Whereas a democracy is inspired by certain basic democratic principles, and a Communist dictatorship is erected upon the tenants of Marxism, so Catholic totalitarianism, must be promoted by the doctrines enacted by the Catholic Church. Because of this, Diem became determined to create a model Catholic State in Southeast Asia. The tenets which inspired him most were embodied in the social teachings of three of Diem's favorites, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XI.
Diem took the teaching of these Popes literally. For instance, he firmly held, as Pope Pius IX declared in his Syllabus of Errors, "that it is an error to believe that the church is not a true and perfect society." For the Church to be perfect, the state must be integrated with her so that the two become as one, because quoting again Pius IX "it is an error to believe that: the Church ought to be separated from the State and State from the Church" a principle, which went totally against the Constitution of the U.S., his sponsor.
Elements preventing such union, therefore, had to be eliminated. These meant the Protestants, at that time numbering about 50,000, mostly Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. Diem had planned to eliminate them chiefly via legislation by prohibiting their missions, closing their schools, and refusing licenses to preach, or have religious meetings. This he would have done legally in accordance with the future concordat to be signed with the Vatican, modeled upon that of Franco's Spain. Such anti-Protestant legislation would have been enforced once the war was over and a Catholic state had been firmly established.
That this was no mere speculation, curiously enough was confirmed at that period in London, England. The present author at that time lived only a few hundred yards from the Embassy of South Vietnam, Victoria Road, Kensington. He called at the embassy a number of times to find out the reason for the Diem regime's "harassing certain disruptive Buddhist sects." Documents, all official, were given justifying the harassment. The official explanation was that the Buddhists were "prosecuted" not on religious but on political grounds. When the present author mentioned the Protestants, an official explained that they were a special case. Since they were Christians, their "prosecution" would be justified, once the domestic situation had become normal, on the ground that a statein this case the Catholic State of South Vietnamhad to be inspired by the tenets upon which it is founded. A perfect Catholic State, therefore, could not tolerate Protestants nor Christians who did not believe in the uniqueness of the Catholic Church. This, it should be pointed out, was at the time when Pope John XXIII had launched the era of ecumenism. The high official who gave the explanation should have known, since he was none other than President Diem's own brother, also a staunch
Buddhist monks fight with police in front of the Saigon Ciag Minm Pagoda, protesting yet another piece of legislation discriminating against them. President Diem was determined to create a model Catholic state in South Vietnam and eventually in a united North and South Vietnam. The model Catholic state had to be inspired exclusively by the tenets of the Catholic Church. Diem's favorite tenets were those of Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII, who had all declared how the model Catholic state must eliminate all that was not Catholic. In South Vietnam this included Buddhists as well as some 50,000 Protestants, mostly Baptists, Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. The policy provoked mounting discontent and demonstrations, some of them violent.
Catholic, Ambassador Ngo Dinh. Another official, a former Baptist, subsequently confirmed that there existed already a blue print for the formal elimination of Protestantism in a future United Vietnam.
That these were no mere theoretical plans for the future, was proved by the fact that Diem started his program in earnest. Prior to eliminating any Protestant or Buddhist, he had first to Catholicize the fabric of Vietnam. One most important section of these is education. The Catholic Church is adamant on the subject.
To create a total Catholic State one has to shape its youth, the future citizens of tomorrow. A tenet, which has created no end of trouble in many lands, including the U.S. itself, with her problem of parochial aid and the claim of the Catholic church for special educational exclusiveness. Since Diem had no restriction, he saw to it that the command of his Church be strictly enforced.
In 1957, he instituted a Roman Catholic university at Dalat; by 1963, it had already over 500 studentsthe future intelligentsia of the country. Diem also made sure that Catholic professors and teachers be given seats at two state universities, at Hue and at Saigon respectively. The following year the Jesuits set up seminaries in the same cities. The regime built 435 charitable institutions; between 1953 and 1963 Diem set up 145 middle and upper schools, of which 30 were in Saigon alone, with a total of 62,324 pupils.
During the same period the Catholic Church in South Vietnam, from having only three upper and middle schools in 1953, had multiplied them to 1,060 schools by 1963, a brief period of only ten years.
Simultaneously to the above, Diem built 92,000 square meters of hospitals, charitable and educational institutions; but 526,000 square meters of luxury residences and Catholic Churches.
U.S. troops enroute to Mekong Delta, stopped by a Buddhist procession of some 3,000 monks. The Buddhists surged menacingly against the U.S. troops who were ordered to train their weapons upon them. After several hours the riot police intervened. The Buddhists felt justified in their insurgency because of Diem's preferential treatment of Catholics. Catholic professors and teachers were given seats at the two state universities of Hue and Saigon. The Jesuits were permitted to set up seminaries with state protection and funds. Buddhist schools and educational institutions received little or nothing but harassment. Catholic schools multiplied from only three upper and middle schools in 1955, to 1,060 by 1963. Many Buddhists in the army deserted because of open Catholic discrimination, creating disruption and despondency. Legislation which passed was inspired by Papal teaching.
At the same time, Diem set to build his Catholic State upon the social doctrines of the Popes. These, during the beginning our century, had inspired sundry social movements which had caused deep repercussions in Europe. Most notable of all in Italy. It was the spirit of such Papal social doctrines in fact, which had first inspired Italian fascism, for setting up the Corporate State in Vietnam, but with a veneer of contemporaneity and with certain modifications suitable to an Asian country. To add an additional touch of originality, thereupon Diem invented his own philosophy, derived not only from the teaching of the Popes, but equally from a social farrago, first conceived by a group of Catholic intellectuals, around 1930, when fascism was at its height and called "personalism."
After his attempts to set up a corporate machinery, Diem started to pass laws to enforce his plan. This entailed not only repressive legislation, but equally the use of brute force.
Once more Diem found inspiration in certain papal teaching, that of Pope Pius IX, according to whom, it is an error to believe that: "the church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect." (Error No. 24Syllabus of Errors). Justifying his religious credence with his personal political ambition, Diem, during the ensuing eight years, became increasingly dictatorial, disregarding ever more openly any democratic formality, flouting any advise, becoming ever more impervious to any criticism, including the criticisms of certain U.S. military and civil "advisors." Many of these sent meaningful reports of what was going on to Washington, predicting disaster. The Dulles-CIA-Catholic lobby however, saw to it that they never reached the right quarters, beginning with President Eisenhower himself.
Diem's religious-political egocentrism meanwhile assumed fearful proportions. His philosophy of "personalism" turned into a blatant personality cult on the par with that promoted in Soviet Russia by Stalin and in Nazi Germany by Hitler. His portraits invaded every corner of the land; absence of his image, even in private homes, could render anyone suspect of opposition and hence liable of sudden arrest, prison and detention camps. The personality cult, so typical of the European dictatorships, reached such an extent that finally altars with his portrait were erected in the street where the national anthem was played or sung as a hymn of praise to Diem.
With the personality cult, there developed a fanatical hatred against any form of opposition. The two are inseparable. This meant a relentless elimination of any semblance of civil liberties or freedom of thought, religious and political. Diem kept ever more strict personal control of the police, headed, as we have already said, by one of his brothers. Security networks were multiplied and toughened. Commando squads were formed. Riot controlalways on the readywere trained with ruthless efficiency. It is of particular interest to the American reader that the crack-model of the latter, were created, trained and toughened up by the Southern Michigan University group, under the sponsorship of the CIA.
Blatant violations of civil liberties, of personal freedom, multiplied by the thousands. Dissenters, of all ages and political or religious persuasion, were hauled off to jail or to concentration camps. To better check the dissatisfied, every peasant was compelled to carry an identification card. With the toughening of the Diem regime, these dissenters were no longer the Communists or the Buddhists. Catholics by now had also joined the opposition. These were the Catholics Diem had originally lured away from the North. Thousands of them had demanded that Diem keep his word. They demonstrated, asking for the land, homes, and jobs which they had been promised. An ever increasing number finally said that they wanted to be repatriated back to North Vietnam. Diem's response was typical. The demonstrations were ruthlessly suppressed; any identifiable individual, or group, whether Buddhist or Catholic, was arrested, jailed, sent into a camp or even summarily shot.
It has been reckoned, and the figures although lacking any official confirmation are considered to be concretely reliable, that during this period of terrorthat is from 1955 to 1960at least 24,000 were wounded, 80,000 people were executed or otherwise murdered, 275,000 had been detained, interrogated with or without physical torture, and about 500,000 were sent to concentration or detention camps. This is a conservative estimate.
The creation of a totalitarian Catholic regime was made to go on regardless. The opposition from all sectors of the country increased. Strikes took place with ever increasing frequency, chiefly because of the deteriorating economic situation. In May, 1957, 200,000 workers demonstrated in Saigon alone. Next year May Day 1958, the demonstrators had increased to 500,000. There were strikes and demonstrations throughout the country in subsequent years. The Catholics from the North asked chiefly for repatriation. The state-machinery of suppression, however, had become too efficient to be weakened by any resistance, whether of an economic or political character. The native and American expertise directed the control of the populace and of any individual dissension, having worked like a miracle machine. It was thanks chiefly to this, that Diem felt confident he would ride the storm in the streets, and it was also mainly thanks to such a miraculous machine of repression, that Diem finally felt sufficiently strong to undertake another measure, directed at the establishment of his Catholic Vietnam.
He boldly turned to a direct confrontation with what he considered to be the principal obstacle to his religious-political dreams. That is, he attacked the main religion of the country, Buddhism itself.
Rioting Buddhist monks and civilians opposing steel helmeted police squads. In October, 1956, Catholic Diem, with the tacit approval of the U.S., promulgated a new constitution. Imitating Hitler, Ante Pavelich in Croatia and Salazar of Portugal, he inserted an Article 98, which gave him full dictatorial powers. It read partly as follows: " . . . the President (Diem) may decree a temporary suspension of . . . (there followed almost all the civil liberties of the nation) . . . to meet the legitimate demands of public security, etc." The Article should have expired in April, 1961, but it was never abolished. President Diem, in 1956, issued a personal presidential order, Order 46, which read as follows: "Individuals considered dangerous to the national defense and common security may be confined by executive order to a concentration camp." The order and article caused demonstrations all over South Vietnam.
President Diem confers with Buddhist monks in the Gia Long Palace in Saigon, August, 1962. Before engaging upon a thorough persecution against the Buddhists, President Diem attempted to form a body of Buddhists who would support his policies of coordination and integration. His program was directed at the Catholicization of the government and the army, giving privileged positions to the Catholics, including those who had fled from the Communist North. In order to strengthen his regime, Diem tried to appease the Buddhists. They were restless because the government was favoring the Catholics over the Buddhists, although the latter made up more than three quarters of the entire population. To avoid the Buddhist discontent from spreading, Diem tried to convince certain Buddhist leaders to support him. He hoped to avoid a potential confrontation with those who were determined to oppose his pro-Catholic, anti-Buddhist legislation. Diem's attempt failed. Apart from a small group, the majority of Buddhists refused to collaborate with him and with his Catholic regime.
Buddhists attack a Catholic school in Saigon. The policy of Catholicization of South Vietnam became so blatant that it incensed the most phlegmatic of Buddhists. From the beginning of his presidency, Diem started upon the erection and multiplication of Catholic schools and Catholic education. Between 1953 and 1963, Diem set up 145 middle and upper schools, of which 30 were in Saigon alone, with a total of 62,000 pupils. During the same period the Catholic Church, from having only three upper and middle schools in 1953, had multiplied them to 1,060 by 1963, a brief period of ten years. Simultaneously Diem appointed Catholic teachers and Catholic professors at non-Catholic universities and saw to it that Catholics be given preferential treatment and salaries. The object was to make Catholic education the backbone of the intelligentsia of South Vietnam. At the same time, he had built churches and numerous Catholic charitable institutions, the whole being paid for by the government, which was ruling a population which was 85 per cent Buddhist. Reactions, which at first were only vocal, finally took a violent turn, and Catholic schools and even churches were burnt down by infuriated Buddhist crowds.
Buddhist demonstrators attacking Catholics barricaded in a Catholic newspaper building in Saigon. The building was set on fire while the town was rocked for hours by street riots involving thousands of people. The riots were quelled after the Buddhists were confronted by troops, and the Catholics withdrew. The demonstrations were caused by new legislation favoring Catholic schools and Catholics in government and military posts. The Catholic government of President Diem paid lip service to equality and democracy, but the favoritism was so blatant that riots became increasingly frequent as the war progressed.
A girl prays for peace among 15,000 other protesters led by Buddhist monks and nuns in front of Saigon's main pagoda. They prayed for the cessation of the war in Vietnam, fomented by the Vatican and the U.S. The Vatican had escalated the cult of Fatima, with the Virgin's promise that communism would be destroyed in the world and in Soviet Russia. The U.S. escalated the Cold War and brought World War III so close that in 1956 John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, told a horrified world that the U.S. had stood on the brink three times. Mr. Dulles had even informed Moscow and Peking that the U.S. intended to use atomic weapons. The conflict in Vietnam was further accelerated by the rapid promotion of fanatical Catholics in the higher echelons of the army to the detriment of the Buddhists. Desertion of Buddhists in the rank and file resulted, weakening the moral and effectiveness of the army. Catholicization had split South Vietnam into a nation fighting a bloody religious war between Roman Catholics and Buddhists.
Buddhists face Vietnamese leaders of the government outside Saigon's Independence Palace during an anti-government protest. Although the U.S. frowned upon the religious harassment of the South Vietnamese administration, it permitted gross Catholic discrimination against the Buddhist majority. The policy was supported by the Vatican and by substantial American Catholic interests. Pope John XXIII, the liberal Pope, followed the ruthless Catholicization of Vietnam with approval. He tried to prevent the North and the South from reaching any kind of understanding. He consecrated the whole of Vietnam to the Virgin Mary and established a Catholic Hierarchy and Episcopacy for the whole of Vietnam thus indicating that he wanted the North to become an integral part of the Catholic South, under President Diem, loyal son of the Catholic Church.
Buddhist monks leave the U.S. Embassy in Saigon after having taken refuge there to escape arrest from the police of President Diem. Thousands of their brethren had been rounded up and sent to detention camps; others were harassed and even tortured inside and outside the pagodas. These, at one time, were closed to prevent Buddhists from using them as places of worship, and according to Diem, for political opposition to his regime. Thousands of monks, after organizing protest marches against the religious discriminatory laws of South Vietnam, went on a hunger strike. At one time over 10,000 people in Saigon alone, joined them in a general protest.
Buddhist altars and shrines draped with colored banners and flags, erected in the middle of the road to prevent a U.S. marine column and other oncoming U.S. armored cars from entering Hue. The Buddhists were protesting U.S. support of Catholic President Diem, who had escalated anti-Buddhist discrimination everywhere. During similar demonstrations many Buddhist monks and nuns were detained and arrested. In this incident the confrontation ended peacefully after a U.S. marine officer negotiated with the Buddhist leaders, who ordered that the altars be withdrawn to let the tank convoy through. The U.S. was openly blamed for supporting the discriminatory policy of President Diem and keeping silent about the general fear of Diem's brother, the Chief of the Secret Police.
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