The Defiant Statement of Madame Nhu

Key segments ftom Madame Nhu's November 2 1963 press conference in Beverly Hills, on the overthrow of the Diem regime in Saigon. In ways, her statement was amazingly insightful and prescient, although taking every word at face value would be a terrible mistake. To her right is her daughter Ngo Dinh Le Thuy, who was killed less than four years later in an automobile accident in France.

South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was a lifelong bachelor. His chief political adviser was his younger brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. who additionally exercised personal command of the Army's Special Forces and of the regime's unofficial secret police force. Ngo Dinh Nhu's wife, Trần Lệ Xuân, who was commonly known as Madame Nhu, was thereby South Vietnam's First Lady, by default.

Madame Nhu
Madame Nhu, mocking the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in June 1963.

It's not that people objected to having to look at Madame Nhu, it's just that she had this habit of making fantastically provocative and unpopular statements. Those statements were often directed against Buddhist opponents of South Vietnam's Roman Catholic dominated government, or at Kennedy administration critics of the Diem regime's authoritarian practices.

In In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Robert McNamara recounts his September 1963 visit to South Vietnam with General Maxwell Taylor. President Kennedy directed them to try to obtain a visible reduction in the influence of the Nhus, which would probably require their departure from Saigon and preferably Vietnam. In Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu, JFK is quoted by a former friend as observing She's responsible ... that bitch stuck her nose in and boiled up the whole situation down there.

On the day of the military coup that overthrew the Diem regime and in which both of the Diem brothers were killed, Madame Nhu happened to be in the Los Angeles area. She arranged for a press conference to be held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. At that moment in time, the fate of her husband, children and brother-in-law was still not completely clear. Following is a transcript of her statement, as reported by the Associated Press on November 2, 1963.

Whatever is done against Vietnam will be felt in America, too. It is not enough to try to kill or subdue the duly elected leaders of a country just because one wants to transform that country into a satellite. To kill or to subdue is easy, but what happens afterwards? Treason does not pay and nobody can rule Vietnam with just money and puppets.

We do not live alone. The whole world has its eyes on Vietnam and knows perfectly well what is going on there, in spite of all the distortion and blackouts directed by that international Communist propaganda network, which has become so strong.

So much so that unconditional aid to the Communists is considered sound and normal, while all the efforts of anti-Communist countries to become real democracies in spite of their fight against Communism are either hampered or ignored, to better humiliate them and impose upon them all kinds of pressure.

I am amazed at the way the press here takes great care not to mention my children, who are subjected to cruel mistreatment provoked by the obvious bias of certain American informational media.

General Duong Van Minh, the supposed leader of the coup, is highly praised in the American press, but is he supposed to rule the Americans or the Vietnamese? And all those whom some of the Americans intend to settle or tutor, for how long will they hold power, if they every hold power?

I cannot understand also why only President Diem's Roman Catholicism is constantly mentioned, while the Roman Catholicism of other chiefs of state is not. Does it mean that the Roman Catholicism of one bothers that Communist international propaganda network more than the Roman Catholicism of others?

I wish also to remind that any crime committed against the Ngo family cannot be hidden under the label of suicide. For I can confirm that suicide has always been considered as incompatible with our religion.

Such a cruel injustice against a faithful ally cannot go unnoticed, and those who indulge in it will have to pay for it. Many Americans have told me that Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge will be swallowed and exploited to the bone by the State Department.

I am sorry to see that events in Vietnam seem to prove them right and have worsened the future between the U.S. and Vietnam. Indeed, after the August 25 declaration of the State Department and all other pressures applied upon us to demand reforms which no one cared to say what they consisted of, no one can seriously believe in the disclaimer that the Americans have nothing to do with the present situation in Vietnam.

Because of this, anything which would happen to my family would be an indelible stigma against the United States. One cannot forget either that my family includes three other children of 15, 11 and 4, who all had to bear at least three or four murderous seizures provoked by coups incited and backed by Americans.

Moreover, the world knows perfectly that the Ngo family has only one crime in the eyes of a few shortsighted and arrogant Americans. The Ngos only want to give the Vietnam its own identity, which cannot be the same as the one wanted by those few Americans.

To stab them in the back or to suppress them while they are winning the war, in order to rob them of the results of their hard and disinterested efforts for their country, will only bring to them more glory while it will only stigmatize all those involved in that dirty crime which is surely not less than the murder of my eldest brother-in-law Ngo Dinh Khoi and his only son, buried alive in 1945 by the Vietcong just because of their determined patriotism toward their own country.

I believe that justice can be found also in the world, and it is why I am confident in the fate of the Ngo family, which has done nothing else than serve their country and the common cause loyally.

I can say anyway that many more Americans than one might believe are on my side. I wish to take this opportunity to thank them all heartily for their support and their sympathy.

I wish them also to know that their confidence in me will never by lost.

Many Asians at the 52nd conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Belgrade, seeing our ordeal:

Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need any enemies.

I did not believe them but if the news is true, if really my family has been treacherously killed with either the official or unofficial blessing of the American Government, I can predict to you all that the story in Vietnam is only at its beginning. And that the American Administration which has drowned Vietnam, its winning card, so lightly, will see itself and from all over the world that to be the leader and defender of the free world requires more than presumptuous judgement and cruel oppression against the weaker, oppressions all based on material forces.