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The Marine Advisory Effort

The Political Climate-The Advisory Division and VNMC Operations- Accomplishments



The Political Climate

A sudden rupture occurred in South Vietnam's internal political situation during 1963 which largely determined the course of the war as well as the nation's future. Following the sect uprising of 1955-1956, the Diem government had experienced a three-year period of relative political tranquility. Beginning in 1959, however, political dissent had begun to re-emerge from several influential segments of South Vietnamese society. The results of the August 1959 national elections, in which pro Diem candidates captured every seat in the National Assembly, served to stimulate political opposition which had lain dormant for nearly four years. Opposition to the government mounted steadily in the months following the elections within military as well as political circles as some South Vietnamese officers began privately expressing disenchantment with Diem's management of the war. Then came the abortive coup in November 1960. The regime's popularity diminished in the wake of this crisis as Diem tightened his control on the war-torn nation.

Another problem-religious unrest-which was to play a key role in determining South Vietnam's political direction as the decade unfolded, also emerged during this period. Buddhist leaders throughout South Vietnam began protesting against various policies enacted by the Catholic-controlled government. The tensions gradually mounted, and by early 1963 the protests were highlighted by spectacular and highly publicized self-immolations by Buddhist monks. Finally, in May, the religious problem erupted into violence when the Vietnamese police and military forces killed 12 Buddhist demonstrators while suppressing a religious demonstration at Hue. This action triggered a protracted crisis of public confidence in the Diem government which deepened as the summer wore on. Then, on 21 August, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the president's closest political advisor, ordered the national police to raid key Buddhist pagodas throughout the nation. Following the raids, which uncovered some weapons, Nhu attempted to blame the attacks on several key South Vietnamese generals. His effort to shift the responsibility for the police raids served only to alienate some of the nation's most powerful military leaders. On 1 November, a junta of South Vietnamese generals led by Major General Duong Van Minh reacted to the deepening political crisis by deposing President Diem and seizing control of the Government of Vietnam. Both the president and his brother were murdered by an ARVN officer the following day. The U.S. government, which had advance knowledge of the coup and was in contact with the plotting generals, publically declared its intention to remain neutral. General Harkins ordered USMACV to cease all activities and to withdraw its advisors from South Vietnamese units pending the outcome of the power struggle.

The overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem stirred fresh hope among many Americans and South Vietnamese that the new government could attract the solid public support of the Vietnamese people, and thereby wage a more effective war against the Communists. South Vietnam's new leaders immediately focused their attention upon healing the nation's deep political divisions and securing continued U.S. assistance for the war effort. They pledged to respect religious freedom, to return the government to civilian control, and to continue the struggle against the Viet Cong. Appreciating the interrelationship of these assurances, the United States officially recognized the new govern-




Page 99 (The Marine Advisory Effort )