November 2

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Nov 2, 1963:

Diem murdered during coup

President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu are murdered during a coup by dissident generals of the South Vietnamese army.

In the early afternoon hours of November 1, the dissidents seized key military installations and communications systems in Saigon, secured the surrender of Nhu's Special Forces, and demanded the resignation of Diem and Nhu. The president and his brother first believed the attack to be the opening of a countercoup engineered by Nhu and General To That Dinh, who controlled nearly all forces in and around Saigon, but Dinh had joined the insurgent generals.

Diem was unable to summon any support, so he and Nhu escaped the palace through an underground passage to a Catholic church in the Chinese sector of the city. From there, Diem began negotiating with the generals by phone. He agreed to surrender and was promised safe conduct, but shortly after midnight he and his brother were brutally murdered in back of the armored personnel carrier sent to pick them up and bring them back to the palace.

President Kennedy, who was aware that the generals were planning a coup and had sent word that the United States would not interfere, was nonetheless shocked at the murder of Diem and Nhu. Few in South Vietnam shared his surprise, though, as Diem had been very unpopular, particularly with the Buddhists. In fact, many in Saigon rejoiced at his death. The Soviet newspaper Izvestia expressed satisfaction at Diem's end while asserting that, "...new American puppets have come to power." U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge called the insurgent generals to his office to congratulate them and cabled Kennedy that the prospects for a shorter war had greatly improved with the demise of Diem and Nhu.

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