‘‘The Winston Churchill of Southeast Asia’’ was a pitiful figure at the
end. Shortly before 10 a.m. on 2 November 1963, South Vietnamese
President Ngo Dinh Diem stumbled out of a Catholic church in Cho-
lon, Saigon’s Chinese district, to face the martyrdom he had courted
ever since assuming command of his country in the mid-1950s. Eyes
glazed from lack of sleep, trademark white sharkskin suit spattered with
mud and soaked with perspiration, he hardly looked like a chief of state,
much less the demigod eulogized by Washington policymakers and the
American media. Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu followed him down
the church steps and into a narrow, dead-end street. Almost imme-
diately, the two men were set upon by a contingent of soldiers who
bound their hands behind their backs and ordered them into an ar-
mored personnel carrier. Diem did not protest the rough treatment but
expressed disappointment that the cabal of generals who presently con-
stituted South Vietnam’s government had not sent a limousine befitting
his rank. One of the soldiers responded that the armored car had been
deliberately chosen to protect its distinguished passengers against ‘‘ex-
tremists.’’ This appeared to satisfy Diem, but Nhu snarled, ‘‘You use
such a vehicle to drive the president?’’ The soldiers had to force Nhu’s
head down as they shoved him into the car.∞
During the trip to army headquarters in Saigon, Diem and Nhu were
sprayed with bullets and repeatedly stabbed with knives and bayonets.
Their bodies were buried in a prison cemetery. The o≈cer who typed
the brothers’ death certificates inflicted a further, posthumous indignity
upon Diem, describing him not as ‘‘head of state’’ but as ‘‘chief of
province,’’ a position he had held years earlier during the French colo-
nial period. Even more degrading, in light of Diem’s Catholic faith, was
the o≈cial cause of death: ‘‘suicide,’’ later amended to ‘‘accidental sui-
cide’’ when published photographs of the president’s corpse showed his
hands tied behind his back.≤
As news of the assassinations went out over the radio, Saigon ex-
ploded in jubilation. An American correspondent reported, ‘‘Every-
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