July 4

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Jul 4, 1963:

South Vietnamese officers plot coup

Gen. Tran Van Don informs Lucien Conein of the CIA that certain officers are planning a coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem, who had been supported by the Kennedy administration, had refused to make any meaningful reforms and had oppressed the Buddhist majority. Conein informed Washington that the generals were plotting to overturn the government. President John F. Kennedy, who had come to the conclusion that the Diem government should no longer be in command, sent word that the United States would not interfere with the coup.

In the early afternoon hours of November 1, a group of South Vietnamese generals ordered their troops to seize key military installations and communications systems in Saigon and demanded the resignation of Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. 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 return them to the palace.

Kennedy, who had given tacit approval for the coup, was reportedly shocked at the murder of Diem and Nhu. Nevertheless, 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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