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The Republic of Vietnam, more commonly known as South Vietnam, is a country located in a region formerly known as “Indochina”, which also includes the Kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia, as well as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Although the Republic of Vietnam is officially a multiparty democracy, in reality it is ruled by Ngo Dinh Quy, a nephew of the late Ngo Dinh Diem, the country’s first president.
Status of the Republic of Vietnam
A Summary of the Events from 1955-1985
Status of the Republic of Vietnam
A Summary of the Events from 1955-1985
After Diem had ousted the former emperor Bao Dai from office in a fraudulent referendum, Diem began to solidify his rule over the country. He destroyed the Binh Xuyen crime syndicate, as well as suppressing the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious sects. In addition, he also reached out to the United States for help and support against his greatest threat, the Chinese and Soviet backed North Vietnamese. In exchange for serving as a bulwark against the Communist Northerners, Diem would receive economic and military support. Despite this, by the 1960s, a significant portion of the country’s rural areas would be under the control of the Viet Cong. This would be Diem’s greatest challenge, as it could either make or break the fledgling Republic.
In response to this, in the late 50’s, Diem issued a series of reforms aimed at reducing the Viet Cong’s support in the countryside. However, these reforms only seemed to be stopgap measures that did nothing to fix the fundamental issues concerning peasant grievances towards the Diem regime. As such, these “reforms” only succeeded in driving more peasants into the arms of the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong, now a legitimate threat to the country, began a campaign of popular mobilization, resulting in much of the countryside rallying to their banner.
However, in early 1961, Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu was killed in a car crash, leading to what many called “Diem’s moral transformation,” owing to Nhu’s great influence on Diem’s policymaking. Almost immediately after Nhu’s death, Diem began secret peace talks with the Communist North. Surprisingly, the Viet Cong advance began to simultaneously falter. With Diem realizing the implications of a successful peace between the two Vietnams, he needed to defeat the existing Viet Cong in a way that would allow them to dissolve without causing further international backlash. In the meantime, however, he continued to employ the same heavy-handed methods that he had employed since becoming president in 1955.
Ten years into Ngo Dinh Diem’s rule, the country began to make some strides in managing the Viet Cong threat. Diem began to listen to the advice of Americans sent to coordinate the country’s military and political situation, yet he would be what some would call a ‘rock’; fiercely stubborn in his nationalist resolve. Case in point, his staunch favoritism of Catholics over Buddhists. While not as hardline as the late Nhu, his domineering behavior was evident in his governance of the country. Yet the death of Nhu aided in the softening of reforms involving religious expression.
Captured documents indicated that the offensive was supposed to happen in ‘68, during the Tet celebrations, yet power struggles between General Giap and Party Secretary-General Le Duan ultimately set back the offensive by 3 years. Yet when it did happen, the powerbase the Viet Cong relied on would ultimately not support them, given the successive land reforms. The Tet Offensive would result in tens of thousands of casualties for the Viet Cong, and only hundreds for the South Vietnamese. This was due to lackluster planning, uncoordinated planning, and an ultimate disillusionment towards the Viet Cong. By the time the attempt was foiled, over 80,000 Viet Cong soldiers had been killed.
Yet the failed Tet Offensive would do more than destroy the Viet Cong’s capacity to operate in the Republic- it would also result in the breakdown of negotiations between the North and South, a resumption of hostilities, and increased American involvement in Vietnam. Bombing campaigns against the North began during Johnson’s second administration in 1971. By 1975 the nonstop bombing campaigns, raids, and missions eventually forced Hanoi to the negotiating table. Ultimately, the London Peace Accords would stipulate the following:
- Withdrawal of support from the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam to the Viet Cong
- Cessation of American bombing campaigns
- Normalization of North-South Vietnamese relations
- Cessation of American troop deployment into South Vietnam
- The transfer of prisoners of war on both sides
- Cessation of the state of general warfare between North and South
1975-1985The Diem regime weathered the 1970s, though not without serious issues. The 1970s oil crash threatened to bring the burgeoning economy to a grinding halt. Despite US subsidies meant to alleviate the depression, the crash sent millions of state-dependent tenants into poverty and crippling debt, driving thousands into the major cities, especially Saigon. This clash between ‘new people’ and ‘old people’ caused tension and ultimately rioting in the major cities. The elites of the Republic, especially Diem, feared that if this was unchecked, the Viet Cong could violently surge in numbers. This would incentivize the elites to come up with a program of economic aid and land reform, the likes of which had not seen before.
The main guidelines of the People’s Land program were:
- A distribution of land owned by those who made a net sum of over 50,000 US dollars to tenants, with compensation to the landlords.
- Said distribution will be given in land plots of 1-20 hectares, with the maximum being 15-20 hectares.
- Subsidies for existing tenant farmers.
- The creation of farmers banks throughout the country, with families only being allowed to own 30 percent of the voting stock.
- The formation of Farmer’s Militias in order to combat any potential Viet Cong surge.
Yet things were starting to go awry. Diem, the two-decade ruler of Vietnam, began to suffer from dementia, and gave out increasingly erratic orders, such as, among other things, the promotion of a (now defunct) personality cult, and the eradication of bees from the country. Desperate for immortality, he sent several squads into the depths of the country to find the mythical elixir of life. Suffice to say, this failed, and those same squads were executed. By April 1983, Diem was hospitalized after a stroke, and on August 5th, 1983, Ngo Dinh Diem, President of the Republic of Vietnam, died.
Although the death of the long-reigning Diem in 1982 sparked a brief succession crisis, the hitherto unknown Ngo Dinh Quy, one of Diem’s nephews, stood up and seized power. He was able to, conveniently as one might add, purge any opposition in the family, and schedule new elections. This was to prevent a breakdown of the veneer, that is, the veneer of a functional government. On September 12, 1983 Ngo Dinh Quy was inaugurated as President of the Republic of Vietnam.
Complications in the Republic of Vietnam
While the regime has liberalized over the years since the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the reconciliation process between the DRV and RVN, it has always had major flaws. Said flaws were compounded by Diem’s increasing senility and Quy’s recent inauguration. Among these issues are as follows:
A growing narcotics trade:
The Burmese Ne Win regime has been expanding its capability to export opium and other narcotics to other Southeast Asian countries. One of them is the Republic of Vietnam, whose South China Sea coastline makes it a valuable hub for narcotics traffickers. This has resulted in an inflow of drugs through the major cities of the Republic.
In particular, Hue, Saigon, Can Tho and Da Nang have all been flooded with high-quality opium, which has created an epidemic not seen elsewhere other than Colombia. Worryingly, the government of the Republic of Vietnam seems to have cashed in on the opium craze, with the regime’s lower ranks becoming indistinguishable from the traffickers they’re trying to apprehend.
Gang warfare, something thought to have been stomped out in the 1950s, has unexpectedly reappeared. Minor gangs taking advantage of the booming drug trade have morphed into cartels, exerting undue influence on the local government. When Diem was in power, he was reluctant to take action against them-an action detrimental for his nephew, for the situation could rapidly escalate into a full-blown drug war. And a drug war could allow for a return of communism, something we cannot tolerate at all costs.
Corruption is a prominent element of the RVN government. All across the eastern and southern provinces, there has been an explosion in the number of bribes, kickbacks and laundering schemes. Originating under the Diem-era practice of nepotism, the appointees would appoint members of their own families, creating a cycle of neverending nepotism and a dysfunctional government run by incompetent Ngo appointees, one that only holds up due to the fear of Communism.
Abuse of the Justice System:
As the narcotics trade and gang warfare intensified in the Mekong region, the Diem regime empowered the judicial branch in order to, and I quote, `combat the increasing narcotics trade, gang-related malignancies that have threatened the Republic, and to ensure that the countryside and urban areas do not conflict with one another.` In practice, the Diem regime has repeatedly abused its own justice system and committed many extrajudicial atrocities in order to cement its rule, such as the leniency of punishments on Catholics, and the severity of them on Buddhists. This had lead to the formation of movements hostile to the regime.
An all to common staple of the Diem regime, Catholic favoritism was a normalized feature of French rule in Indochina transferred to the Republic. With Ngo Dinh Diem and the late Nhu being ardent Catholics, favoritism of their religion was bound to occur within the South. In the first few years of Diem’s rule, Catholics were favored in the government, with civil service positions being given to Catholics over Buddhists, even if the former was less qualified than the latter. The military was the practice’s next victim; incompetent Catholic officers were promoted over their competent Buddhist counterparts, simply because they were Catholic. This would harm the South’s ability to neutralize and eliminate the Viet Cong, and ultimately require us to intervene in ‘71. This culture of Catholic favoritism was extended into the private sector, with economic positions being awarded to Catholics, causing widespread economic inefficiency. This has resulted in a rather dysfunctional state of affairs, one propped up by fear and, reluctantly, American weapons.
Rise of the 3 D’s:
Now, as we have discussed, the Diem regime was a regime that ostensibly favored Catholics, and as such discriminated against Buddhists. After Nhu’s death (discussed above), Diem relaxed his anti-Buddhist stances. Yet as the decades went by, an ever-senile Diem relapsed into favoring Catholics once again. However, he was now more unforgiving to the Buddhist population, which, despite conversions, was estimated to be around 70% of the population. This sparked the revival of Buddhist grievances against the Diem regime. Violent Buddhist radicals mounted opposition to the Diem regime in the form of the 3 D movement- “Death to America. Death to Catholicism. Death to Diem,”, a clear showing of their desires. These radicals now threaten the security of the Republic akin to the cartels, and so must be cauterized fast, or else.
Torture is common both Vietnams, however a certain aura of sadism emanates from the RVN when it comes to it. The Southern Provinces houses a wide complex of prisons and detention centers for those found to be malignant to the Diem regime. Of those prisons, Con Son is by far, one of the most unforgiving. Reports from several US advisors show that the prisoners were found to be in ‘tiger cages’. Later reports show them to have been beaten, tortured, and sometimes murdered for the slightest signs of disobedience. This indicates that the RVNP lacks restraint, or even basic morals when it comes to detaining prisoners, even if they are of the red variety.
Concentration of Wealth:
With the republic experiencing stable economic growth since the end of the Vietnam War in 1967, there has been a continuing concentration of wealth into the hands of the higher strata of society. More importantly, the urban elites have taken to abusing these newfound riches in ways that most decent Americans would see as degenerate.
We won’t go into what they do with said riches, but one thing is for certain; it has created an alienation of the poorer urbanites with the elite. The government has been hesitant on doing anything involving the urban landscape given this, even when they are in need of financial assistance. This has lead to a continuing degradation of the trust urbanites have on the government.
Oddly enough, the government has been successful in building up a base of loyal farmers and country-folk in order to do the following:
- Prevent any form of communism from resurging within the rural populace
- Establish a strong base of loyal South Vietnamese citizens in case the urban scene decays even more.
- Break up the monopolies held by former landowners in order to keep the populace happy
Enter the Farmers Union. Previously a concept in the cabinets of Diem, now a fully realized dream after the inauguration of Quy in order to keep the rural populations complacent. Another prerogative was to keep any notion of moving up in the social ladder repressed by subsidizing their lifestyle. Any farmer/peasant who was not a member of this Union would incur the wrath of the state via fines, restrictions on travel, and ultimately, confiscation of land.
The Republic of Vietnam’s survival seems grim. The issues faced by the Republic in the 60’s and 70’s were only exacerbated into the 1980s. With Diem being more hands off (unless it pertained to the communist menace), these issues only got worse as time went on. So when Quy inherited his uncle’s mantle as President of the Republic, he was left with a country that was on the path to an eventual Viet Cong revival and a possible popular revolution, Quy must act fast in order to keep his country from devolving into total anarchy. As of 1985, the situation looks bleaker than it ever was.
I would like to thank my good friend @FesteringSpore for helping me out with the writeup.
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