.
  55. ^ Kahin, pp. 648–650.
  56. ^ Kahin, p. 653.
  57. ^ Blair (1995), p. 90.
  58. ^ a b Blair (1995), p. 105.
  59. ^ Blair (1995), p. 101.
  60. ^ Blair (1995), p. 108.
  61. ^ a b Karnow, pp. 350–351.
  62. ^ a b c d e f Langguth, pp. 289–291.
  63. ^ Kahin, p. 666.
  64. ^ a b c d e Shaplen, pp. 244–245.
  65. ^ Blair (1995), p. 115.
  66. ^ Karnow, p. 355.
  67. ^ Langguth, p. 347.
  68. ^ Hickey, pp. 154–160.
  69. ^ Topmiller, pp. 39–43.
  70. ^ Topmiller, pp. 35–39.
  71. ^ a b Topmiller, pp. 57–58.
  72. ^ Topmiller, p. 63.
  73. ^ a b c Topmiller, pp. 82–89.
  74. ^ Gibbons, p. 315.
  75. ^ Topmiller, p. 85.
  76. ^ Topmiller, p. 86.
  77. ^ Topmiller, p. 140–141.
  78. ^ Lent, p. 250.
  79. ^ Isaacs, p. 337.
  80. ^ Wright, p. 42.


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