Publication Date

Spring 2007


On May 8, 1963, the South Vietnamese Civil Guard killed eight Buddhists who had protested the ban on flying the Buddhist flag. Events such as this ignited a political confrontation between the Buddhists and the South Vietnamese government. Although practicing Buddhists did not make up a majority of the population, they effectively enflamed the Vietnamese people against Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, and captured the attention of the American news media by staging sacrificial suicides, hunger strikes, and street protests. The United States tried to convince Diem to make some concessions to the Buddhists, but their powers of persuasion proved ineffective. Without seriously considering an alternative to the Diem government, the administration ultimately backed a coup led by Diem's disgruntled generals. However, the coup did not provide the stability that the administration sought. Instead, the post-coup government became more dysfunctional than its predecessor and would only survive for two and a half months. The military coup of2 November 1963 that overthrew the Diem government in South Vietnam would not have happened the way it did if the American administration had not over-reacted to the Buddhist crisis, and the nation would not have experienced a messy aftermath had the White House planned for a post-Diem South Vietnam.