Saigon Surprise

Conspiracy theories: The Vietnam Theory.

On November 2, 1963, after South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem began negotiations with North Vietnamese communists, he was shot at point-blank range, along with his brother and political adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu, during a U.S.-backed coup. Seeking revenge, the wealthy and powerful Diem family—perhaps led by the widowed Madame Nhu, Saigon’s “Dragon Lady”—settled the score three weeks later in Dallas.

Believers

Lyndon Johnson (initially).

Strange Details

• In 1950, when Diem was forced into exile by Ho Chi Minh, he fled to a Catholic seminary in New York, where he became friendly with then-senator John Kennedy.

• Kennedy had approved the coup but was assured that an attempt would be made to evacuate Diem and Nhu from Saigon; he was appalled to learn that they had been murdered. Eight years later, CIA operative Howard Hunt doctored State Department files so that researchers of the Pentagon Papers might “discover” that Kennedy had arranged Diem’s murder.

• Allen Dulles, who created the Saigon Military Mission and staffed it with men who would later help orchestrate the Saigon coup, was a member of the Warren Commission.

Reasons to Believe

The Diem regime showed no mercy to its foes. Immediately after her husband’s murder, Madame Nhu told American reporters, “Such a cruel injustice against a faithful ally cannot go unnoticed, and those who indulge in it will have to pay for it.”

Reasons Not to Believe

If the South Vietnamese were wily enough to pull this off, why didn’t they kill Ho Chi Minh first?

Recent Developments

In 1997 Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot alleged that Kennedy not only knew Diem would be murdered but also personally asked Air Force general Edward Landsdale, a CIA man, to do the job himself.

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