President Richard M. Nixon (1960 - 1968)

Part V

Following the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the People�s Republic of China, Communists and Communist nations around the world were forced to choose between them. While many nations like Mongolia and, obviously, eastern Europe, continued to side with the Soviet Union, others chose the PRC. Not least among them was Ho Chi Minh�s Communists in North Vietnam.

Entering into an uncomfortable alliance with the People�s Republic in early 1963, Chairman Mao soon insisted that a purge of anti-Chinese leaders be conducted. Among those targeted in the Communist purges of 1963 was Vo Nguyen Giap, the leader of the North Vietnamese armed forces. Forced into retirement, Giap soon learned that he was targeted for execution by the government for his anti-Chinese sentiments. He escaped into the nation of Laos, along with hundreds of armed supporters. From the mountains of Laos, Giap, a master of guerilla warfare, would conduct a decade long guerilla war against the North Vietnamese, aided by the Soviet Union and even, at points, by the United States.
Ho Chi Minh
With the North Vietnamese military in shambles due to the purges, and Chinese �allies� virtually occupying North Vietnam, a US-supported coup d'�tat topples the autocratic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam. Although theoretically an ally of the United States, Diem�s autocratic manner and the despotic actions of his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, head of the South Vietnamese National Police, quickly became an embarrassment to the United States government.

Diem�s support was concentrated mainly in the cities. Although he had been a nationalist opposed to French rule, he welcomed into his government those Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French, and many of these became ARVN officers. Catholics were a minority throughout Vietnam, amounting to no more than 10 percent of the population, but they predominated in government positions because Diem himself was Catholic. Between 1954 and 1955, operatives paid by the CIA spread rumors in northern Vietnam that Communists were going to launch a persecution of Catholics, which caused nearly 1 million Catholics to flee to the south. Their resettlement uprooted Buddhists who already deeply resented Diem�s rule because of his severe discrimination against them.
Ngo Dinh Diem
In May 1963, Buddhists began a series of demonstrations against Diem, and the demonstrators were fired on by police. At least seven Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest the repression. Diem dismissed these suicides as publicity stunts and promptly arrested 1400 monks. He then arrested thousands of high school and grade school students who were involved in protests against the government. After this, Diem was viewed as an embarrassment both by the United States and by many of his own generals.

As the negotiations to ease tensions between North and South Vietnam entered a critical stage, Nixon worried that Diem�s incompetence might ruin any deals made and hoped that changes in his administration would improve the situation. Nhu�s corruption became a principal focus, and Diem was urged to remove his brother. Many in Diem�s military were especially dissatisfied and actually hoped for an increase in US influence.

General Duong Van Minh informed the CIA and U.S. ambassador Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., of a plot to conduct a coup d��tat against Diem. After much discussion, Nixon approved support for the coup. He was reportedly dismayed, however, when the coup resulted in the murder of both Diem and Nhu on November 1, 1963. The coup proved a stabilizing factor in South Vietnam, allowing for negotiations with the Communists in the north to continue. Shortly after the coup, Nguyen Van Thieu rose to the head of the South Vietnamese government.
Nguyen Van Thieu
As North Vietnamese raised their support of Viet Minh in the face of Nguyen Van Thieu�s virulent anti-Communism, Nixon had only two options. He either had to risk beginning another war, such as the Cuban War which ended two years earlier, or find a way to end the Communist uprising in South Vietnam without risking American lives. It was thus that, on March 27, 1964, Richard Nixon once again set foot in the People�s Republic of China.
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