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Incident of Buddhist flag - US involvement - Coup Generals (1-2)

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kim nguyen

May 8, 1996, 3:00:00 AM5/8/96

This is a long article related to a historical issue which is based mainly
on Vietnamese books displaying at least 3 perspectives compared with the
common theme from other foreign books.

1. At least 6 foreing books -- (1) The New Face of Buddha by Jerrold
Schecter, (2) Vietnam : A Political History by Joseph Buttinger, (3) The
Lost Revolution by Robert Shaplen, (4) Vietnam: A History by Stanley
Karnow, (5) The Making of a Quagmire by David Halberstam, (6) Background
to Betrayal by Hilaire du Berrier -- are based on the common report of Dr.
Wuff and a German doctor saying generally that "Eyewitnesses and
photographs taken by Dr. Eric Wuff and another German doctor on the
streets of Hue and IN THE CITY MORGUE indicated that the people were
killed by shellfire or crushed by the threads of the armored cars.

2. In the book entitled "The Struggle of the Vietnam Buddhism : from the
Celebration of the Birthday of Buddha" (Co^ng cuo^.c tranh dda^'u cu?a
Pha^.t Gia'o Vie^.t Nam : tu+` Pha^.t DDa?n dde^'n Ca'ch by Quo^'c
Tue^., published in 1964 in Vietnam and republished in 1987 by the pagoda
Khanh An (Kha'nh An), 14 avenue Henri Barbusse, 92220 Bagneux, Paris,

From chapter I, the author brings forward reasons for the struggle, one of
which is about the tyranny of Ngo Dinh Can, Mr Diem's brother. One hardly
agrees with some of cited reasons for and skewed viewpoints about the
political situation in the South after 1954. For example, Mr Quoc Tue
said that after 1954, SVN was divided into two regions : NVN, under the
communist regime; SVN, under the patronage of the French. From 1955, the
French withdrew from Vietnam leaving SVN in a state of total independence
due to pressure from the U.S. Moreover, he admits that Ven. Thich Tri
Quang is one of the core leaders of this struggle. As one recognizes
later, after 1963, Ven. Thich Tri Quang was indeed an untrustworthy,
opportunist and extremist monk taking advantage of his followers for his
political purpose and a political agenda ("Peace and Neutrality" which
later coincides with "Concord and Reconciliation Campaign" of the National
Front of Liberation of South Vietnam - Ma<.t Tra^.n Gia?i Pho'ng Mie^`n
Nam) contemplated by the Central Vietnam Buddhist group -- An Quang Sect.

In chapter II, the author talks about the beginning of the "open
oppression" of Mr Diem's government and the reaction of the Buddhists in
Hue. According to him, while the Buddhists in Hue are celebrating the
Buddha's birthday and the streets are decked with international Buddhist
flags everywhere, suddenly at 8 pm of 6/5/1963, a telegram from the
presidential office informs banning the display of the Buddhist flag. The

news causes immediate reaction from all Buddhists in this old imperial
city. On 7/5/1963, the members of the General Association of Vietnam
Buddhism (To^?ng Ho^.i Pha^.t Gia'o Vie^.t Nam) like Ven. Thich Mat
Nguyen, Thich Tri Quang, Thich Mat Hien, Thich Thien Sieu go to meet the
localauthority and send a message to Saigon to object the order. At
2 pm of the same day, the authority confiscates all the Buddhist flags.
This gesture rouses indignation which the Buddhists must bury inside for a
long time and now this is the opportunity for them to show it. It is also
the starting for the struggle to spread to Saigon and all over the country
(the truth is there are very few struggles of this kind in the South, from
Saigon to Camau).

In the morning of 8/5/1963, the Buddhists gathered at the pagoda Dieu De
(Die^.u DDe^') to welcome the statue of Buddha and carry it to the pagoda
of Tu Dam (Tu+` DDa`m) where the stadium for celebration is located. The
welcoming group is stopped in many places because some Buddhists on both
sides of the streets display the banners to express their aspirations.
This is not agreed upon by Ven. Thich Mat Hien and Thich Tri
Quang, head and vice-head of the committee organizing the Buddha's
birthday celebration. The two monks tell the crowd to be calm and wait
for the better understanding from the local authority and the central
government. The two order people to take away the banners. Then, the
welcoming delegation continues the trip as normal. However, these
Buddhists ignore the order and display their banners expressing :

- Welcoming the Buddha's birthday.

- The Buddhist followers unanimously protect the just Buddhism (cha'nh
pha'p) and sacrifice themselves if necessary.

- The international Buddhist flag can't be brought down.

- The Buddhist followers only support the policy of equality in religion.

- Request for equality in religion.

- It's time for us to struggle for the contention of equality in
religion. We won't refuse any sacrifice.

- Objection of the dishonest and wicked policy (pha?n ddo^'i chi'nh sa'ch
ba^'t co^ng gian a'c).

When the crowd arrive at Tu Dam Pagoda, Ven. Thich Don Hau goes
to the stadium and requests Ven. Thich Tri Quang to explain the
reason for the celebration.

Under the presence of the local authority, Ven. Thich Tri Quang expresses
his ideas that the Buddhist aspirations are just and constructive; they
would help the government and other religions. He promises to submit
these aspirations to the government.

Then, according to the radio station, the celebration is recorded into
tapes and will be broadcasted at 8h5 pm on the same day. Because of this,
a Buddhist crowd gather before the station to listen to the tapes. To
their surprise, they only hear songs not related at all to the
celebration. This happens to Buddhists who stay home to wait before their
radios. They leave home and go to the station to ask what happened.
Then, the crowd of Buddhists become more abundant. At 8h15 pm, the crowd
accumulate up to around 10,000 persons. Director of the station, Ngo
Ganh, is questioned. Meanwhile, Major Dang Sy (DDa<.ng Sy~) brought the
regular military, Security, Police and fire fighters to encircle the
crowd. Then, Ven. Thich Tri Quang also comes and asks the reason
why the tapes are not played. Ngo Ganh says that the authority did not
permit it. Knowing that, the Buddhists become angry and protest. The
fire engines are ordered to stop the protest. Some protesters react by
throwing stones to the fire cruise. Mr Dang Sy orders fire into the
crowd. Then gun-fire starts and grenades are thrown into the crowd.
There are many Buddhists falling down and others running away.

The clash resuts in 14 injured and 9 dead. Some youths among the dead are
rolled over by the amored cars. After the incident, in the morning of
9/5/1963, the army are mobilized to Hue and the streets are blocked by
armored cars. But, at 9 am, Buddhists go out to streets protesting and
decide to die if necessary. The mayor of Hue asks Ven. Thich Tri
Quang to disperse the crowd. They obey Ven. Thich Tri Quang when he says
"Disperse and be ready to wait for my order to call you back"...

The list of 8 of nine dead :

- Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lan : 12 years old; female

- Huye^`n-to^n-nu+~ Tuye^'t Hoa : 12; female

- Du+o+ng Va<n DDa.t : 13; male

- DDa<.ng Va<n Co^ng : 13; male

- Nguye^~n Thi. Phu'c : 15; female

- Le^ Thi. Kim Anh : 17; female

- Tra^`n Thi. Phu+o+'c Tri. : 17; female

- Nguye^~n Thi. Ye^'n : 20; female...

3. The 2nd version :

There must be a hidden confrontation of Buddhists in Hue under the
leadership of Ven. Thich Don Hau through Ven. Thich Tri Quang,
head of the Central Vietnam Buddhist Association ( Ho^.i Tru+o+?ng Ho^.i
Pha^.t Gia'o Trung Pha^`n; An Quang was not born yet at the time). They
wanted to topple Ngo Dinh Can, Mr Diem's younger brother, whom people
often called "the tyrant of the Central Vietnam".

There must be VC intrusion in the crowd of Buddhists or some instigators
who would like to take advantage of the gathering. If not so, there
wasn't any tragedy. This event + resentment + skill of Ven. Thich Tri
Quang made the flame explode although the government had tried to calm it

At the time, the Buddhist crowd (around 10,000 persons) were gathering at
the Radio Station to listen to earlier recorded broadcasting of the
celebration of the birth of Buddha. Some sources said that the broadcast
was cancelled; then the Buddhists asked why, but the director said that
the government ordered so (!). Another source said that Ven. Thich Tri
Quang, taking this opportunity, delivered a list of demands recorded in a
tape and told the director of the station to broadcast it, but the latter
refused. When the matter was going on that way, a few among the crowd
would like to take this opportunity to transform this event into a
protest. Then suddenly, there were some loudspeakers in some corners
echoing with requests of the government to respect the freedom of religion
and appeals to Buddhists to be ready in sacrificing themselves to struggle
until the last drop of blood to protect Buddhism.

The director of the Hue Radio Station, Mr Ngo Ganh, became panicked and
could not control himself. He phoned the head of province for help and
requested to have men to protect the station. Major Da<.ng Sy~,
vice-head of the province in charge of internal security concurrently
head of military quarter of Thua Thien, mobilized soldiers and police,
amored cars and fire-engine cruise to protect the station. However, these
men could not enter the station through 10,000 excited people and
intentionally became a force to encircle the Buddhists.

Major Dang Sy used loudspeaker to appeal the Buddhists to be calm and he
warned that soldiers had order to shoot whoever makes riot; it might be
that he just intended to maintain order and security for the city Hue.
His first goal was not to let the crowd destroy the public property which
he got the duty to protect. He couldn't imagine that his words made him
fall into trap of instigators (not all Buddhists were opportunists for
their using religion for political purpose). After his orders were
announced, some "instigators" with big stones already armed threw into the
force yelling to excite the rest and going forward towards Dang Sy's men.
The hydrant cars used water to stop and disperse them. Then, suddenly
came the explosion. Then the firings. Dang Sy's men and also Buddhists
were all in extreme panic. People run in all directions. Weak persons
were trampeded by the stronger.

The aftermath was 9 people dead and 14 injured. The news were broadcasted
all over the world and Mr Diem's regime was trembled to its root. Some
sources said that almost dead victims were decapitated and possibly it was
the result of explosion which could be used by VC commando, CIA or Nhu's
Special Force trained by CIA. As said, none of the victims were shot
because Dang Sy's did direct his gun to the sky with some firings to
discard the crowd. There was no reason to shoot at the crowd and use
armored cars to run over; if that was the case the death toll must be very

However, this death toll disappointed communists who expected there must
be at least an amount of more than hundred dead. On the next day, Nguyen
Huu Tho, chairman of the National Front of Liberation of South Vietnam,
sent a telegram to U.N. calling for help and accused Mr Diem's regime to
oppress Buddhism, killing Buddhists who were against Catholics organizing
"Religious war" to get superiority. He accused that Dang Sy, a Catholic,
received directly order from Ngo Dinh Can and Can, in turn, got order from
Mr Diem in Saigon.

All foreign reporters were excited by the incident and by the way did not
like Mr Diem whom they accused of dictatorship, family despotism and
corruption. They competed with each other to explore at utmost and made
Mr Diem regime hard to explain whether or not his government really
intended to do that. If he intentionally oppressed the Buddhists, his
government did ban any gathering which could lead to any demonstration.
It's obvious that the government did not think that this reasonable
gathering could turn to a tragedy.

3. The 3rd version :

"Co^ng va` To^.i : Nhu+~ng Su+. Tha^.t Su+?" (Credit and Sin :
Historic Truths; 1991) by Nguyen Tran says that the Buddhist event happens
when its author is still in Washington where he follows the report from
the American press and televisions generally as follows :

"On 6/5/1963, two days before the celebration day of Buddha's birthday,
the government of Mr Ngo Dinh Diem sends a circular nationwide to ban
displaying the Buddhist flag in public. The lowering these flags makes
Buddhists resented and as a result, they go for a protest. In the night
of 8/5/1963, when Buddhists show demonstration at the radio station of Hue

requesting rebroadcasting the celebration, the authority brings armored
cars and the military who throw grenades to disperse the crowd, causing
the death for 9 persons and injury for many people."

Major Dang Sy, vice-head of the province in charge of the security
declares that he brings in the armored cars M-113 to protect the station
and never orders to throw grenades to the crowd. The explosion causing
deaths belongs to a plastic explosive which is only used by the VC
commando; the SVN army do not use that kind of explosive.

However, the Buddhists still maintain that the government intentionally
oppresses Buddhists, and force the government to take responsibility,
apologize and compensate for the victims' families. Next is the
self-immolation of Ven. Thich Quang Duc, 73 years old, who pours
gasoline onto his body and burns himself to death at an intersection of
Saigon. The picture of self-immolation makes Nguyen Tran surprised. When
the American opinion and the world are thoroughly excited, Mrs. Nhu (a
former Buddhist) attacked the self-immolation and called it a barbecue
with foreign gasoline.

Returning to Saigon, Nguyen Tran doesn't know more than what has been
reported by the press. The news says that Ven. Thich Tinh Khiet and his
delegation arrive in Saigon to meet Mr Ngo Dinh Diem to request for his
reviewing the royal decree 10 stipulated by the emperor Bao Dai under the
French colonialism. This decree classified the Buddhist organization as
an association. The delegation wants Buddhism to enjoy the equality as
Catholicism, freedom to display the flag and a stop to arrest and
terrorism of Buddhists in order that they are free to propagate and
practice Buddhism. It asks the government to compensate satisfactorily
for the victims' families.

After a 3-day discussion, Mr Diem's government and the Buddhist delegation
agree on the issues as follow :

- The international Buddhist flag can be hung on the streets, but next to
the bigger national flag.

- The formation of a committee of inter-ministries and inter-religions to
investigate the incident. The goverment will punish culprits.

- The government will subsidize for the victim's families.

- Assembly in pagodas will be possible without permission from the
authority. The government will only check generally documents related to
pagoda's activities, its schools,...

- The National Assembly will study a status for Buddhism.

Ven. Thich Tinh Khiet sends a thanking letter to the government and at the
same time calls his monks to go back to normal, respect the national law,
obey directives of the Buddhist General Association (To^?ng Ho^.i Pha^.t
Gia'o). He also declares the end of the struggle.

President Diem broadcasts an appeal to the public resquesting them to be
calm and trusting his solving the problem.

When the reconciliation is in good progress, Mrs. Nhu objects the
conciliatory approach of Mr Diem and accuses the monks of not real devout
persons through an announcement. According to suggestion of the
Information Minister Nguyen Dinh Thuan, Mr Diem has more than 3 times to
neglect publishing that announcement, but at last he must yield it somehow
and says that if it must be done, it would be published in a narrow
scope. However, the announcement in English is put on "the Time of
Vietnam", "Journal d'Extreme Orient" and on Vietnamese newspapers with
Vietnamese version.

Then, the Buddhist delegation accuses the government of lacking sincerity
and organizes the self-immolation of Ven. Thich Quang Duc. Meanwhile, Mr
Diem is attending the requiem for the pope Jean 23rd at the basilica of
Saigon with his staff, head of the National Assembly and diplomatic corps.

Informed by minister Bui Van Luong about the self-immolation, Mr Diem
becomes stupefied and says, "Why did they have to do that ?". In that
afternoon, he releases an appeal saying "When the reconcilation is in good
progress, this morning, the radicals, hiding the truth and causing
suspicion about the goodwill of the government, strive to toxicate some
people and let one person die. This makes me suffered."

In August, many self-immolations occur : Duc Phong self-immolates on
4/8/1963; student Mai Tuyet Anh cut her hand as a gesture of offering to
Buddha at the pagoda Xa Loi on 12/8/1963; Dieu Nu self-immolates at Hon
Khoi, Nha Trang; nun Tieu Dieu, 71 years old, self-immolates at the Tu Dam
pagoda in Hue, and senior nun Dieu Khong, mother of ambassador Buu Hoi,
warns to do the same in Hue.

With too many accumulated happenings and worryings in his mind, Nguyen
Tran doesn't know how to express his catholic viewpoints to support for
the Buddhists. Then the police and the Special Force attack the Xa Loi
pagoda and some other temples in Saigon, Hue, Danang,.v.v... There is the
news that 1,000 monks are arrested. The monks ask Buddhists to protect
pagodas using sticks and stones against the attacking forces for 8 hours.

Mr Diem convenes a meeting of ministers and announces the curfew
nationwide. The military are assigned to check households and arrest
people who disturb the national security, ban assembly, censor the
press,... The offences will be under the jurisdiction of the military

General Tran Van Don is appointed as Commander-in-chief replacing general
Le Van Ty. General Ton That Dinh is in charge of the military area of
Saigon - Cho Lon.

Foreign minister Vu Van Mau shaves his head to object the measures and
then resigns; however he just got permission to take a 5-month leave to
make a
pilgrimage to India. Vietnam's ambassador in Washington, Tran Van Chuong,
Mrs. Nhu's father, having telegramed an objection message, is discharged
from the office. Mr Do Van Ly is appointed to replace Mr Chuong, but
the U.S. State Department delays his presenting credential. This action
means that the State Department opposes Mr Diem. Mrs. Tran Van Chuong,
Vietnam's representative at U.N. resigns. However, Nguyen Tran knows
later that Mr and Mrs. Tran Van Chuong just only support Mr Diem when the
latter is in success, but when Mr Diem is in difficult time, the couple
change heart. They don't only oppose Mr Diem, but collaborate with the
U.S. officials against Mr Diem. Mr Chuong accuses Mr Diem of killing
series of Buddhists and spreading terror nationwide. He even comes to Mr
Lansdale's residence to tell the latter to overthrow Mr Diem. When Father
Cao Van Luan comes to Washington, Mr Chuong leads him to see American
officials and politicians opposing Mr Diem.

There is the news that Mrs. Nhu tells the police and Special Force not to
arrest monks in yellow dress because they are devout monks (cha^n tu).
Knowing that, Ven. Thich Tri Quang puts on that dress of a young monk
(sa-di) and crawls over the wall right behind the Xa Loi pagoda entering
the USAID (So+? Vie^.n Tro+. My~) to seek political asylum with another

After arriving in Saigon and delaying the presentation of credential. Mr
Henri Cabot Lodge goes to see Ven. Thich Tri Quang who has escaped to a
nearby American office thanks to the dress of a sa-di named Chuong, takes
a photo with him and sends him to the U.S. embassy.

After series of attacks on pagodas, Ven. Thich Tinh Khiet and Ven. Thich
Thien Hoa appeal his monks to detach from politics and return to their
pagodas. Especially, Ven. Thich Thien Hoa, a Southerner, agrees attacking
pagodas to arrest monks involving in politics and calls it a "necessary
measure to protect the country."

Staying in a military hospital where he is detained, Ven. Thich Tinh
Khiet sends a letter to Mr Diem requesting him to permit Ven. Thich Thien
Hoa and 3 other monks to negotiate with the government to find pacific
solutions. 2 days later, the government returns all pagodas back to Ven.
Thich Thien Hoa and releases some arrested monks.

From the beginning of 23/8/1963, General Ton That Dinh orders closure of
universities and schools. Two days later, Buddhist students go to the
streets for demonstration; they are dispersed by the police and the
military. In a clash, a female student named Quach Thi Trang (Qua'ch Thi.
Trang) is struck by a bullet and dies on Le Thanh Ton street, next to Ben
Thanh market. After the coup d'etat 1/1/1963, her statuette is set up at
the market (the square Quach Thi Trang).

On 28/8/1963, the letter of Ven. Thich Tinh Khiet is announced and the
curfew is dropped. Students, Buddhists are released; most military are
ordered to return to their bases.

On 10/9/1963, Ven. Thich Tinh Khiet is released; some days later, there is
another release of 107 monks and Buddhists in Hue.

With the agreement of Buddhist leaders, Mr Diem orders ambassador Buu Hoi
to the U.N. General Assembly to present the Vietnam case and invite a U.N
delegation to Vietnam for fact finding to see whether or not there is real
oppression of Buddhists. However, some days later, Ven. Thich Tri Quang
changes his idea and announces that the sending of U.N. delegation to
Vietnam is not necessary. This shows that Ven. Thich Tri Quang is not an
honest man to seek a peaceful settlement with the government and jumps
over the wagon as a monk to do politics. That is exactly what he does and
will do in the days to come using slogans "Buddhist oppression" to build
up his ultimate political goal -- to shake hand with communists and share
power with them. This is not known by his followers on the streets. Ven.
Thich Tri Quang is at last a skillful instigator for self-immolations and
riots to happen so that his objetc -- government of Mr Diem -- would be
target for condemnations.

Then, what's next is another wave of students and Buddhists going to the
streets for a protest and this causes the police to get out of their
barracks once more to block schools and arrest some students. From
Saigon, the movement spreads to Vinh Long (?), Bien Hoa, Nha Trang, Da Lat
and Hue. The leaflets are delivered from the Xa Loi pagoda calling
students to go to the streets for demonstration.

On 11/9/1963, after attending the Conference of International Senators in
Belgrade, Mrs. Nhu goes to U.S. and appears on radio and television
stations at at least 17 places to confirm that the government of Mr Diem
never intends to oppress Buddhists but only to cope with radical monks and
the people who intend to topple his government. However, she can't
convince anybody just because her way of expression does not draw sympathy
from the audience. Although she has the point to make nobody in US wants
to believe her.

Meanwhile, there is rumor that Mr Nhu takes all decisions and wants to
make an internal coup d'etat to take the power because Mr Diem is not
firm enough with Buddhists.

Do Tho (DDo^~ Tho.; nephew of Mr Do^~ Ma^.u), Mr Diem's attache', the
man who stays next to Mr Diem until the morning of 2/11/1963 before the
latter is killed, writes in his "Do Tho's diary" (Nha^.t Ky' DDo^~ Tho.)
that Mr Diem is very down-hearted when the Buddhist incident occurs. Mr
Diem, at 63, says that his horoscope of this year is very bad and he once
wanted to resign, but he is afraid that the Vietnamese people will get
into worse situation. Mr Do Tho also says that Mr Nhu abuses the power.
to this rumor, Marguerite Higgins interviews Mr Nhu who lets her know
that he and his wife are hated by somebody; rumors like that are
nonsensical. He says that each government has a Good and an Evil (o^ng
Thie^.n va` o^ng A'c). In a progressive country like U.S., president
Eisenhower needs a man like Sherman Adams. Vietnam is a country having
too many instigations (cuo^.c xa'ch ddo^.ng) and he is the man to take the
role of that Evil to confront these bad situations. He says, "I am cursed
so that somebody else is left alone."

(co`n tie^'p)

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