| The world first became aware of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1954 when he was appointed Prime Minister of The State of Viet-Nam by the last Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai. However, he had a long history in the circles of power within Viet-Nam, and while certainly not being widely known, he was a familiar figure among the people in power. He came from an old Catholic family in the Annam region, and seriously considered joining the priesthood like his older brother Ngo Dinh Thuc before taking his examinations and becoming a mandarin instead at the Nguyen Imperial court at Hue.
During the 1930's, shortly after the young Emperor Bao Dai returned to Viet-Nam from school in France to take up his official duties, there was a coup of sorts within the imperial city. The new Emperor dismissed all of the old officials
|and formed a new administration made up entirely of young, idealistic scholars with a history of nationalist devotion. At the top of the list was the mandarin Ngo Dinh Diem, a man noted for his loyalty to the dynasty, his opposition to French colonial rule and Viet-Namese nationalism. In the new cabinet, Diem was made Minister of the Interior. The Emperor and these "Young Viets" drew up legislation for many new reforms, but were constantly being thwarted by the French government. Eventually, Ngo Dinh Diem resigned in disgust.
When Japan occupied Viet-Nam, with French permission, Diem was among the supporters of the Nguyen Prince Cuong De, an exile in Japan, old friend of Phan Boi Chau and leader of the monarchist opposition to colonial rule. Along with his brother Ngo Dinh Khoi, he formed a 'Catholic bloc' in 1943 to oppose
|the more French-friendly nationalists under Pham Quynh and sent a delegate to Japan to meet with Prince Cuong De about forming a coalition, for which he was banished by the French to Quang Binh province. He continued to work for a Viet-Namese constitutional monarchy, following the Japanese model, under Prince Cuong De or Emperor Bao Dai, mostly among the anti-French Roman Catholics.
In 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai declared the independence of the "Empire of Viet-Nam" from France, Diem was considered for the post of Prime Minister. However, he was much more supportive of Prince Cuong De than the Emperor and claimed to have never recieved the offer. The post went to Tran Trong Kim and thus Diem was saved from the American bias against any who accepted posts during the Japanese occupation. He later travelled around the world, particularly in the United States where he gained considerable support from religious and political elites as the potential leader of a "third force" in the post-war conflict in Viet-Nam between the French and Communist Viet-Minh.
| Armed with the full support of the United States, at a time when the French were clearly dropping Viet-Nam as an ally, Emperor Bao Dai appointed Ngo Dinh Diem Prime Minister with instructions to safeguard their independence and wipe out the notorious corruption within the Saigon government. Premier Diem was aided by the U.S. in bringing the armed religious sects of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao into submission and launched a mini-civil war within Saigon against the Binh Xuyen. His opposition was crushed but the internal conflict alarmed the Emperor who attempted to recall him. However, in 1955 Diem held a referendum, under the control of his own forces, which deposed the Emperor and made Ngo Dinh Diem the first President of the new Republic of Viet-Nam. He consolidated power by placing close relatives in high office and launching an all-out war against the growing number of Communists infiltrating South Viet-Nam.
Probably no other Viet-Namese President fought the Communists with greater zeal than Ngo Dinh Diem. As a reaction to his campaign, the southern rebels formed the National Liberation Front, or as Diem called it, the Viet Cong, with the specific goal of overthrowing his regime. President Diem also called upon all Catholics to join his government in the south to oppose Communism. A mass exodus followed as Viet-Namese Catholics from all over the north made the trip south to fight for the Diem government. However, not all southerners
|were glad to see them. The Buddhist community began a campaign of opposition to the Diem administration for the favor he showed to his fellow Catholics and the high proportion of Catholics in high office in the Saigon government. In person, Diem was known to be honest, patriotic, committed to his cause and his country and very religious. He was also loyal to his family, which unfortunately included some less than honorable figures.
Diem also had a hard time gaining widespread support from the peasant farmers, despite his land reform policies. Ngo Dinh Diem was cut from the old cloth, and behaved more like an emperor than a president. He was regal, distant and dignified with none of the politician's skills at making grandiose promises, kissing babies and giving speeches. He also angered the United States by refusing to put their interests ahead of his own. Many in Washington DC complained that Diem was a "puppet who wanted to pull his own strings". The attempt to seperate the villagers from the Communists with the strategic hamlet program was not the success many hoped it would be and America was increasingly alarmed by the on-going trouble with large sections of the Buddhist community. Washington demanded that Diem dismiss members of his family from office, but he
|refused. Finally, President Kennedy began to speak out about the need for a change in leadership if the U.S. is to continue to support South Viet-Nam. Silently, the CIA was given permission to back a coup d'etat against Diem.
Under the leadership of Generals Nguyen Khanh and Duong Van Minh and others, the military attacked the palace in Saigon, forcing Diem to flee. He arranged a deal that would allow for a peaceful transfer of power, but shortly thereafter rebel forces assassinated him. The first, and probably best of the Presidents of South Viet-Nam was dead, a victim of enemies both internal and external which almost no one could have possibly overcome.