Diem and Nhu became a major liability for the Kennedy Administration when their national popularity plummeted as a result of numerous humanitarian violations. Diem ran his country as a brutal dictatorship alongside his powerful brother Nhu. who was even more ruthless than him. America was put into a very serious diplomatic situation by the Southern Vietnamese leaders and their gruesome regime. By the time Kennedy took office in 1961. the situation in South Vietnam had seriously deteriorated. An unsuccessful military coup of November 11, 1960, had been followed by an increase in repressive measures and killings of their own citizens by Diem and his military. On May 3, 1963, there were riots in the Southern Vietnamese city of Hue. which were spurred when Diem refused to let the Buddhists fly their flag in celebration of Buddha’s birthday 12 Buddhists were shot and killed by Diem’s troops during the riots and in response Diem claimed that the Nonhern Vietnamese communists were responsible for the murders.
Diem was able to quiet the Buddhists in Hue. but on June 11. 1963, the demonstrations reached a climax when a Buddhist monk burned himself to death in front of the Cambodian Embassy. An American photographer captured the actual burning with a picture that shocked the American people, In reaction to the climax of demonstrations and general unpopularity of the current Southern Vietnamese political system Kennedy said The repressions against the Buddhists were very unwise and all we could do is make it very clear that we don‘t think that this is the way to win. The United States cut back on the economic aid that was being given to the Southern Vietnamese to encourage them to make peace with the Buddhists and concentrate on fighting the war with the North.
This pressure. which might have been effective earlier, came way too late. America‘s commitment to supporting the Southern Vietnamese resulted in a political predicament that even Kennedy had no answer to. If the Kennedy Administration supported the existing government then they could appear to be too lenient with Diem and Nhu’s sinister acts of religious suppression and butchery. if the US government supported a militaristic overthrow of the existing dictatorship than other countries could interpret this as a plot to create anarchy in order to instate a puppet government that would best suit America’s crusade to contain communism. Kennedy himself said in reference to Diem’s cabinet that policies needed to be changed, as well as perhaps personnel. Little did he know how much truth these words would hold.
The Kennedy Administration’s involvement in the Diem regime has been a subject of historical debate and scrutiny. Critics argue that the U.S. intervention was ill-advised and contributed to the further destabilization of South Vietnam, while others argue that the administration was grappling with a difficult situation and sought to address the growing challenges faced by the Diem government.It is important to note that the Kennedy Administration’s involvement in the Diem regime took place within the broader context of the Cold War and the United States’ commitment to containing communism in Southeast Asia. The long-term consequences of these actions would have a significant impact on the subsequent U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.