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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

13 - From two countries to one



After Bao Dai went to France in late 1953 to pursue possibilities for negotiating full independence with the Laniel government, Ngo Dinh Diem departed the United States for Europe, sensing that he may find a role in the changing situation. Ngo Dinh Diem’s youngest brother, Ngo Dinh Luyen (1914–1990), was a childhood friend of Bao Dai from their schoolboy days in France and served as a go-between. Although Bao Dai had never been comfortable with Ngo Dinh Diem’s strong anti-French attitude, in May 1954 he turned to him because there was no other person of his stature and reputation as an uncompromising nationalist. Furthermore, Ngo Dinh Nhu’s emergence as a political figure in Saigon the previous year suggested that Ngo Dinh Diem had a point of access into the political world of the State of Vietnam. Two other considerations were apparently on Bao Dai’s mind. Ngo Dinh Diem’s appointment would apply pressure on the French to sign the independence treaty, and no other Vietnamese politician was likely to elicit the American assistance that would be necessary for the future of his government. However, Bao Dai soon realized that with the appointment of Ngo Dinh Diem he had ended his role in the political life of his country, and he never returned to Vietnam.

In the summer of 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem was seemingly without any firm source of support. The United States was beginning to provide institutional assistance but was non-committal regarding Ngo Dinh Diem himself, being unsure of whether he would be able to surmount the daunting situation in Saigon. The French army had regrouped to southern Vietnam and was still the pre-eminent military force in the country. The French military commander and commissioner in Vietnam was General Paul Henri Romuald Ély (1897–1975), who made no secret of his opinion that Ngo Dinh Diem should be replaced.