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Religious Revival and the Politics of Nation Building: Reinterpreting the 1963 ‘Buddhist crisis’ in South Vietnam

  • EDWARD MILLER (a1)

Abstract

Scholars have portrayed the 1963 ‘Buddhist crisis’ in South Vietnam as a struggle for religious freedom, as a political conspiracy, or as a manifestation of ancient religious beliefs and practices. This paper, in contrast, argues that the crisis emerged from a clash of modernizing visions. The Buddhist-led protests that took place in South Vietnam in 1963 were linked to the Vietnamese Buddhist revival, a nationalist reform movement that began during the early twentieth century. The protests also reflected growing Buddhist anxieties about the Ngo Dinh Diem government's nation-building agenda for South Vietnam. By the time the crisis began, Buddhist leaders had concluded that this agenda (which Diem referred to as the ‘Personalist Revolution’) was incompatible with their plans to realize Vietnam's destiny as a ‘Buddhist nation’. In addition to reinterpreting the origins of the crisis, this paper examines how the course of events was shaped by the personalities and agendas of particular Buddhist and government leaders, and especially by fierce rivalries among members of Diem's family. These internal tensions help to explain the failure of attempts to end the crisis through negotiations, as well as Diem's decision to crush the movement by force in August 1963.

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1 In this paper, I follow convention in using ‘South Vietnam’ to refer both to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), which was the Saigon-based state that Diệm founded in 1955, and to the portions of Vietnam's territory lying below the seventeenth parallel, which the Republic of Vietnam sought to administer and control during the Vietnam War era. Both the Republic of Vietnam and its archrival, the communist-controlled Democratic Republic of Vietnam, claimed to be the sole legitimate government of all of Vietnam.

2 For Đức Nghiệp's recollection of the events of May and June 1963, see Nghiệp, Thích Đức, ‘Vụ tự thiêu của hòa thương Thích Quảng Đức’, in Thát, Lê Mạnh (ed.), Bồ Tát Quảng Đức; ngọn lửa và trái tim, Nhà Xuất Bản Tổng Hợp TPHCM, Ho Chi Minh City, 2005, pp. 394–9. The decision to allow Quảng Đức to burn himself was made on 9 June; see Cung, , Phông trào Phật Giáo miền nam Việt Nam 1963, revised edition, Nhà Xuất Bản Thuận Hóa, Hue, 2005, pp. 193–4.

3 Thích Đức Nghiệp, ‘Vụ Tự Thiêu’, p. 397.

4 For influential accounts in this vein, see Halberstam, D., The making of a quagmire, Random House, New York, 1964, Chapters 13 and 14; Buttinger, J., Vietnam: A dragon embattled, Praeger, New York, 1967, Vol. 2, pp. 9921001; Sheehan, N., A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, Random House, New York, 1988, Book IV; and Karnow, S., Vietnam: A history, Viking, New York, 1997, Chapter 8. Recent scholarly accounts endorsing this view include Kaiser, D., American tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the origins of the Vietnam War, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000, Chapter 8; Jones, H., Death of a generation: How the assassinations of Diem and JFK prolonged the Vietnam War, Oxford University Press, New York, 2003, Chapter 11; and Jacobs, S., Cold war mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the origins of America's war in Vietnam, 1950–1963, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2006, pp. 142–54. An important variation on this interpretation is Lê Cung, Phông trào Phật Giáo miền nam, which sees the 1963 Buddhist movement as a response to religious bigotry, but which also portrays it as having revolutionary goals similar to those espoused by the Vietnamese Communist Party.

5 Accounts which downplay Buddhist religious goals include Schecter, J., The new face of Buddha: Buddhism and political power in Southeast Asia, Coward-McCann, New York, 1967, Chapters 8–10; and Duncanson, D., Government and revolution in Vietnam, Oxford University Press, New York, 1968, pp. 327–41. The claim that the movement was created by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was first advanced by former Diệm government officials; see Minh, Lương Khải [Trần Kim Tuyến] and Hoàng, Cao Vị, Làm thế nào để giết một tổng thống?, Đinh Minh Ngọc, Saigon, 1970, Chapter 8. An early formulation of the theory that Buddhist leaders were sleeper communist operatives is to be found in Higgins, M., Our Vietnam nightmare, Harper & Row, New York, 1965, pp. 2535. For a recent revival of these allegations, see Moyar, M., ‘Political monks: the militant Buddhist movement during the Vietnam War’, Modern Asian Studies, v. 38, 2004, pp. 749–84; and especially Moyar, M., Triumph forsaken: the Vietnam War, 1954–1965, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, Chapter 9.

6 The classic work in this vein is Fitzgerald, F., Fire in the lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1972, especially pp. 131–2. See also Gheddo, P., The cross and the bo-tree: Catholics and Buddhists in Vietnam, trans. Charles Underhill Quinn, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1970, Chapter V.

7 Hanh, Thich Nhat, Vietnam: Lotus in a sea of fire, Hill & Wang, New York, 1967; Topmiller, R., The lotus unleashed: the Buddhist peace movement in South Vietnam, 1964–1966, University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Kentucky, 2002.

8 Catton, P., Diem's final failure: prelude to America's war in Vietnam, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 2002, pp. 3447; Miller, E., ‘Vision, power and agency: the ascent of Ngô Đình Diệm, 1945–1954’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, v. 35, October 2004, pp. 433–58.

9 For an exploration of how contests over nation building and development shaped the history of South Vietnam during the Diem era, see Miller, E., Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the fate of South Vietnam, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2013. In addition to the works cited in the preceding footnote, other recent scholarship on nation building in South Vietnam during the Diem era includes J. Chapman, ‘Staging democracy: South Vietnam's 1955 referendum to depose Bao Dai’, Diplomatic History, v. 30, September 2006, pp. 671–703; Masur, M., ‘Exhibiting signs of resistance: South Vietnam's struggle for legitimacy, 1954–1960’, Diplomatic History, v. 33, April 2009; and Stewart, G. C., ‘Hearts, minds and công dân vũ: the special commissariat for civic action and nation-building in Ngô Đình Diệm's Vietnam, 1955–1957’, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, v. 6, Fall 2011, pp. 44100. This scholarship reflects the growing interest in nation building as a major theme in the history of the Vietnam War; see Fisher, C. T., ‘Nation building and the Vietnam War’, Pacific Historical Review, v. 74, August 2005, pp. 441–56.

10 On the early history of the revival, see Devido, E. A., ‘“Buddhism for this world”: the Buddhist revival in Vietnam, 1920 to 1951, and its legacy’, in Taylor, P. (ed.), Modernity and re-enchantment: religion in post-revolutionary Vietnam, ISEAS, Singapore, 2007, pp. 250–96. Other important recent works on the revival include McHale, S., Print and power: Confucianism, communism and Buddhism in the making of modern Vietnam, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 2004, pp. 157–64; Do, T., ‘The quest for enlightenment and cultural identity: Buddhism in contemporary Vietnam’, in Harris, Ian (ed.), Buddhism and politics in twentieth-century Asia, Pinter, London, 1999, pp. 254–80; and M. T. Nguyen, ‘Buddhist monastic education and regional revival movements in early twentieth century Vietnam’, PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin Madison, 2007. See also Woodside, A., Community and revolution in modern Vietnam, Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1976, pp. 192200; Duong, Huynh Ba Yêt, ‘Le mouvement de renovation du Bouddhisme au Viet Nam’, Đường mới//La voie nouvelle, v. 4, 1985, pp. 94112; and Anh, Nguyen The, ‘L’engagement politique du Bouddhisme au Sud Viêt-Nam dans les années 1960’, in Forest, A.et. al. (eds), Bouddhismes et sociétés Asiatiques: Clergés, sociétés et pouvoirs, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1990, pp. 111–24. Important Vietnamese-language works on the revival include Hoa, Thích Thiện, 50 năm Chấn Hưng Phật Giáo Việt Nam, Vol. 1, Viện Hóa Đạo, Saigon, 1970; Quang, Thích Trí, Tăng-già Việt-Nam, Trung Tâm Văn Hoá Phật Giáo Việt Nam, Los Angeles, 1986; and Lang, Nguyễn [Thích Nhất Hạnh], Việt Nam Phật Giáo sử luận, Vol. 3, Nhà Xuất Bản Văn Học, Hanoi, 2000 (originally published in 1988). For an English-language account of the revival by Vietnamese scholars based in Vietnam, see Thu, Nguyên Taiet. al., History of Buddhism in Vietnam, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 1992, pp. 384427.

11 On Tai Xu, see Pittman, D. A., Toward a modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's reforms, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honululu, 2001. On Tai Xu's influence in Vietnam, see Devido, ‘“Buddhism for this world”‘, pp. 257–62; and Thich Nhat Hanh, Lotus in a sea of fire, p. 42. On hiện đại hóa, see Marr, D., Vietnamese tradition on trial, 1920–1945, University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1981, p. 304. On Buddhist print culture and the translation of classical texts, see Huynh Ba Yêt Duong, ‘Le Mouvement de Renovation du Bouddhisme’, pp. 100–3.

12 Tai, H.-T. H., Radicalism and the Vietnamese Revolution, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992.

13 The most famous of the ‘patriotic’ monks of the interwar era was Thích Thiện Chiếu; see Woodside, Community and revolution in modern Vietnam, p. 193; and Nguyên Tài Thu et. al., History of Buddhism in Vietnam, pp. 389–91.

14 A seminal text in the construction of this narrative was Trần Văn Giáp, ‘Le Bouddhisme en Annam des origins au XIIIe siècle’, Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient, v. 32, 1932, pp. 191–286; for an illuminating analysis, see Nguyen, C. T., Zen in medieval Vietnam: a study and translation of the Thiện Uyển Tập Anh, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 1997, pp. 22–3. Later elaborations of this narrative include Thể, Thích Mật, Việt Nam Phật Giáo sử lược, Tân Việt, Hanoi, 1944; Truyển, Mai Thọ, Le Bouddhism au Viêt-Nam, Xá Lợi Pagoda, Saigon, 1962; Nguyễn Lang, Việt Nam Phật Giáo sử luận, and Nguyễn Tài Thu et. al., History of Buddhism in Vietnam.

15 Woodside, A., ‘Vietnamese Buddhism, the Vietnamese court, and China in the 1800s’, in Wickberg, E. (ed.), Historical interaction of China and Vietnam: institutional and cultural themes, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1969, pp. 1124. On the Nguyễn construction of a court-centred ‘spiritual hierarchy’, see Ramsay, J., Mandarins and martyrs: the church and the Nguyen dynasty in early nineteenth century Vietnam, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 2008, pp. 37–9.

16 Nguyễn Lang, Việt Nam Phật Giáo sử luận, Vol. 3, Chapters XXVII–XXIX. The cross-regional coordination efforts are noted in Thích Trí Quang, ‘Tiểu Truyện Tự Ghi’, n.d., <http://www.buddhismtoday.com/viet/pgvn/nguoi/002-triquang.htm>, [accessed 30 August 2013].

17 One Buddhist source published in 1962 claimed that the ‘Buddhist family’ (Gia Đình Phất tử) movement had 70,000 members organized in 1,000 chapters in South Vietnam; see Mai Thọ Truyển, Le Bouddhisme au Vietnam, p. 54.

18 ‘Bản Tuyên Ngôn thành lập Tổng-Hội Phật-Giáo Việt-Nam’, 6 May 1952, in Phật Giáo Việt Nam, n. 1, 1956, pp. 40–41.

19 One future leader of the 1963 protests called the Association ‘the embodiment of the unity of Buddhism in Vietnam’: Trí Quang, Tăng-gia Việt Nam, p. 19.

20 Editorial in Phật Giáo Việt Nam, n. 1, 1956, pp. 3–5.

21 The profound impact of the Buddhist revival on Nhất Hạnh's thinking has been strangely absent from existing English-language scholarship on his career; see, for example, King, S. B., ‘Thich Nhat Hanh and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam: nondualism in action’, in Queen, C. S. and King, S. B. (eds), Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist liberation movements in Asia, State University of New York Press, New York, 1996, pp. 321–63.

22 A 1956 Republic of Vietnam government report indicated that Buddhists accounted for about 239,000 of the 875,000 refugees who had arrived in the South; see Bản Thống Kê Niên Khóa 1955–1956 và Tình Hình các Trại Định-cư Tháng 8 Năm 1956, Uỷ-Ban Hộ-Trợ Định-cư, Saigon, 1956, p. 4. Ngô Đình Nhu later claimed that Catholics accounted for about 70 per cent of all refugees and implied that Buddhists made up most of the remainder; see ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam: report of the United Nations fact-finding mission to South Vietnam’, United Nations General Assembly, New York, 1963, p. 45. On the motives and experiences of Catholic migrants during 1954–1955, see Hansen, P., ‘Bắc Đi Cú: Catholic refugees from the north of Vietnam, and their role in the southern republic, 1954–1959’, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, v. 4, October 2009, pp. 173211.

23 On anti-Catholic violence in the nineteenth century, see Ramsay, Mandarins and martyrs. Diem claimed that many members of his family were wiped out in a massacre of Catholics by Buddhists in Central Vietnam in the 1870s; see Shaplen, R., The lost revolution, Harper & Row, New York, 1965, p. 105.

24 Among the approximately 20 men who served as general officers in the South Vietnamese army during the Diệm years, only three—Huỳnh Văn Cao, Trấn Tử Oai, and Trần Thiện Khiêm—were Catholic.

25 Chanoff, D. and Toai, D. V., Vietnam: a portrait of its people at war, I. B. Tauris, London, 1996, pp. 3940.

26 On Diệm's furnishing of funds to Buddhist leaders, see Anh, ‘L’engagement politique du Bouddhisme’, p. 114; P. V. Luu, ‘The Buddhist crises in Vietnam, 1963–1966’, PhD thesis, Monash University, 1991, pp. 19–20; Van Luận, Cao, Bên-Giòng Lịch-Sử Việt Nam, 1940–1975, revised edition, Tantu Research, Sacramento, California, 1983, p. 235. When asked in 1963 about Diệm's support for Xá Lợi, Mai Thọ Truyển denied that the president had supplied the requested funds but acknowledged that the government had paid for other pagoda construction and renovation projects; see ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, pp. 97–8.

27 Lê Cung, Phông trào Phật Giáo miền nam, pp. 45–6.

28 ‘The Buddhist Movement in Vietnam and its difficulties with the present government’, April 1961, Item No. 0720601003, John Donnell Collection, Virtual Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University [hereafter VVA, TTU]; ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, p. 97.

29 On the Ngô brothers’ appropriation of Mounier's ideas, see Miller, ‘Vision, power and agency’, pp. 448–50; see also Miller, Misalliance, Chapter 4. For Buddhist allegations about the proselytizing intent behind the Personalist Revolution, see Thích Trí Quang, ‘Tiểu Truyện Tự Ghi’; and Thich Nhat Hanh, Lotus in a sea of fire, p. 27.

30 Schecter, The new face of Buddha, p. 156. One Buddhist leader recalled that Cần took Buddhist complaints about discrimination seriously and even removed the offending officials in some cases. Author interview with Thích Giác Đức, Newton, Massachusetts, October 2003.

31 Nguyễn Lang, Việt Nam Phật Giáo sử luận, Vol. 3, pp. 1036–7; Thich Nhat Hanh, Lotus in a sea of fire, pp. 26–7. Some Buddhists claimed that the legendary apparitions of the Virgin Mary at La Vang were manifestations of a local Buddhist cult that Thục had appropriated and recast in Christian form; see Không, Chân [Phuong, Cao Ngoc], Learning true love: how I learned and practiced social change in Vietnam, Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 1993, pp. 33–4. These allegations were untrue—the Marian cult at La Vang dated to the early nineteenth century—but the currency that they gained showed the depth of the anger that Thục had provoked.

32 Huồn, Phan Phát, Việt-Nam Giáo-Sử, Vol. 2: 1933–1960, Cứu-Thế Tùng-Thư, Saigon, 1962, pp. 290–2. Buddhists blamed the Bishop of Qui Nhơn, a close ally of Thục’s, for the forced conversions; see Oai, Quốc, Phật Giáo Tranh Đấu, Tân Sanh, Saigon, 1963, pp. 918.

33 Thích Trí Quang, ‘Cuộc vận động của Phật giáo Việt Nam’, Hải Triều Âm, 23 July 1964, p. 2.

34 Author interview with Thích Giác Đức, Newton, Massachusetts, October 2003.

35 ‘The Buddhist movement in Vietnam and its difficulties with the present government’, VVA, TTU.

36 Letter 30-THPG/HC, Thích Tịnh Khiết to Ngô Đình Diệm, 28 February 1962; and unnumbered report, Bùi Văn Lương to Ngô Đình Diệm, 18 June 1962; both items are in Folder 7941, Phủ Tổng Thống Đệ Nhật [Office of the Presidency of the 1st Republic] Series, Vietnam National Archives No. 2, HCMC [hereafter PTTDH, TTLTQG2.]

37 For a Buddhist account of the morning march and Trí Quang's speech, see Quốc-Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh-Đấu của Phật-Giáo Việt-Nam từ Phật-Đản đến Cách-Mạng 1963, Chùa Khanh Anh, Bagneux, France, 1987, pp. 42–3. See also Minh, Phạm Văn, Vietnamese engaged Buddhism: The Struggle Movement of 1963–1966, Văn Nghệ, Westminster, California, 2002, pp. 186–7.

38 For an eyewitness account by one of the monks present, see Mẫu, Vũ Văn, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn 1963, Giao Điêm, Garden Grove, California, 2003, pp. 7880; see also Report No. 7-DPT/H/HC/M, Ngô Ganh to Director of the Vietnamese Broadcasting Agency, 9 May 1963, ibid., pp. 125–30. For a detailed reconstruction of the 8 May incident, see Luu, ‘The Buddhist crises in Vietnam’, pp. 30–45.

39 For Đặng Sĩ's account of events, see Luu, ‘The Buddhist crises in Vietnam’, pp. 33–8. The description of the armoured vehicle can be found in the Washington Post, 28 July 1963, p. A18. The names and ages of the victims are in Quốc-Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh-Đấu, p. 45. Two victims were reportedly Catholics; see Hammer, Ellen J., A death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1987, p. 114.

40 The Diệm regime blamed the killings on the communists almost as soon as the attacks took place; see the Times of Vietnam [hereafter TOVN], 10 May 1963; see also Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn 1963, p. 80. For the official inquiry report, authored by Army Colonel Đỗ Cao Tri, see 0645/KXICT/2/2/M, 16 May 1963, Folder 8169, PTTĐN, TTLTQG2.

41 Province Chief Đăng reported that the security forces used ‘tear gas grenades’ (lựu đạn cay mắt); see Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn 1963, pp. 121–2. For Đăng Sĩ's admission that he fired ‘warning shots’ and that some of his soldiers used concussion grenades, see the Saigon Post, 4 June 1964, pp. 1, 10.

42 Lê Cung, Phong Trào Phật Giáo, p. 161.

43 Saigon Post, issues of 2–6 June 1964. For the view that Đặng Sĩ was unjustly convicted, see Hammer, A death in November, pp. 113–5.

44 TOVN, 5 May 1963, p. 1. For the celebration plans in Huế, see Cách Mạng Quốc Gia [hereafter CMQG], 9 April 1963, p. 1.

45 For the pre-1962 rules on flag displays, see Linh, Nguyễn Ngọc (ed.), Niên Lịch Công Đàn, 1960–1961, Công Đàn, Saigon, 1960, p. 238. A South Vietnamese Army general claimed that Diem issued the 1962 decree after attending a Buddhist event where he noticed that ‘amidst a profusion of Buddhist flags, there was only one national flag, tattered and faded’. ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, pp. 27–8.

46 The government's regional delegate for central Vietnam told United Nations investigators in October 1963 that Diem had issued the blanket ban on religious flags after he observed that ‘there were too many Catholic flags and no national flags’ flown during the celebrations for Thuc in early May. While denying that Diem had intended the ban as an anti-Buddhist measure, the delegate acknowledged that ‘If I had been [President Diem], I would not have had this order carried out immediately; I would have waited until the end of the Buddhist festival. Then there would never have been this affair.’ ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, p. 80.

47 Republic of Vietnam Office of the Presidency, Telegram No. 9195, 6 May 1963, printed in Lê Cung, Phòng Trào Phật Giáo, p. 355.

48 Except where indicated, the following three paragraphs are derived from Trí Quang, ‘Tiểu Truyện Tự Ghi’.

49 See, for example, Schecter, New Face of Buddha, p. 147; Lacouture, J., Vietnam: Between two truces, trans Kellen, K. and Carmichael, J., Random House, New York, 1966, pp. 219–22; and Fitzgerald, Fire in the lake, pp. 286–7. For the ‘right wing’ claim, see Karnow, Vietnam, p. 296.

50 Topmiller, The lotus unleashed, pp. 47, 66.

51 Higgins, Our Vietnam nightmare, pp. 25–35; Critchfield, R., The long charade: political subversion in the Vietnam War, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1968, pp. 6281; Moyar, Triumph forsaken, pp. 217–8.

52 McAllister, J., ‘“Only religions count in Vietnam”: Thich Tri Quang and the Vietnam War’, Modern Asian Studies, v. 42, 2008, pp. 751–82. Trí Quang told American officials in the spring of 1965 that the tempo of air attacks against North Vietnam should be increased in order ‘to force the North to some reaction as soon as possible’ (p. 773).

53 CIA Intelligence Information Cable TDCS 314/02342-64, 28 August 1964, Declassified Documents Reference System [hereafter DDRS]. For an attempt to use this report to prove the opposite of what it says, see Moyar, Triumph forsaken, p. 218. The CIA confirmed its conclusions in later analyses; see Intelligence Memorandum No. 806/66, ‘Thich Tri Quang and Buddhist Political Objectives in South Vietnam’, 20 April 1966, DDRS.

54 See, for example, Lê Cung, Phong Trào Phật Giáo, which argues that the Buddhist movement was driven by the same revolutionary impulses that motivated the communists (p. 331) but which does not show that Tri Quang or any other Buddhist leader was acting in solidarity with the Party.

55 Translated document No. 8602/2-R, ‘Traduction d’un document V.M. récupéré à BA-TRINH (KE-SACH) le 21 Septembre 1951’, 11 October 1951, Box 10 H 4202, Sociéte Historique de la Armèe de la Terre, Vincennes, France. A 1966 internal Party assessment described Trí Quang as the head of a ‘reactionary group’ of Buddhists who were ‘strongly anti-communist’; DOS Airgram A-459, Lodge to DepState, 21 February 1967, POL 27 VIET S, Record Group 59, American National Archives, College Park, Maryland. (The author thanks Professor James McAllister for providing a copy of this document.)

56 Thích Trí Quang, ‘Tư-Tưởng-Hệ Phật-Giao’, Phật Giáo Việt Nam, no. 2, June 1956, pp. 39–40.

57 Trí Quang, quoted in Schecter, The new face of Buddha, p. 146.

58 Hammer, A death in November, p. 112; Schecter, The new face of Buddha, p. 156.

59 Trí Quang, ‘Thư của Thượng-Tọa Hội Trưởng Hội Phật-Giáo Trung-Phần gởi Đại-Tướng Lê Văn Tỵ’, printed in Liên Hoa Nguyệt San, special Vesak day edition, 1963, p. 2.

60 Thích Trí Quang, ‘Cuộc vận động của Phật giáo Việt Nam’, Hải Triều Âm, 30 April 1964.

61 The mayor, Nguyễn Văn Đẳng, was worried about Buddhist dissatisfaction with the government as early as 1961; Đôn, Trần Văn, Việt Nam Nhân Chưng, Xuan Thu, Los Alamitos, California, 1989, pp. 165–6.

62 Thích Trí Quang, ‘Cuộc Vận-Động Của Phật-Giáo Việt-Nam’, Hải Triều Âm, 30 April 1964, pp. 4–5, 10. This text is a serialized version of a memoir written by Trí Quang during the months following the overthrow of the Diệm government and was published in instalments during 1964.

64 For Trí Quang's account of this meeting and Cẩn's remark, ibid. For Lương's recollection, see ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, pp. 60–1.

65 Lê Cung, Phòng Trào Phật Giáo, p. 150.

66 For Trí Quang's account of these events, see Hải Triều Âm, 30 April 1964. Several key details—including the deployment of police forces at 3pm and the meeting at the Mayor's office—are corroborated by the official government report on the 8 May incident; see 0645/KXICT/2/2/M, 16 May 1963, Folder 8169, PTTĐN, TTLTQG2.

67 Hammer, A death in November, pp. 109–10. Hammer's source for this story was Nguyễn Đình Thuận, Republic of Vietnam secretary of state at the presidency in 1963.

68 Trần Văn Đôn, Việt Nam Nhân Chưng, p. 162.

69 Report &-DPT/H/HC/M, Director of Huế Radio Station to Director of the Republic of Vietnam Radio Broadcasting Service, 9 May 1963, printed in Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn 1963, pp. 125–30.

70 Quoted in Luu, ‘The Buddhist Crises in Vietnam, 1963–1966’, p. 39.

71 ‘Bản Tuyên-Ngôn của Tín-Đồ Phật-Giáo Việt-Nam’, printed in Quốc-Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh-Đấu, pp. 49–50. For an English translation, see Foreign Relations of the United States [hereafter FRUS], 1961–63, Vol. 3, pp. 287–8.

72 For Ordinance No. 10, see Công-Báo Việt Nam, 19 August 1950, pp. 434–7. Point No. 44 states that ‘a special status for Catholic and Protestant Missions and for overseas Chinese congregations will be established in the future’.

73 Quốc-Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh-Đấu, p. 48.

75 Telegram 6, Hue Consulate to DepState, 10 May 1963, printed in FRUS, 1961–63, Vol. 3, pp. 285–6.

76 Cao Văn Luận, Bên Giong Lịch Sử, p. 315.

77 Cabinet Meeting Minutes No. 247-TTP/ĐL/M, 13 May 1963, Folder 60, Phủ Thủ Tường [Office of the Prime Minister] Series, Vietnam National Archives No. 2, HCMC [hereafter PTT, TTLTQG2].

78 Although Trí Quang was in contact with government officials after the 8 May incident, those who spoke to him concluded that he was not acting in good faith; see ‘The violation of human rights in Viet-Nam’, p. 62.

79 For Tâm Châu's summary of his career and his earlier dealings with Diệm, see Bạch Thư về vấn-đề Chia rẽ Của Ấn-Quang với Việt-Nam Quốc-Tự, Từ Quang, Montréal, 1994, pp. 14–17. For his earlier collaboration with anti-communist Catholics, see Lac, Hoang and Viet, Ha Mai, Blind Design: Why America Lost the Vietnam War, Self-published, Sugarland, Texas, 1996, p. 121.

80 In 2001, Tâm Châu told an interviewer that many Buddhist leaders in Saigon initially resisted his call to join the movement; see T. Nguyen, ‘Vietnamese Buddhist movements for peace and social transformation, 1963–1966’, PhD thesis, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, 2006, p. 140.

81 ‘Tâm Thư của Thượng-Tọa Thích Tâm Châu, Phó Hội-Chủ Tổng-Hội Phật-Giáo Việt-Nam’, 9 May 1963, in Tâm Châu, Bạch Thư, pp. 37–9.

82 For Buddhist accounts of the meeting, see Quốc Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh Đấu, pp. 66–7; ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, pp. 94–5; and Le Cung, Phong Trào Phật Giáo, pp. 177–8. For the ‘disorderly’ remark, see Vietnam Presse, 17 May 1963; and Telegram 1038, 18 May 1963, FRUS, 1961–63, Vol. 3, pp. 309–12. David Halberstam's undocumented claim that Diệm told the Buddhists at this meeting that they were ‘damned fools’ is almost certainly apocryphal; Halberstam, The making of a quagmire, p. 202.

83 CMQG, 22 May 1963, p. 1; Quốc Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh Đấu, pp. 73–4. For the ‘appendix’, see Lê Cung, Phong Trào Phật Giáo, p. 181.

84 New York Times (hereafter NYT), 31 May 1963, p. 2.

85 Telegram 1085, 1 June 1963, in FRUS, 1961–63, Vol. 3, pp. 340–1. On the tear gas, see Telegram 1101, 4 June 1963, ibid., pp. 346–7.

86 Telegram 1090, 1 June 1963, Box 197A, National Security Files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Massachusetts.

87 Author interview with Đào Quang Hiền, Fairfax, Virginia, October 2007.

88 Telegram 1100, Saigon to SecState, 4 June 1963, printed in FRUS, 1961–63, Vol. 3, pp. 349–51.

89 Cẩn's ‘eyes and ears’ comment were related to the author by Đào Quang Hiền (2007 interview). Hiền's account is corroborated by a secret report, which he wrote in September 1963, and which cites information provided by Thiện Minh; see Đào Quang Hiền, ‘Phiếu Trình những bằng cớ về những tay của người Mỹ trong cuộc tranh-đấu của Phật-Giáo vừa qua’, 16 September 1963, Folder 8502, PTTDN, TTLTQG2.

90 Telegram 1107, 5 June 1963, and Telegram 1114, 6 June 1963, FRUS, 1961–63, Vol. 3, pp. 356–8, 359–60; CMQG, 6 and 8 June 1963.

91 ‘Solidarity Movement calls for Defense of VN. Buddhism’, TOVN, 9 June 1963, pp. 1–2.

92 On Madame Nhu's reform initiatives and the backlash that they provoked, see Fall, B., The two Viet-Nams: a political and military analysis, Praeger, New York, 1964, p. 265; Scigliano, Robert, South Vietnam: nation under stress, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1963, pp. 44–5. Although Madame Nhu's penchant for theatrical and offensive statements is well documented, her role in the internal politics of the Diệm government remains understudied, and even recent accounts by Vietnam War scholars have mostly reproduced the caricatures presented in Western media reports at the time. See, for example, P. Brush, ‘Madame Nhu, dragon lady of South Vietnam’, Vietnam Magazine, v. 22, October 2009, pp. 32–7.

93 Telegram 1136, 9 June 1963; and Telegram 1141, 10 June 1963; in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 3, pp. 366–9, 371–3. After a short delay, the resolution did appear in the Vietnamese-language press; see CMQG, 11 June 1963.

94 Thích Đức Nghiệp, ‘Vụ Tự Thiêu’, pp. 397–8; Browne, M., The new face of war, Bobbs-Merrill, New York, 1965, p. 175.

95 Ibid., pp. 177–80; Halberstam, The making of a quagmire, p. 211; Thích Đức Nghiệp, ‘Vụ Tự Thiêu’.

96 Skow, L. M. and Dionisopoulos, G., ‘A struggle to contextualize photographic images: American print media and the “Burning Monk”’, Communication Quarterly, v. 45, Fall 1997, pp. 393409.

97 W. R. Thera, ‘Self immolation, an ancient Buddhist custom’, World Buddhism, December 1963, pp. 6–7; Yün-hua, Jan, ‘Buddhist self-immolation in medieval China’, History of Religions, v. 4, Winter 1965, pp. 243–68. See also Orzech, C. D., ‘“Provoked suicide” and the victim's behavior’, in Wallace, M. and Smith, T. H. (eds), Curing Violence, Polebridge Press, Sonoma, California, 1994, pp. 137–60.

98 Thích Nhất Hạnh in ‘In search of the enemy of man’, printed in Thich Nhat Hanh, Lotus in a sea of fire, pp. 106–08; see also Hanh, Thich Nhat, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Riverhead Books, New York, 1995, pp. 81–2. For the claim that Quảng Đức sacrificed himself to promote human rights in Vietnam and elsewhere, see Chan Khong, Learning true love, pp. 38–40. For the view that Quảng Đức burned himself in the hope of ending the Vietnam War, see Siegel, P., The meek and the militant: religion and power across the world, Zed Books, London, 1986, p. 162; see also R. Topmiller, ‘Most venerable Thich Quang Duc’, August 1999, <http://thuvienhoasen.org/D_1-2_2-139_4-5399/most-venerable-thich-quang-duc-robert-j-topmiller.html>, (accessed 30 August 2013).

99 ‘Hòa Thượng Thích Quảng Đức’ in Bổn, Thích Đồng (ed.), Tiểu Sử Danh Tăng Việt Nam Thế Kỷ XX, Thành Hội Phật Giáo, Ho Chi Minh City, 1996, pp. 333–42. See also Quốc Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh-Đấu, pp. 101–02. On the privileging of the Pali cannon, see Blackburn, A. M., Buddhist learning and textual practice in eighteenth-century Lankan monastic culture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2001, pp. 197203.

100 Letter, Thích Quảng Đức to the Commissioner of the Clergy in the Southern Vietnamese Sangha, 27 May 1963, printed in Công Cuộc Tranh-Đầu, pp. 94–6.

101 Thích Quảng Đức, ‘Lời Nguyện Tâm Huyết’ printed in Công Cuộc Tranh-Đầu, pp. 100–01. On Quảng Đức's drafting of this testament, see Thích Đức Nghiệp, ‘Vụ Tự Thiêu’.

102 TOVN, 12 June 1963, p. 1.

103 Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn, p. 277.

104 Quốc Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh-Đầu, pp. 138–42; ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, Annex XVI.

105 Vinh-Le, Truong, Vietnam, Où est la vérité?, Lavauzelle, Paris, 1989, pp. 86–7.

106 Ngô Đình Diệm, quoted in an interview with V.T. Sambandan, 18 September 1963, printed in Press interviews with President Ngo Dinh Diem and Political Counselor Ngo Dinh Nhu, Republic of Vietnam Office of the Presidency, Saigon, 1963, p. 38.

107 On Nhu's role in the founding of the Can Lao, see Miller, Misalliance, Chapter 1; for his role in the Strategic Hamlet Program, see Chapter 7.

108 Ibid., Chapter 3; see also Anderson, D., Trapped by success: the Eisenhower administration and Vietnam, 1953–1961, Columbia University Press, New York, 1991, Chapter 5; and Jacobs, S., America's miracle man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, religion, race, and U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia, 1950–1957, Duke University Press, Durham, 2004, Chapter 5.

109 For Nhu's views on the parallels between these earlier events and the crisis of 1963, see Schecter, The new face of Buddha, pp. 183–4.

110 Minutes of the Interministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets (Uỷ Ban Liên-Bộ đặc trách về Ấp Chiến Lược), Meeting #53, 14 June 1963, Item No. 1820304002, VVA, TTU.

111 Halberstam, The making of a quagmire, pp. 212–3.

112 Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn, pp. 276–9.

113 Joiner, C., ‘South Vietnam's Buddhist crisis: organization for charity, dissidence, and unity’, Asian Survey, v. 4, July 1964, pp. 915–28.

114 Quốc Tuệ, Công Cuộc Tranh Đấu, pp. 155–9.

115 For Tam's literary and political exploits, see Jamieson, Neil, Understanding Vietnam, University of Californian Press, Berkeley, California, pp. 113–4, 135–59, 176–213; for his death and funeral, see pp. 241–4. For the suicide note, see Thịnh, Nhật, Chân dung Nhất-Linh: hay thân thế sự nghiệp Nguyễn-Tường Tam, Sống Mới, Saigon, 1971, p. 198.

116 CIA Information Report TDCS-3/552,770, 8 July 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 3, pp. 473–8. CIA operatives were in direct contact with Trí Quang at this time; see Telegram 144, 28 July 1963, ibid., Vol. 3, pp. 546–7.

117 Telegram 57, 9 Jul 1963, ibid., Vol. 3, pp. 478–9.

118 NYT, 4 Aug. 1963, 15. The fears about ‘Operation Flood’ were fanned by the Times of Vietnam, which published denunciations of the movement under screaming headlines; see TOVN, issues of 8, 15, 18, and 19 August 1963.

119 Diệm radio address of 18 July 1963, quoted in FRUS, 1961–1963, Vol. 3, p. 515.

120 Ngô Đình Diệm, quoted in an interview with E. Neilan, 6 August 1963, printed in Press interviews with President Ngo Dinh Diem, pp. 6–7.

121 Ngô Đình Diệm, quoted in Higgins, Our Vietnam nightmare, p. 172.

122 Ngô Đình Diệm, interview with M. Higgins, 14 August 1963, in Press interviews with President Ngo Dinh Diem, p. 19.

123 On the August self-immolations, see Thích Thiện Hoa, 50 Năm Chấn Hưng Phật Giáo Việt Nam, p. 104. The assault on the Army officer is described in Lebocq to Lalouette, 4 September 1963, Dossier 151, Sèrie: CLV, sous-sèrie: Sud Vietnam, Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris. On the Xa Loi rally, see NYT, 19 August 1963, pp. 1–2. On 18 August as the ‘climax’ of the movement, see ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, pp. 35–6.

124 Mai Thọ Truyển, testimony recorded in ibid., p. 99.

125 The results of the raid were summarized by Army General Trần Văn Đôn in Special Intelligence Bulletin 187/TTM/2/5/M, 23 August 1963, Folder 8527, PTTDN, TTLTQG2. Đôn reported that 557 people were arrested in Hue and 728 were arrested in Saigon; he indicated that a total of around 30 police and soldiers were injured by protestors, but does not provide information on casualties among them. United Nations investigators later documented injuries and hospitalizations but recorded no deaths among the protestors; see ‘The violation of human rights in South Viet-Nam’, pp. 125–6, 182–6. While the security forces apparently did not kill anyone during the raids, they subsequently tortured many detainees; see NYT, 9 November 1963.

126 Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Thánh Pháp Nạn, pp. 399–403. Mẫu claims that he wrote down Diệm's statement from memory immediately after the meeting ended. See also No. 402-TTP/ĐL/M, 21 August 1963, Folder 60, PTT, TTLTQG2.

127 Vũ Văn Mẫu, Sáu Tháng Pháp Nạn, p. 402.

128 See, for example, ‘War in the pagodas: who is the enemy?’, Newsweek, 2 September 1963; and ‘Crisis in South Vietnam’, NYT, 22 August 1963. The depth of the American revulsion over the raids is indicated by the criticism expressed by the editors of the New York Herald Tribune, previously one of Diem's staunchest supporters in the American media; see ‘Playing with fire in Vietnam’, New York Herald Tribune, 22 August 1963.

129 Hammer, A death in November, pp. 252–8.

130 Van Don, Tran, Our endless war, Presidio, Novato, California, 1978, p. 84.

131 The historiography on the 1963 coup is extensive; for a helpful analysis of the Kennedy administration's decision-making, see Preston, A., The war council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC and Vietnam, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006, pp. 113–28. For the administration's dealings with the generals, see Miller, Misalliance, Chapter 9.

132 Fitzgerald, Fire in the lake, p. 74.

Religious Revival and the Politics of Nation Building: Reinterpreting the 1963 ‘Buddhist crisis’ in South Vietnam

  • EDWARD MILLER (a1)

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