Cauldron of Resistance

Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam

Jessica M. Chapman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Cauldron of Resistance
    Book Description:

    In 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem organized an election to depose chief-of-state Bao Dai, after which he proclaimed himself the first president of the newly created Republic of Vietnam. The United States sanctioned the results of this election, which was widely condemned as fraudulent, and provided substantial economic aid and advice to the RVN. Because of this, Diem is often viewed as a mere puppet of the United States, in service of its Cold War geopolitical strategy. That narrative, Jessica M. Chapman contends in Cauldron of Resistance, grossly oversimplifies the complexity of South Vietnam's domestic politics and, indeed, Diem's own political savvy. Based on extensive work in Vietnamese, French, and American archives, Chapman offers a detailed account of three crucial years, 1953-1956, during which a new Vietnamese political order was established in the south. It is, in large part, a history of Diem's political ascent as he managed to subdue the former Emperor Bao Dai, the armed Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious organizations, and the Binh Xuyen crime organization. It is also an unparalleled account of these same outcast political powers, forces that would reemerge as destabilizing political and military actors in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    Chapman shows Diem to be an engaged leader whose personalist ideology influenced his vision for the new South Vietnamese state, but also shaped the policies that would spell his demise. Washington's support for Diem because of his staunch anticommunism encouraged him to employ oppressive measures to suppress dissent, thereby contributing to the alienation of his constituency, and helped inspire the organized opposition to his government that would emerge by the late 1950s and eventually lead to the Vietnam War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6741-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In February 1957, Hollywood director Joseph Mankiewicz arrived at the Cao Dai Holy See in Tay Ninh to film one of the organization’s colorful festivals for the original cinematic version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. The previous year, Cao Dai pope Pham Cong Tac—the group’s religious leader and one of southern Vietnam’s most notable nationalist politicians—had been forced to flee across the border to Cambodia to escape capture by South Vietnamese government forces. As Mankiewicz’s crew arrived at the Holy See, a rumor spread that Hollywood magic had somehow arranged for the pope’s return to Tay Ninh....

  7. Chapter 1 Anticolonialism in Vietnam’s Wild South
    (pp. 13-39)

    A group of rebel forces drawn from the millenarian Buddhist organization, Buu Son Ky Huong, was among the last holdouts against France’s colonizing army in the Mekong Delta. The organization appeared in the delta in the 1840s and quickly grew in popularity as its charismatic leader Doan Minh Huyen offered healing amulets amidst the latest in a series of devastating cholera epidemics that swept through the swampy terrain over the course of the nineteenth century. Buu Son Ky Huong doctrine represented an amalgamation of Vietnamese and Khmer practices, magical incantations, and folk readings of Buddhist scriptures. It attracted adherents from...

  8. Chapter 2 The Crucible of Southern Vietnamese Nationalism and America’s Cold War
    (pp. 40-60)

    On February 1, 1950, a U.S. State Department working group penned the following justification for providing American military aid to France for its war in Indochina:

    Unavoidably the United States is, together with France, committed in Indochina. That is, failure of the French Bao Dai “experiment” would mean the communization of Indochina. It is Bao Dai (or a similar anticommunist successor) or Ho Chi Minh (or a similar communist successor); there is no other alternative. The choice confronting the United States is to support the French in Indochina or face the extension of Communism over the remainder of the continental...

  9. Chapter 3 “Sink or Swim with Ngo Dinh Diem”
    (pp. 61-85)

    As the French war approached its denouement, the United States identified as one of its key objectives the “development of indigenous leadership which will be truly representative and symbolic of Indo-Chinese national aspirations and win the loyalty and support of the people.”¹ Washington had long lamented Bao Dai’s failure to inspire nationalist support and hoped to establish a noncommunist Vietnamese government that could do just that. Even as it pursued this objective, however, the United States remained focused more on the international Cold War that seemed to envelop Vietnam than the domestic political competition that was unfolding within its borders....

  10. Chapter 4 The “Sect” Crisis of 1955 and America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam
    (pp. 86-115)

    The “sect” crisis of March and April 1955 was the culmination of the open conflict between politico-religious forces and Ngo Dinh Diem’s government that began with the Hinh crisis the previous fall.¹ In the prior standoff, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Binh Xuyen leaders had backed down on realizing that American sympathy for their cause would not be forthcoming, and that without it they had no hope of compelling the prime minister to meet their demands. In the interim, they temporarily eased pressure on Ngo Dinh Diem, hoping that they might secure positions of power in his government and perhaps...

  11. Chapter 5 Destroying the Sources of Demoralization: Ngo Dinh Diem’s National Revolution
    (pp. 116-145)

    In the aftermath of Ngo Dinh Diem’s dramatic and unexpected victory in the sect crisis, American observers celebrated his leadership as nothing less than a miracle.¹ Pressmen and politicians alike were awed by his unlikely triumph over what they viewed as forces of chaos, greed, and depravity. Any doubt Eisenhower’s administration might have entertained about whether Ngo Dinh Diem should be Washington’s man in Vietnam was put to rest. Above all, the outcome of the sect crisis reassured Americans that Ngo Dinh Diem had what it took to maintain order in the face of major political and military challenges to...

  12. Chapter 6 A Different Democracy: South Vietnam’s Referendum to Depose Bao Dai
    (pp. 146-172)

    On October 23, 1955, amid the government’s military and propaganda campaigns against the politico-religious organizations, South Vietnam’s citizens took to the polls to choose between the country’s obsolete emperor Bao Dai and its far-from-popular prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem.¹ Government propaganda told them that Bao Dai was a treacherous, slovenly womanizer who amounted to nothing more than a shackle on Vietnam’s development. Ngo Dinh Diem, on the other hand, promised to usher in a new and glorious era in the nation’s history marked by democracy, self-determination, and individual rights.

    This referendum is often dismissed as a simple rigged election with...

  13. Chapter 7 The Making of a Revolution in South Vietnam
    (pp. 173-195)

    The government of Ngo Dinh Diem reached a critical turning point at the beginning of 1956. He had deposed Bao Dai, established a new republican government in South Vietnam, and validated his leadership through an ostensibly democratic referendum. He held firm to his refusal to participate in preparations for the countrywide reunification elections mandated by the 1954 Geneva agreements that he had not signed and to which he did not feel bound. Instead, he looked forward to RVN national assembly elections, confident of his ability to influence the results thanks largely to the success of military operations against politico-religious rebels...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 196-204)

    When Washington replaced France as the predominant Western power in Vietnam in 1954, it stepped into the middle of a civil struggle over the nature of Vietnam’s postcolonial political order, the lines of which had already been contorted by French intervention. One historian has written, “Rather than simply signaling a linear, diplomatic transfer of power from colonial to postcolonial status, decolonization equally constitutes a complex dialectical intersection of competing views and claims over colonial pasts, transitional presents, and inchoate futures.”¹ Indeed, Vietnam’s route to decolonization was more of a multisided tug-of-war than it was a tide moving steadily in one...

  15. Appendix: Select Vietnamese Names with Diacritics
    (pp. 205-206)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 207-250)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-276)