Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam, possessed the Confucian “Mandate of Heaven”, a moral and political authority that was widely recognized by all Vietnamese. This devout Roman Catholic leader never lost this mandate in the eyes of the people; rather, it was removed by his erstwhile allies in the United States government in a coup sponsored by them resulting in his assassination.
The commonly held view runs contrary to the above assertion by military historian Geoffrey Shaw. According to many American historians, President Diem was a corrupt leader whose tyrannical actions lost him the loyalty of his people and the possibility of a military victory over the North Vietnamese. The Kennedy Administration, they argue, had to withdraw its support of Diem.
Based on his research of original sources, however, including declassified documents of the US government, Shaw found a Diem who was up for Mass at 6:30 every morning, who was venerated by the Vietnamese as a great leader at all levels of government and society, a kind man who did not even like the thought of Communist guerrillas being killed. Also, according historical record, Diem did not persecute Buddhists; on the contrary, he did more to preserve and to fund Vietnam’s Buddhist heritage than any other Vietnamese leader.
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