The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam

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Ignatius Press, Oct 5, 2015 - History - 314 pages

Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam, possessed the Confucian “Mandate of Heaven”, a moral and political authority that was widely recognized by all Vietnamese. This devout Roman Catholic leader never lost this mandate in the eyes of the people; rather, it was removed by his erstwhile allies in the United States government in a coup sponsored by them resulting in his assassination. 

The commonly held view runs contrary to the above assertion by military historian Geoffrey Shaw. According to many American historians, President Diem was a corrupt leader whose tyrannical actions lost him the loyalty of his people and the possibility of a military victory over the North Vietnamese. The Kennedy Administration, they argue, had to withdraw its support of Diem. 

Based on his research of original sources, however, including declassified documents of the US government, Shaw found a Diem who was up for Mass at 6:30 every morning, who was venerated by the Vietnamese as a great leader at all levels of government and society, a kind man who did not even like the thought of Communist guerrillas being killed. Also, according historical record, Diem did not persecute Buddhists; on the contrary, he did more to preserve and to fund Vietnam’s Buddhist heritage than any other Vietnamese leader. 

“A candid account of the killing of Ngo Dinh Diem, the reasons for it, who was responsible, why it happened, and the disastrous results . . . This book is not a happy read. But it is a careful record to set the issue straight. 

What is particularly agonizing for Americans who read this clearly stated and tightly argued book is the fact that the final Vietnam defeat was not really on battle grounds but on political and moral grounds, or, even worse, on personal grounds of prideful diplomats and reporters. The Vietnam War need not have been lost. Overwhelming evidence supports it.” — From the Foreword by James Schall, S.J., Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University 

“Did I find a veritable Conradian ‘Heart of Darkness’? Yes, I did, but it was not in the quarter to which all popular American sources were pointing their accusatory fingers; in other words, not in Saigon but, paradoxically, within the Department of State back in Washington, DC, and within President Kennedy’s closest White House advisory circle. The actions of these men led to Diem’s murder. And with his death, nine and a half years of careful work and partnership between the United States and South Vietnam was undone.” — From the Preface by Geoffrey Shaw 


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Foreword by James V Schall S J
Ngo Dinh Diem
Diplomacy in SouthVietnam from the Late 1950s to 1960
U S Ambassador Elbridge Durbrow
Enter Ambassador Frederick Nolting
The Continuing Laotian Question
The Counterinsurgency Plan
Policemen versus Soldiers
The Abrogation of Noltings Rapprochement
Noltings Rearguard Action
The Decline of the Nolting Influence
The Buddhist Crisis of 1963
Washington Isolates Diem
Noltings Farewell

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About the author (2015)

Geoffrey Shaw, PhD, received his doctorate in history from the University of Manitoba, with a focus on US diplomatic and military history in Southeast Asia. From 1994 to 2008 he was an Assistant Professor of History for the American Military University. He has written and spoken widely about US military involvement in Vietnam and the Middle East.Currently he is the President of the Alexandrian Defense Group, a think tank on counterinsurgency warfare.

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