On November 1, 1963, the Kennedy Administration encouraged and abetted a military overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. As a consequence, Diem and his brother and chief political advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were killed the next day. This led to more than two years of unstable government and military leadership in South Vietnam, which was fully exploited by North Vietnam’s Communist leaders and led to more extensive commitments of American manpower to save South Vietnam. President Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency after Kennedy’s own assassination on November 22, later called the overthrow of Diem the biggest mistake of the Vietnam War. President Nixon, writing in 1985, agreed that it was one of the three greatest mistakes of the war.
In May 1963, President Diem’s Strategic Hamlet Program seemed to be working and South Vietnam’s economy and people were prospering. Communist leaders in Hanoi and South Vietnam were discouraged. But their hopes and morale would soon be revitalized.
Beginning in May of 1963, President John F. Kennedy and many of his advisors began to be uncomfortable with South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem’s handling of Buddhist political demonstrations on the streets of Hue and Saigon. These protests alleged discrimination against Buddhists by the strongly Roman Catholic Diem Administration. They were organized by a small but highly political leftist Buddhist group led by Thich Tri Quang. Following a bomb blast killing eight protestors in Hue, the protest organizers carefully contrived a protest that would get international attention.
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