Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2015
Hardback: 314 pages
Ngo Dinh Diem, the first President of the Republic of Vietnam, possessed the Confucian “Mandate of Heaven”, a moral and political authority that was widely recognised by all Vietnamese. This devout Roman Catholic leader never lost this mandate in the eyes of his people; rather, he was taken down by a military coup sponsored by the U.S. government, which resulted in his brutal murder.
The commonly held view runs contrary to the above assertion by military historian Geoffrey Shaw. According to many American historians, President Diem was a corrupt leader whose tyrannical actions lost him the loyalty of his people and the possibility of a military victory over the North Vietnamese. The Kennedy administration, they argue, had to withdraw its support of Diem.
Based on his research of original sources, including declassified documents of the U.S. government, Shaw chronicles the Kennedy administration’s betrayal of this ally, which proved to be not only a moral failure but also a political disaster that led America into a protracted and costly war. Along the way, Shaw reveals a President Diem very different from the despot portrayed by the press during its coverage of Vietnam. From eyewitness accounts of military, intelligence, and diplomatic sources, Shaw draws the portrait of a man with rare integrity, a patriot who strove to free his country from Western colonialism while protecting it from communism.
“A candid account of the killing of Ngo Dinh Diem, the reasons for it, who was responsible, why it happened, and the disastrous results. Particularly agonising for Americans who read this clearly stated and tightly argued book is the fact that the final Vietnam defeat was not really on battle grounds, but on political and moral grounds. The Vietnam War need not have been lost. Overwhelming evidence supports it.”
— From the Foreword by James V. Schall, SJ, Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University
“Did I find a veritable Conradian ‘Heart of Darkness’? Yes, I did, but it was not in the quarter to which all popular American sources were pointing their accusatory fingers; in other words, not in Saigon but, paradoxically, within the Department of State back in Washington, DC, and within President Kennedy’s closest White House advisory circle. The actions of these men led to Diem’s murder. And with his death, nine and a half years of careful work and partnership between the United States and South Vietnam was undone.”
Geoffrey Shaw, from the Preface
About the author
Geoffrey Shaw received his doctorate in history from the University of Manitoba, with a focus on U.S. diplomatic and military history in South-East Asia. From 1994 to 2008 he was an assistant professor of history for the American Military University. He has written and spoken widely about U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and the Middle East. Currently he is president of the Alexandrian Defence Group, a think tank on counterinsurgency warfare.