South Vietnamese Special Forces loyal to President Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, attack Buddhists pagodas, damaging many and arresting 1,400 Buddhists. Diem’s government represented a minority of Vietnamese who were mostly businessmen, land owners, and Roman Catholics. A large part of the rest of the South Vietnam’s population, overwhelmingly Buddhist, deeply resented Diem’s rule because of what they perceived as severe discrimination against non-Catholics. In May 1963, the Buddhists began a series of demonstrations against the Diem government, in which seven Buddhist monks set themselves on fire in protest. The U.S. government tried to convince Diem to be more lenient with the Buddhists, but he only became more repressive.
This continuing confrontation with the Buddhists and Diem’s failure to press for meaningful reforms led to a withdrawal of U.S. support for the South Vietnamese leader and effectively gave a green light for a coup conducted by opposition generals, who were told that the United States would support whichever government was in power. During the course of the coup, Diem and his brother were assassinated by South Vietnamese officers. The removal of Diem, which U.S. government officials had hoped would stabilize the political situation in South Vietnam, resulted in anything but stability–there would be ten successive governments in Saigon within 18 months.