November 2, 1963: Ngô Đình Diệm is assassinated.

Ngo Dinh Diem was South Vietnam’s first president, having achieved the office through a fraudulent 1955 referendum that credited him with 98.2% of the vote and, in certain districts, more votes than there were voters. Diem was both staunchly Catholic and anti-Communist, but he would not be used as an American puppet ruler. Vietnamese relations with the United States were strained further during the 1963 Buddhist crisis, which culminated in Thích Quảng Đức’s dramatic act of self-immolation (pictured above) in protest of Diem’s policy toward Buddhists. The South Vietnamese government responded to further protests by conducting raids and attacks on Buddhist pagodas (in the process killing, abducting, or arresting thousands of people).

Diem’s divisive and oppressive actions proved a headache for the Kennedy administration, and, in August 1963, the State Department sent Cable 243 to the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam. It stated that, if Diem refused to remove his brother from power, then the United States would have to “face the possibility that Diem himself [could not] be preserved”. Sure enough, the United States stood by as certain high-ranking ARVN officers staged a coup and overthrew, then assassinated Diem and his brother on November 2, 1963. Despite the implications of Cable 243, several members of the Kennedy administration, including Kennedy (who was assassinated less than three weeks later), were appalled by the killings. South Vietnam fell into political chaos after the coup, and the North Vietnamese Politburo had this to say:

Diệm was one of the strongest individuals resisting the people and Communism. Everything that could be done in an attempt to crush the revolution was carried out by Diệm. Diệm was one of the most competent lackeys of the U.S. imperialists. 

Sure enough, none of the puppet governments established after the coup were very long term, and, as a result, the United States could only slip further and further into the Vietnamese “quagmire”. 

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