Consolidation of Terrorism
Whereas a democracy is inspired by certain basic democratic principles, and a Communist dictatorship is erected upon the tenants of Marxism, so Catholic totalitarianism, must be promoted by the doctrines enacted by the Catholic Church. Because of this, Diem became determined to create a model Catholic State in Southeast Asia. The tenets which inspired him most were embodied in the social teachings of three of Diem's favorites, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XI.
Diem took the teaching of these Popes literally. For instance, he firmly held, as Pope Pius IX declared in his Syllabus of Errors, "that it is an error to believe that the church is not a true and perfect society." For the Church to be perfect, the state must be integrated with her so that the two become as one, because quoting again Pius IX "it is an error to believe that: the Church ought to be separated from the State and State from the Church" a principle, which went totally against the Constitution of the U.S., his sponsor.
Elements preventing such union, therefore, had to be eliminated. These meant the Protestants, at that time numbering about 50,000, mostly Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. Diem had planned to eliminate them chiefly via legislation by prohibiting their missions, closing their schools, and refusing licenses to preach, or have religious meetings. This he would have done legally in accordance with the future concordat to be signed with the Vatican, modeled upon that of Franco's Spain. Such anti-Protestant legislation would have been enforced once the war was over and a Catholic state had been firmly established.
That this was no mere speculation, curiously enough was confirmed at that period in London, England. The present author at that time lived only a few hundred yards from the Embassy of South Vietnam, Victoria Road, Kensington. He called at the embassy a number of times to find out the reason for the Diem regime's "harassing certain disruptive Buddhist sects." Documents, all official, were given justifying the harassment. The official explanation was that the Buddhists were "prosecuted" not on religious but on political grounds. When the present author mentioned the Protestants, an official explained that they were a special case. Since they were Christians, their "prosecution" would be justified, once the domestic situation had become normal, on the ground that a statein this case the Catholic State of South Vietnamhad to be inspired by the tenets upon which it is founded. A perfect Catholic State, therefore, could not tolerate Protestants nor Christians who did not believe in the uniqueness of the Catholic Church. This, it should be pointed out, was at the time when Pope John XXIII had launched the era of ecumenism. The high official who gave the explanation should have known, since he was none other than President Diem's own brother, also a staunch
Catholic, Ambassador Ngo Dinh. Another official, a former Baptist, subsequently confirmed that there existed already a blue print for the formal elimination of Protestantism in a future United Vietnam.
That these were no mere theoretical plans for the future, was proved by the fact that Diem started his program in earnest. Prior to eliminating any Protestant or Buddhist, he had first to Catholicize the fabric of Vietnam. One most important section of these is education. The Catholic Church is adamant on the subject.
To create a total Catholic State one has to shape its youth, the future citizens of tomorrow. A tenet, which has created no end of trouble in many lands, including the U.S. itself, with her problem of parochial aid and the claim of the Catholic church for special educational exclusiveness. Since Diem had no restriction, he saw to it that the command of his Church be strictly enforced.
In 1957, he instituted a Roman Catholic university at Dalat; by 1963, it had already over 500 studentsthe future intelligentsia of the country. Diem also made sure that Catholic professors and teachers be given seats at two state universities, at Hue and at Saigon respectively. The following year the Jesuits set up seminaries in the same cities. The regime built 435 charitable institutions; between 1953 and 1963 Diem set up 145 middle and upper schools, of which 30 were in Saigon alone, with a total of 62,324 pupils.
During the same period the Catholic Church in South Vietnam, from having only three upper and middle schools in 1953, had multiplied them to 1,060 schools by 1963, a brief period of only ten years.
Simultaneously to the above, Diem built 92,000 square meters of hospitals, charitable and educational institutions; but 526,000 square meters of luxury residences and Catholic Churches.
At the same time, Diem set to build his Catholic State upon the social doctrines of the Popes. These, during the beginning our century, had inspired sundry social movements which had caused deep repercussions in Europe. Most notable of all in Italy. It was the spirit of such Papal social doctrines in fact, which had first inspired Italian fascism, for setting up the Corporate State in Vietnam, but with a veneer of contemporaneity and with certain modifications suitable to an Asian country. To add an additional touch of originality, thereupon Diem invented his own philosophy, derived not only from the teaching of the Popes, but equally from a social farrago, first conceived by a group of Catholic intellectuals, around 1930, when fascism was at its height and called "personalism."
After his attempts to set up a corporate machinery, Diem started to pass laws to enforce his plan. This entailed not only repressive legislation, but equally the use of brute force.
Once more Diem found inspiration in certain papal teaching, that of Pope Pius IX, according to whom, it is an error to believe that: "the church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect." (Error No. 24Syllabus of Errors). Justifying his religious credence with his personal political ambition, Diem, during the ensuing eight years, became increasingly dictatorial, disregarding ever more openly any democratic formality, flouting any advise, becoming ever more impervious to any criticism, including the criticisms of certain U.S. military and civil "advisors." Many of these sent meaningful reports of what was going on to Washington, predicting disaster. The Dulles-CIA-Catholic lobby however, saw to it that they never reached the right quarters, beginning with President Eisenhower himself.
Diem's religious-political egocentrism meanwhile assumed fearful proportions. His philosophy of "personalism" turned into a blatant personality cult on the par with that promoted in Soviet Russia by Stalin and in Nazi Germany by Hitler. His portraits invaded every corner of the land; absence of his image, even in private homes, could render anyone suspect of opposition and hence liable of sudden arrest, prison and detention camps. The personality cult, so typical of the European dictatorships, reached such an extent that finally altars with his portrait were erected in the street where the national anthem was played or sung as a hymn of praise to Diem.
With the personality cult, there developed a fanatical hatred against any form of opposition. The two are inseparable. This meant a relentless elimination of any semblance of civil liberties or freedom of thought, religious and political. Diem kept ever more strict personal control of the police, headed, as we have already said, by one of his brothers. Security networks were multiplied and toughened. Commando squads were formed. Riot controlalways on the readywere trained with ruthless efficiency. It is of particular interest to the American reader that the crack-model of the latter, were created, trained and toughened up by the Southern Michigan University group, under the sponsorship of the CIA.
Blatant violations of civil liberties, of personal freedom, multiplied by the thousands. Dissenters, of all ages and political or religious persuasion, were hauled off to jail or to concentration camps. To better check the dissatisfied, every peasant was compelled to carry an identification card. With the toughening of the Diem regime, these dissenters were no longer the Communists or the Buddhists. Catholics by now had also joined the opposition. These were the Catholics Diem had originally lured away from the North. Thousands of them had demanded that Diem keep his word. They demonstrated, asking for the land, homes, and jobs which they had been promised. An ever increasing number finally said that they wanted to be repatriated back to North Vietnam. Diem's response was typical. The demonstrations were ruthlessly suppressed; any identifiable individual, or group, whether Buddhist or Catholic, was arrested, jailed, sent into a camp or even summarily shot.
It has been reckoned, and the figures although lacking any official confirmation are considered to be concretely reliable, that during this period of terrorthat is from 1955 to 1960at least 24,000 were wounded, 80,000 people were executed or otherwise murdered, 275,000 had been detained, interrogated with or without physical torture, and about 500,000 were sent to concentration or detention camps. This is a conservative estimate.
The creation of a totalitarian Catholic regime was made to go on regardless. The opposition from all sectors of the country increased. Strikes took place with ever increasing frequency, chiefly because of the deteriorating economic situation. In May, 1957, 200,000 workers demonstrated in Saigon alone. Next year May Day 1958, the demonstrators had increased to 500,000. There were strikes and demonstrations throughout the country in subsequent years. The Catholics from the North asked chiefly for repatriation. The state-machinery of suppression, however, had become too efficient to be weakened by any resistance, whether of an economic or political character. The native and American expertise directed the control of the populace and of any individual dissension, having worked like a miracle machine. It was thanks chiefly to this, that Diem felt confident he would ride the storm in the streets, and it was also mainly thanks to such a miraculous machine of repression, that Diem finally felt sufficiently strong to undertake another measure, directed at the establishment of his Catholic Vietnam.
He boldly turned to a direct confrontation with what he considered to be the principal obstacle to his religious-political dreams. That is, he attacked the main religion of the country, Buddhism itself.