THE CROATIA OF ASIA
The tragedy of the war of South Vietnam, with all its
immense complications for the USA, Asia and the rest of the world, at
first would seem to have nothing whatever to do with the Catholic Church.
This is incorrect. Since the Vietnamese tragedy had its
origin in the religious and ideological influence exercised by the
Catholic Church in the affairs of that country from its very beginning.
We are not here dealing with the rights or wrongs of
the Vietnamese war. But only with the paramount role which religion, with
particular reference to the Catholic Church, has played in its inception.
The Vietnamese tragedy was precipitated by a zealous Catholic trio formed
by a Catholic President, a Catholic Head of the Secret Police, and a
Catholic Archbishop. All were determined to impose the religious and
political writ of the Church upon a non-Christian culture.
How did it happen, particularly in view of the fact
that South Vietnam was an Asian Buddhist land?
Here is a bird's-eye view of the events which
immediately preceded the outbreak of the Vietnamese-USA war.
One day in early June, 1963, a 73 year old Buddhist
monk named Thich Quang Duc stopped in a busy street in Saigon, the Capital
City of South Vietnam, and, after having been soaked with gasoline by a
fellow monk, sat down cross-legged; thereupon, having calmly struck a
match, he burned himself to death.
Prior to this, however, he had written a message to
President Diem: "Enforce a policy of religious equality," the
President Diem, a zealous Catholic, gave a prompt
response. He clamped martial law upon the city, sealed most of the
pagodas, ordered his secret police force to arrest Buddhist leaders, and
mobilized his troops to truncheon any Buddhist monk or any Buddhist crowds
who dared to protest at his increasing discrimination against their
The self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc was the
culmination of an increasingly virulent discriminatory campaign against
Buddhism by a Roman Catholic Premier, President Ngo Dinh Diem, of South
Vietnam. President Diem by this time had ruled the country for about nine
years, helped by his two brothers, Ngo Dinh Nhu, head of the secret
police, and Ngo Dinh Thuc, Archbishop of Hue. The trio had been inching
for years toward veritable religious persecution of the vast majority of
the country's population of 15 million, only 1,500,000 of whom were
The spark to the Buddhist revolt was set only a few
days before in Hue, the ancient Vietnamese capital, now the See of the
Archbishop, who reigned, ruled and dominated Catholics and non-Catholics
alike in his role of a spiritual guide to his two brothers, the president
and the head of the secret police. At a celebration to honour the
Archbishop, the Catholic contingent at Hue flew the flag of the Vatican,
without any Buddhist objection. When, three days later, the whole country
celebrated the 2,507th birthday of Buddha and the Buddhists unfurled their
religious flag, the Archbishop, via the authorities, forbade them to do
so. This, it must be remembered, in a country eighty per cent of whose
population are practicing Buddhists.
The Buddhists staged a peaceful demonstration march
against the edict. As a reply, the government sent troops and armoured
cars and fired at the demonstrators, killing nine Buddhists.
The Hue massacre caused demonstrations all over South
Vietnam. Buddhist delegations in Saigon demanded the removal of
restrictions on their religion and the discriminatory laws imposed against
them. The government arrested many of the demonstrators.
In Hue, meanwhile, when another demonstration of
Buddhists paraded the city, troops dispersed them, using tear gas bombs.
Result: sixty-seven people were taken to hospital with chemical burns.
The USA protested. President Diem seemed to take note,
but discriminations against the Buddhists continued unabated. Arrests of
Buddhist monks multiplied. Pagodas were declared out of bounds, closed and
at times even attacked. Catholic soldiers fought with Buddhist soldiers
within the national army, engaged upon a life or death war against the
communist regime of the North. The war, supported by American arms and by
16,000 AmericanPresident Ngo Dinh Diem, of South Vietnam.
President Diem was a fanatical Catholic who ruled South
Vietnam with an iron fist.
He transformed the Presidency into a virtual Catholic
Dictatorship, which he used to crush his religious and political opponents
with the utmost ruthlessness.
He persecuted non-Catholics, and particularly the
Buddhists. By his discriminatory methods he caused the disruption of the
Army and Government. This eventually was to lead to the USA's military
intervention in South Vietnam.
He ruled with the spiritual and political terrorization
of his two equally fanatical Catholic brothers, the Chief of the Secret
Police and the Archbishop of Hue.
President Diem had originally been "planted"
into the Presidency by Cardinal Spellman and Pope Pius XII.
Buddhist monks committed suicide by fire, burning
themselves alive in protest against his religious persecutions.
He, with one of his brothers, was murdered immediately
after hearing mass on Nov. 2, 1963. (3 weeks before Kennedy's death)!!
"advisors," was jeopardized by the rapidly
deteriorating religious strife. President Kennedy, a Catholic, put
pressure upon the Catholic trio in Vietnam. But, since this seemed to have
no effect, he finally suspended, among other heavy USA subsidies, part of
the American Central Intelligence Agency's two million dollars monthly
payment to the South Vietnam "special forces" and stopped the
funds which financed the super-Catholic head of the secret police.
Although protests from all over the world went on, the
Catholic trio continued in their set policy: Catholicization of South
Vietnam. Hasty promotions of Catholics in the government and in the army
were increased, and this to such an extent that many Buddhist officers
became converted to Catholicism solely with a view to swift promotion.
President Kennedy changed ambassadors in an effort to
persuade the three brothers to alter their policy. In July, 1963, he sent
President Diem a personal message of confidence via Ambassador Nolting.
Kennedy's efforts once more were of no avail. On the contrary, the head of
the secret police, with the excuse that Red elements had been found
amongst the Buddhists, turned the harsh discriminatory campaign against
the Buddhists into actual religious persecution.
Buddhist monks, Buddhist nuns and Buddhist leaders were
arrested by the thousand. Pagodas were closed or besieged. Buddhists were
tortured by the police. One day another Buddhist monk burned himself alive
in public, to draw the attention of the world to the Catholic persecution.
President Diem, undeterred, continued in his policy. The secret police
packed the jails with more monks. The third monk committed suicide by
fire, and then another. Within a brief period, seven of them had burned
themselves alive in public. Vietnam was put under martial law. Troops now
occupied many pagodas and drove out all monks offering resistance. More
Buddhist monks and Buddhist nuns were arrested and taken away in lorries,
including a large number of wounded. Many were killed.
Ten thousand Buddhists took part in a hunger strike in
blockaded Saigon, while a giant gong tolled from the tower of the main Xa
Loi Pagoda in protest against the persecutions. At Hue, in the North,
monks and nuns put up a tremendous struggle at the main pagoda of Tu Dam,
which was virtually demolished, while eleven Buddhist students burned
themselves inside it.
The USA applied even stronger pressure and threatened
to cut off all aid to President Diem. Again, all to no avail. South
Vietnam's Ambassador in Washington, a Buddhist, resigned in protest.
President Diem's brother and sister-in-law, Mrs. Nhu, advocated even
harsher treatment of the Buddhists. Mrs. Nhu scoffed openly at the
Buddhist monks who had committed suicide by setting themselves alight,
declaring that they had used "imported gasoline" to
By this time the Buddhist leader, Thich Tri Quang, had
to seek asylum in the American Embassy, to escape with his life. The
American government had grown openly impatient. The USA State Department
issued an official declaration deploring the repressive actions the South
Vietnamese government had taken against the Buddhists. "On the basis
of information from Saigon it appears that the government of the Republic
of Vietnam has instituted serious repressive measures against the
Vietnamese Buddhist leaders," it said. "The action represents
direct violation by the Vietnamese government of assurances that it was
pursuing a policy of reconciliation with the Buddhists. The USA deplores
repressive actions of this nature."
Vietnam was split. The army became openly restive and
put up passive resistance, not against the communists, but against their
own government. Result: the war against the communist North was being
rapidly lost, since the population at large, upon whose support the
struggle ultimately rested, refused to cooperate.
At long last the USA, realizing how its strategy in
that part of Asia was in serious danger of collapsing, took action. The
American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in cooperation with Vietnamese
Buddhist elements successfully engineered a "coup." President
Diem and his brother, the head of the secret police, had to run for their
lives, but were soon discovered by rebel troops hiding in a small Catholic
Church in Cholon. Both men were killed and their bodies laid in St.
Joseph's Hospital a few hundred yards away from the Xa Loi Pagoda, the
religious centre of the Buddhist resistance to their
authoritarianism. So ended one of the most Catholic regimes of
recent times. What the world at large, which had followed the religious
strife with horrified fascination, did not know was the pressure of
conflicting policies within the Catholic circles themselves?in Washington,
South Vietnam and the Vatican. Kennedy, the first Catholic President of
the USA, when inheriting the American policy in South Vietnam, inherited
also Catholic President Diem. In different circumstances, the sharing of
common religious beliefs might have helped in the conduct of a common
policy, since the political interests of the two counties ran parallel.
With Catholic Diem pursuing such anachronistic religious persecutions,
however, Catholic Kennedy felt increasingly ill at ease, since he was too
astute a politician to compromise his political career or to sacrifice the
interests of the USA for the sake of a fellow Catholic who, after all, was
incurring the opprobrium of the vast majority of Americans, most of whom
still looked upon Kennedy's Catholicism with suspicion. Hence the Kennedy
Administration's blessing upon the final overthrow of the Diem regime.
The disastrous policy of the South Vietnamese Catholic
government was the dire result of the campaign initiated by the political
grand strategy of two men: John Foster Dulles for the USA and Pope Pius
XII for the Vatican. The Diem dynasty was put into power by them both when
the cold war was at its zenith: that is, after the French were soundly
defeated in the Indo-China war and the USA stepped in to fill the vacuum
in what eventually became known as South Vietnam.
From the beginning the USA decided to back a government
headed by an individual who would give a guarantee not to show any quarter
to the communists, either at home or abroad. The person chosen: Diem. Diem
was a man with a strong inclination to mysticism, a practicing and quietly
fanatical Catholic. In his early youth he had wanted to become a Catholic
priest, but ironically enough, was dissuaded from so doing by his brother,
the future Archbishop of Hue, who told him that the vocation of a Catholic
priest would be too soft for him. That the advice was not a jest was
subsequently proven by the fact that when Diem, during the French crisis,
was forced to go into exile to the USA, and to Belgium, he always chose to
stay in Catholic monasteries, leading the austere life of their inmates.
To Dulles and to Pius XII, this religious asceticism
was the surest guarantee that Diem would execute their joint policy with
the utmost fidelity. And in this they were right, as subsequent events
demonstrated. People who knew better, however, were not of the same
opinion about Diem's suitability. The American Embassy, for instance,
advised against him from the very beginning. The Embassy's warning was
completely ignored by Washington, and, although the State Department
itself was against the choice, the Special Operations Branch of the
Pentagon insisted on Diem. It had its way. What was the explanation? A
certain clique at the Pentagon, inspired by another in the Central
Intelligence Agency with intimate links to the Catholic lobby in
Washington and certain Cardinals in the USA, and consequently in perfect
accord with the Vatican, had decided to have a staunch Catholic in South
It must be remembered that the period was when the Cold
war was at its worst, when its arch-exponents, the Dulles brothers?one at
the State Department and the other at the CIA?and Pius XII at the Vatican,
were conducting a joint diplomatic, political and ideological grand
strategy embracing both the West and the Far East, of which Vietnam was an
The choice proved a disaster for South Vietnam and for
the USA's Asian policy, since, as we have just seen, the religious issue
was eventually to stultify the whole grand American strategic pattern
But it is often the case with Catholics in authority
that whenever the circumstances permit, and their power is no longer
restricted by either constitutional clauses or other checks, they tend to
conduct a policy more and more consonant with the spirit of their
religion. The result being that, by combining the interests of their
country with those of their church, more often than not they create
unnecessary social and political disturbances which ultimately are bound
to generate opposition in both religious and political fields.
When this state of affairs is nearing a crisis owing to
the resistance of the non-Catholic opposition, then the Catholics exerting
political or military power will not hesitate to use that power against
those who oppose them. At this stage, the interests of their church will,
as a rule, oust those of their country.
This formula proved to be correct in the case of South
Vietnam. President Diem, having provoked such a crisis, disregarded the
interests of the country, no less than those of its protectors, the USA,
to pursue what he considered were the interests of his church.
Whereas political and military factors of no mean
import played a leading part in the ultimate tragedy, the religious
factor, in fact, which by obscuring the political and military vision of
President Diem, led him to disaster. President Diem, in spite of, or
because of, his religious asceticism, was in his political conduct greatly
influenced by his brother, the head of the secret police, who did not
hesitate to unleash a veritable religious persecution of monks, nuns and
Buddhist leaders, as already seen.
An even more potent religious factor behind them was
the fanaticism of the third brother, the Archbishop of Hue. The Archbishop
was the "spiritual guide" of both the head of the police and the
president. It is no coincidence that the open flaring up of the religious
war began in his See, in Hue. The Archbishop was the driving power behind
the systematically mounting religious discrimination against the
Buddhists. Supporting the Archbishop was Pope Pius XII.
The similarity between the fanatical Catholic President
of South Vietnam and the Archbishop of Hue, and Croatian Dictator Ante
Pavelic and the Archbishop of Zagreb, could not be more striking. Thus,
whereas the political and military machinery controlled by the South
Vietnamese and Croatian dictators was put at the disposal of the Catholic
Church, the Catholic Church put her spiritual and ecclesiastical machinery
at the disposal of the two dictators, who made everyone and everything
subordinate to her religious and political totalitarianism.
Both Diem and Pavelic, aided by their respective
Archbishops, pursued three objectives simultaneously:
(a) the annihilation of a political enemy, i.e.
(b) as justification for the annihilation of an enemy
Church, i.e. the Orthodox Church in the case of Pavelic and Buddhism in
the case of Diem;
(c) the installation of Catholic religious and
political tyranny in each country.
Notwithstanding the different circumstances, and
geographical and cultural backgrounds characteristic of Croatia and South
Vietnam, the pattern and ultimate goal pursued by the two Regimes was
exactly the same: anything and anyone not conforming or submitting to
Catholicism was to be ruthlessly destroyed via arrest, persecution,
concentration camps and executions.
With the result that, by relegating the interests of
their country to the background, so as to further the interests of their
religion, both dictators finally brought their lands into the abyss.
In the case of President Diem, when he put Catholicism
first, he alienated the vast majority of the South Vietnamese masses and
of the South Vietnamese army who, it must be remembered, were Buddhists
and on the whole supported him politically. This brought the collapse of
the anti-Communist front upon which Diem's policy stood. The chaos which
ensued in its turn set in motion USA military intervention. The South
Vietnamese and Croatian Catholic dictatorships, therefore, are the most
striking examples of how the spirit of Catholicism can stultify the most
diverse political systems and cultures with the bacillae of intolerance.
It cannot be otherwise. Since her claims to uniqueness
and hence to religious supremacy will be identified with those who are
ready to accept them as basic truths upon which the fabric of society must
An Eskimo and a Central African or, in our case, a
Croat and a South Vietnamese, therefore, notwithstanding all their racial
and cultural differences, by the very fact that they are members of the
same anti-libertarian Church, will automatically scorn democracy and abhor
The import of this is portentous. The implication being
that the Catholic Church is potentially capable of carrying out the
ghastly experiments of both Croatia and South Vietnam in other countries,
independently of their political systems.
Which means that, given the favourable circumstances,
she would not hesitate to repeat them anywhere in the world, wherever
there are Catholics. And, since there are Catholics in practically every
country, the risk of another Croatian or South Vietnamese
"experiment" in the near or distant future, becomes not a
But a possibility.
In the case of Vietnam, the role played by the Catholic
Church has been paramount. Not only during the conflict, but also during
the agonizing period of its termination. It was then that the Vatican
struck a deal with the Communists of the North, while the USA went on
fighting. The Pope externalized the secret Vatican-North Vietnam deal by
consecrating the WHOLE of Vietnam?that is the North and the South to the
Virgin Mary. This was years before the war had even ended. Details of the
secretive Vatican-Communist operations can be assessed in the work of the
present author Vietnam, Why Did We Go?
The consecration of the United Communist Vietnam was
done by good Pope John XXIII, and seconded by Pope Paul VI. A religious
move, which had indicated on which side the Vatican had sided, when the
USA had began to lose the war.
1. Vietnam, Why Did We Go?,
Published by the Reformation Online.