Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge reports to President John F. Kennedy from Saigon that South Vietnamese generals are planning a coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem.
Kennedy and his administration had become increasingly concerned about Diem because of the rising tide of dissent against the Diem regime in South Vietnam. Diem, a Catholic in a predominantly Buddhist nation, refused to institute promised political reforms. He was opposed by numerous factions, not the least of which were the Buddhist priests. Several South Vietnamese generals led by General Duong Van Minh met with CIA operative Lucien Conein to ask for assurances that the United States would not thwart a coup, and that economic and military aid would continue. Kennedy had already come to the conclusion that Diem could never provide the necessary leadership to unite his country against the Communist insurgents. He told Conein to give the South Vietnamese generals the assurances they wanted. Kennedy also warned that, as a representative of the United States, Conein should avoid getting involved with operational details.
The coup plotters received additional motivation in the wake of another Buddhist monk’s self-immolation (on June 11, 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc had set fire to himself in protest; his self-immolation was followed by several others) when Diem reacted with intensified political repression, including the arrest of scores of women and children who had marched against the government. Another attempt was made by the Kennedy administration to convince Diem to make the necessary reforms, but once again he refused. There was disagreement among Kennedy’s advisors as to what to do about Diem; some believed that Diem had to go and others were unsure. Ultimately the president decided to do nothing. In this case, that was tantamount to support of the coup plotters.
On November 1, rebel forces seized the radio station and police headquarters while laying siege to the presidential palace. In the early morning hours of the next day, Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu surrendered to representatives from the rebel generals. They were later found murdered in the back of an M-113 armored personnel carrier. What followed was a period of extreme political instability as a series of “revolving door” governments took turns in an attempt to rule and stem the tide of the ongoing insurgency in the countryside.