November 1963: A Bloody Month

Through the course of November 1963, both South Vietnam and America experienced events that would change their respective histories, in what became known a “Watershed Year.”

On 1st November, President Ngô Đình Diệm of South Vietnam was deposed by a group of Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) officers who disagreed with his handling of both the Buddhist crisis and the Việt Cộng threat to the South Vietnamese regime.

On 2nd November, Ngô Đình Diệm and his brother Ngô Đình Nhu were arrested in a loyalist shelter in Cholon after escaping a bloody overnight siege on Gia Long Palace in Saigon. After being arrested, Diệm and Nhu were bundled into a waiting Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) as part of a convoy to transport the brothers to Tân Sơn Nhất airport. The convoy stopped at a railroad crossing, where by all accounts the brothers were assassinated. An investigation determined that the Ngô brothers were shot at point-blank range with a semi-automatic firearm before being repeatedly stabbed with a knife (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Corpse of Ngô Đình Diệm in the back of APC, 1963. Courtesy of U.S. National Archives scanned from Howard Jones, Death of a Generation, 2003, New York Oxford University Press.

Then, at the end of the month, shortly after noon on the 22nd November, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas (fig. 2). Lee Harvey Oswald, a recently hired employee at the Texas School Book Depository, was arrested for the assassination and later killed when Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner, shot him at point-blank range.

Figure 2: Protection Officer Clint Hill balancing on the back of the limousine after John Kennedy was shot in Texas.

The deaths of both President Diệm and President Kennedy would usher in a new age for the Second Indochina War and America’s involvement in Vietnam. Diệm was succeeded by Dương Văn Minh leading a military junta with lacklustre enthusiasm, confiding in the notable historian Stanley Karnow that leadership did not allow him “enough time to grow his orchids or play tennis.” Karnow described him as “a model of lethargy, lacking both the skill and the inclination to govern.”

The deaths of both President Diệm and President Kennedy would usher in a new age for the Second Indochina War and America’s involvement in Vietnam. Diệm was succeeded by Dương Văn Minh leading a military junta with lacklustre enthusiasm, confiding in the notable historian Stanley Karnow that leadership did not allow him “enough time to grow his orchids or play tennis.” Karnow described him as “a model of lethargy, lacking both the skill and the inclination to govern.”[1]

Lyndon Bains Johnson, sworn in as President after John F. Kennedy’s death (fig. 3), would increase American troop involvement in Vietnam dramatically as well as increasing bombing raids all over North Vietnam.

Figure 3: Lyndon Bains Johnson taking the oath of office, November 1963.

REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:

[1] Butterfield, Fox, “Duong Van Minh, 85, Saigon Plotter, Dies”, 8 August 2001, The New York Times.

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