Ngo Dinh Diem
Diem served as interior minister for Emperor Bao Dai, but resigned to protest French influence in 1933. At this time, Vietnam was part of French Indochina and Bao Dai was a French puppet. The resignation earned Diem a reputation as an uncompromising nationalist. In 1954, when it became clear that the French would withdraw from Indochina, Bao Dai asserted his independence by appointing Diem as premier.
|Ngo Dinh Diem|
|Vietnamese||Ngô Đình Diệm|
When the French withdrew, Vietnam was split along the 17th parallel, and Bao Dai departed to France. North Vietnam was ruled by the communists, while South Vietnam, headed by Diem, was backed financially by the United States. The Catholic community fled communist oppression in the North and relocated to the South. This created a base of popular support for Diem. In 1955, Diem ousted the absent and unpopular Bao Dai and declared himself president. As Diem never married, Madame Nhu, Diem's sister-in-law, played the role of first lady. She did much to promote fashion, including the ao dai, Vietnam's national costume.
In the late 1950s, the North Vietnamese began to encourage communists in South Vietnam to revolt. The Vietcong launched a campaign of assassination and terrorist attacks in 1957. The first large unit military action was in September 1959. This was the beginning of the Vietnam War.
When Vietnam's Buddhist majority protested Diem's pro-Catholic policies, U.S. President John F. Kennedy decided to support a coup against Diem. In November 1963, South Vietnamese generals with the help of Moderate Republican U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., assassinated Diem and his brother, Ngo Diem Nhu.