The November Assassinations That Rocked The World

Author: John Malch

Editor’s Note: Jealousy, political or religious ideology, contract killing, revenge, geopolitical manipulation and nation building are all motives for assassination: the murder of an individual who is usually a famous celebrity, politician, religious figure or royal. John Malch’s post addresses the brutal assassinations of South Vietnam’s Ngô Ðình Diem and his brother on November 2, 1963. The assassinations haunted U.S. President Kennedy, but by November 22, 1963, less than three weeks later Kennedy, himself, would die from an assassin’s bullet(s).

Part I Friendly Dictators

The United States has a dark history of poor choices for ‘Puppets of State’. Especially in

Prime Minister Ngô Ðình Diem casting his ballot in 1955 State of Vietnam referendum (Cuoc trung cau dân ý mien Nam Viet Nam 1955)  https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1091210764&disposition=inline

Prime Minister Ngô Ðình Diem casting his ballot in 1955 State of Vietnam referendum (Cuoc trung cau dân ý mien Nam Viet Nam 1955)
https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1091210764&disposition=inline

Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. One of the most controversial and disturbing choices the United States’ made was in 1956, when, backed by the “American Plan”, Ngô Ðình Diem proclaimed the formation of the Republic of Vietnam, naming himself President.

I have often wondered whether Diem was ever vetted for this position. Ngô Ðình Diem was born in Phú Cam, Quong Binh Province,‘North Vietnam’. Diem was christened Jean-Baptiste in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Hue in 1907. His primary education started at a French Catholic school. He later entered a private school started by his father. At the end of his secondary schooling, his examination results were sufficiently impressive at the French lycée in Hue, he was offered a scholarship to Paris. Diem declined. Instead, He moved to Hanoi to study at the School of Public Administration and Law, a French school that trained Vietnamese bureaucrats. It was there that he had the only romantic relationship of his life when he fell in love with one of his teacher’s daughters. After she persisted with her vocation, entering a convent, he remained celibate.

Why would the United States select a Roman Catholic, with a formal French education

Buddhism in Vietnam

Buddhism in Vietnam

and very little knowledge of Anman and especially Cochin-china where the population in 1956 was over 92% non-Christian, i.e., Animism, Buddhism (70% of the population), Cao Dai, Confucianism, Hinduism, Hinduism, Hoa Hao, and Islam, as president of newly formed Republic of Vietnam?

Vietnamese elders I know, claimed it may have been necessary for the United States to appease France in softening the blow for their loss of their Colony, French Indo-China. Tongue-in-cheek they said it was better for the new president to speak fluent French rather than English.

The United States had rushed headlong into supporting Diem, seemingly without consideration of the culture. South Vietnam was a U.S. government construct, a nation-building exercise illuminated by the Pentagon Papers.

“The United States moved quickly to prevent the unification and to establish South Vietnam as an American sphere. It set up in Saigon as head of the government a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem, who had recently been living in New Jersey, and encouraged him not to hold the scheduled elections for unification. A memo in early 1954 of the joint Chiefs of Staff said that intelligence estimates showed “a settlement based on free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States [Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam-the three parts of Indochina created by the Geneva Conference] to Communist control.” Diem again and again blocked the elections requested by the Vietminh, and with American money and arms his government became more and more firmly established. As the Pentagon Papers put it: “South Viet Nam was essentially the creation of the United States.”[1] Continue reading

Kennedy’s Central Intelligence Agency

This is the third in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning and The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door are the preceding posts.

Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961 *Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/american_originals_iv/images/jfk_inaugural_address/inauguration.html *Photographer/Painter: Record Group 111

Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961 *Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/american_originals_iv/images/jfk_inaugural_address/inauguration.html *Photographer/Painter: Record Group 111

A very tired John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was sworn into office on a clear, windy, brutally cold January 20, 1961.[1]  It wasn’t an easy day. Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before causing a monumental traffic jam and the streets were littered with abandoned vehicles.  Former President Herbert Hoover missed the entire inauguration event because Washington National Airport was closed due to the weather.  An inauguration is an important national symbol that characterizes the Republic and the all-night effort to clear Pennsylvania Avenue greeted the sun with space to accommodate the large crowd that would gather to witness the duly elected president assume the helm of the ship-of-state.

The snowfall of the previous night and the windy, frigid temperatures of inauguration day are also apt codes for the sea change that had already gathered momentum around the relationship between the new president and his intelligence agency, the CIA.  The CIA, as authorized by The National Security Act of 1947, was still fairly young, but Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was an old hand and seemingly enjoyed the game.  By 1961, the CIA, in its short life, had tripped the light fantastic around the globe; Col. Lansdale was merrily fighting rebels in the Philippines following which he ported his obsession with asymmetric guerilla warfare to Vietnam where he spent two-years as a houseguest and confidant of President Diem, other CIA operatives overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, and raised general hell with Cuba and Chile.

During the latter Truman and Eisenhower administration there was a trend to combine the

Cover an an Iranian newspaper showing anti-Mossadegh demonstrators riding atop a tank on August 19, 1953

Cover an an Iranian newspaper showing anti-Mossadegh demonstrators riding atop a tank on August 19, 1953

Cold War (1947-1991) objective of fighting the creep of communism with business interests. Iran, for example, nationalized the British oil interests and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to budge in spite of punishing sanctions. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, “Eisenhower worried about Mossadegh’s willingness to cooperate with Iranian Communists; he also feared that Mossadegh would eventually undermine the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-Communist partner. In August 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh’s government and restore the shah’s power. In the aftermath of this covert action, new arrangements gave U.S. corporations an equal share with the British in the Iranian oil industry.”[2]

In Guatemala, the Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated land

Arevalo passes presidency to Arbenz in 1951

Arevalo passes presidency to Arbenz in 1951

reforms that seriously impacted the holdings of the anti-communist, New Orleans-based United Fruit Company who controlled over forty percent of Guatemala’s arable land.  The Truman administration came to the support of the American business interests by arming the anti-Arbenz rebels.  Under Eisenhower, the CIA finished the job by overthrowing Arbenz regime and installing Carlos Castillo Armas.  Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the coup d’état was the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America but it was certainly not the last.[3]

After fifty years the controversy surrounding Kennedy and the CIA obscures the landscape like the white-out conditions in a blizzard.   At one end of the opinion spectrum, Marquette University’s John McAdams’ The Kennedy Assassination site concludes that Kennedy and the CIA had some rough spots but got through them.[4]  At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, who maintains that Kennedy and the CIA locked horns and never retreated.[5]  Excellent research and the documented citations for both perspectives leave the reader with many questions.  One corner of this argument does not appear to be disputed; Kennedy consistently refused to use the U.S. military to support private sector interests.  In this matter, President Kennedy was a traditionalist. The military, in his opinion, was to be used only in defense of national security interests.  If we can escape the white-out conditions of the never-ending controversy, the political landscape, once again, becomes hard and navigable.   Continue reading