Hue Vesak shootings
The Hue Vesak shootings refer to the deaths of nine unarmed Buddhist civilians on May 8, 1963 in the city of Huế in South Vietnam, at the hands of the army and security forces of the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. The army and police fired guns and launched grenades into a crowd of Buddhists who had been protesting against a government ban on the flying of the Buddhist flag on the day of Vesak, which commemorates the birth of Gautama Buddha. Diem's denial of governmental responsibility for the incident—he instead blamed the Vietcong—led to growing discontent among the Buddhist majority.
The incident spurred a protest movement by Buddhists against the religious discrimination of the Roman Catholic-dominated Diem regime, known as the Buddhist crisis, and widespread large-scale civil disobedience among the South Vietnamese. On November 1, 1963, after six months of tension and growing opposition to the regime, generals from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam conducted a coup, which saw the removal and assassination of Diem.
In a country where surveys of the religious composition estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90 percent, President Ngo Dinh Diem's policies generated claims of religious bias. As a member of the Catholic Vietnamese minority, he is widely regarded by historians as having pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists. Specifically, the government was regarded as being biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions. Diem also once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that he was a Buddhist, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted." Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Catholicism in the belief that their military prospects depended on it. Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Vietcong guerrillas saw weapons only given to Catholics, with Buddhists in the army being denied promotion if they refused to convert to Catholicism. Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies, and in some areas forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas occurred. Some Buddhist villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diem's regime. The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and the "private" status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French, which required official permission to conduct public Buddhist activities, was not repealed by Diem. The land owned by the Catholic Church was exempt from land reform. Catholics were also de facto exempt from the corvée labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform; U.S. aid was disproportionately distributed to Catholic majority villages. Under Diem, the Catholic Church enjoyed special exemptions in property acquisition, and in 1959, he dedicated the country to the Virgin Mary. The white and gold Vatican flag was regularly flown at major public events in South Vietnam.
A rarely enforced 1958 law known as Decree Number 10 was invoked on May 7, 1963 to prohibit the display of religious flags. This disallowed the flying of Buddhist flags on Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. The invoking official was the deputy province chief in charge of security, a Catholic named Major Dang Sy. Dang Sy was charged with maintaining public security and was commander of the Hue garrison. The application of the law caused indignation among Buddhist on the eve of the most important religious festival of the year, since a week earlier Catholics had been allowed to display Vatican flags to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the appointment of Diem's brother, Thuc as archbishop. The celebrations had been bankrolled by Diem's regime through a national committee which asked the population to donate money to Thuc's jubilee. Buddhists complained that they had been forced to give a month's wages to the celebration. Enforcing the law, the authorities tore down thousands of Buddhist flags that had already been unfurled on homes and pagodas in preparation for Vesak.. The origin of the order to enforce the law on the Buddhists was attributed to Thuc. Despite protestations from Ho Dac Khuong, the Saigon representative to the central provinces, the order was enacted upon consultation with Saigon. Villages in the central region had converted en masse to Catholicism, with priests allowed special access to government facilities and funds. The designation of Buddhism as an "association" prevented it from acquiring land for the construction of pagodas.
Protest and shootings
On Vesak, thousands of Buddhists defied the ban on flag flying. More than 500 people marched across the Perfume River and congregated at Tu Dam Pagoda before a 3,000 strong demonstration, calling for religious equality, took place in the city centre as government security officials surrounded the area with armoured personnel carriers and civil guardsmen. The signs were in both Vietnamese and English to convey the message to western observers. Despite the ban on religious flags, Vatican flags hoisted on the bridge from the Catholic celebration was never taken down. The leading Buddhist activist monk Thich Tri Quang addressed the crowd and exhorted them to rise up against Catholic discrimination against Buddhism. He called the Buddhists to congregate outside the government radio station in the evening for a rally. Tension increased throughout the day with demonstrators chanting and displaying anti-government slogans as the crowd grew. They expected to hear another speech from Thich Tri Quang, but the speech was withdrawn from broadcast by the government censor. The Armed Forces were called in to disperse the discontented crowd. After two explosions shook the ground, the crowd thought that the troops had resorted to using bombs. Dang Sy fired into the air and his men responded by launching grenades into the crowd as fire hoses were unleashed on the demonstrators. His troops fired directly into the crowd. In the end nine were killed and four severely injured. Two of the dead, both children, had been crushed underneath armored personnel carriers. Some had been mutilated and decapitated.
Diem and his government alleged that a Vietcong had caused the incident by setting off the initial explosion, sparking a stampede. He initially refused to take any disciplinary action against the local authorities, claiming that they had acted properly. The government claimed that only percussion grenades had been used, not lethal fragmentation grenades. The force of the explosion cast doubt on whether the Vietcong would have had access to sufficiently powerful explosives. Another theory popular at the time was that a CIA agent had caused the blasts with the aim of fomenting sectarian tension and destabilising the Diem regime. Eyewitnesses disagreed with the official version of events, citing amateur footage, which showed government troops firing on the crowd. A local doctor concluded that there was no evidence of the fatal injuries being inflicted by Vietcong plastic bombs; he was subsequently jailed. Diem refused to be swayed from his account of the incident, and ordered the bodies of the victims to be buried without autopsy. Thich Tri Quang spent the night riding through the streets of Hue with a loudspeaker, accusing the government of firing on the demonstrators. U.S. Ambassador Frederick Nolting, known for his policy of appeasement of Diem, attempted to spread the responsibility. He said that all parties were responsible, the demonstrators for (as he alleged) trying to take over the radio station, the government for deploying the army, which later opened fire, and "agitators" for throwing the explosives. When the government later ignored his version and refused to assign responsibility, Nolting called its actions "objective, accurate and fair."
Buddhist reaction and protests
At 11 am on May 9, Dang Sy announced to nearly 800 youthful pro-Buddhist demonstrators that "oppositionist agitators" had forced troops to take the severe measures to maintain order in the face of Vietcong agitation. The protesters showed their anger at such an improbable explanation by marching around the old citadel quarter of Hue, chanting anti-Catholic and anti-Diem slogans. A government organised counter-demonstration to condemn the "Vietcong terrorist act" under the leadership of Diem's brother and political operator Ngo Dinh Nhu attracted almost nobody. Thich Tri Quang, who had traveled throughout the country protesting against religious inequality and the flag ban, began rallying the Buddhists in Central Vietnam. He called them to attend a public mass funeral for the Hue victims scheduled for May 10. Such an emotion-charged spectacle would have attracted thousands of spectators and placed pressure on Diem's regime to grant reforms, so the government announced a curfew and put all armed personnel on duty around the clock to "prevent VC infiltration". A confrontation was averted when Thich Tri Quang persuaded the populace to lay down their flags and slogans and observe the 9 pm curfew. The following day, tensions increased again as a crowd of around 6,000 Buddhists attended Tu Dam Pagoda for the funerals and a series of meetings. Dang Sy was present with ARVN troops and armed police. Slogans and speeches calling for religious equality and anti-government sentiment were prevalent. Thich Tri Quang called on Buddhists to use unarmed struggle and follow Gandhian principles, saying "Carry no weapons; be prepared to die. . . follow Gandhi's policies". After Dang Sy echoed Buddhist calls for compensation and expressed sorrow for the victims, the meeting dissolved without violence.
Buddhist demands for equality
On May 10, Thich Tri Quang proclaimed a five-point "manifesto of the monks" that demanded freedom to fly the Buddhist flag, religious equality between Buddhists and Catholics, compensation for the victims' families, an end to arbitrary arrests, and punishment for the officials responsible. The provincial chief himself agreed that the Diem should compensate the families of the dead and wounded.
On May 13, a committee of Buddhist monks formalized their request to Diem for the five demands. Although the signatories had couched the declaration as "requests" they had expectations that these would be met. On May 15, a delegation of six monks and two laymen met Diem to present the document. After the meeting, the monks held a press conference at Xa Loi Pagoda, the foremost pagoda in Saigon. It was to be the first of many in which they attempted to publicise their cause to the foreign press corps. Diem agreed to meet with a Buddhist delegation, but increased tension further by patronising them. Initially Diem refused to pay compensation, believing it was a sign of weakness. He stated that there was no discrimination in South Vietnam and claimed that all religions had been treated equally with respect to the flag issue. In regard to the classification of Buddhism as an association under Decree 10, Diem claimed that it was an administrative oversight that would be fixed (although no action was taken on the matter during his final six months of office); Diem labelled the Buddhists "damn fools" for demanding something that according to him, they already enjoyed. The government press release detailing the meeting also used the expression "damn fools".
As the demonstrations continued, Frederick Nolting managed to extract concessions from Diem after long negotiations on May 18. Diem agreed a modest compensation package of USD7000 for the families of the victims as a reconciliatory gesture. Diem also agreed to dismiss Xi and those in Hue responsible for the shootings. However, the publicly stated reason for this action was that the officials had failed to maintain order, rather than that they had been responsible for the deaths of the protesters. Despite these concessions, Diem maintained that his government was not responsible for the deaths, resolutely continuing to blame the Vietcong. It was enough to satisfy Nolting, who immediately departed for his vacation. His absence allowed the remaining American diplomatic staff led by William Trueheart, Nolting's deputy, to scupper his appeasement policy. Despite this, Nolting agreed with Diem that the Buddhists were communists. Nolting also suggested that Diem appoint a commission of inquiry headed by a prominent Buddhist.
After the fall of the Diem regime in a coup on November 1, 1963, Dang Sy faced a trial held under a government lead by Nguyen Khanh. Some of the accusations were that Dang Sy's men had fired on the crowd and crushed the victims with armoured cars, or that the grenades had been launched at his orders and caused the deaths. Dang Sy was put under pressure to reveal that Thuc had personally given him the order to shoot the Buddhists, but he refused to testify against Thuc, who was by that time living in exile in Rome. Dang Sy was condemned to life imprisonment and ordered to compensate the victims' families. His lawyer contended that the court had been unable to establish the nature and source of the lethal explosions. The Defense Minister, General Tran Thien Khiem, a Catholic, who had helped Khanh in his January 1964 coup, later claimed that Khanh had rigged the trial to gain Thich Tri Quang's support. In 1970, the Saigon based Catholic newspaper Hoa Binh ran a story claiming that CIA agents used a secret and new explosive to foment trouble for Diem's regime which had deteriorating relations with the United States.
- ↑ The 1966 Buddhist Crisis in South Vietnam HistoryNet
- ↑ Gettleman, pp. 275–276, 366.
- ↑ Moyar, pp. 215–216.
- ↑ TIME (June 14, 1963). "The Religious Crisis". TIME. http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,874816,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "South Viet Nam's Buddhists, who comprise 80% of the country's 15 million people, are bitter over alleged favoritism by Diem and his Catholic ruling family toward the nation's 1,500,000 Catholics"
- ↑ Tucker, pp. 49, 291, 293.
- ↑ Maclear, p. 63.
- ↑ "THE SITUATION IN SOUTH VIETNAM - SNIE 53-2-63". The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2,. 10 July 1963. pp. 729–733. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon2/doc125.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "President Diem, his family, and a large proportion of the top leaders of the regime are Roman Catholics, in a population that is 70 to 80 percent Buddhist."
- ↑ Tucker, p. 291.
- ↑ Gettleman, pp. 280–82.
- ↑ "South Vietnam: Whose funeral pyre?". The New Republic. 1963-06-29. p. 9.
- ↑ Warner, p. 210.
- ↑ Fall, p. 199.
- ↑ Buttinger, p. 993.
- ↑ Karnow, p. 294.
- ↑ Buttinger p. 933.
- ↑ Jacobs p. 91.
- ↑ "Diệm's other crusade". The New Republic. 1963-06-22. pp. 5–6.
- ↑ Hammer, pp. 103–105.
- ↑ South Vietnam's Buddhist Crisis: Organization for Charity, Dissidence, and Unity - Asian Survey, Vol. 4, No. 7 (Jul., 1964), pp. 915–928.
- ↑ Hammer, pp. 110–111.
- ↑ Warner, p. 226.
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 Jacobs, pp. 142–143.
- ↑ Jones, pp. 247–250.
- ↑ Hammer, pp. 134–135.
- ↑ Jones, pp. 250–251.
- ↑ Jones, pp. 251–252
- ↑ 27.0 27.1 Jacobs, p. 143.
- ↑ Hammer, p. 117.
- ↑ Jones, pp. 252–253.
- ↑ Jacobs, pp. 144–145.
- ↑ Jones, pp. 254–255.
- ↑ Hammer, pp. 114–116.
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