A flood of memories has been occasioned by the news that Mme. Ngo Dinh Nhu died at 86 on Easter Sunday in Rome. During the hectic period leading up to the American initiated coup d’etat and assassination of her husband and his brother, Pres. Ngo Dinh Diem, as a journalist I saw her periodically . The interviews, which were more like conversations than questions and answer routines, were revealing of the continuing tragic events in Vietnam which were to lead to the final catastrophe of the fall of Saigon and the Communist takeover.
I remember, particularly, one conversation where we discussed thecampaign by the American media against the regime. I was caught trying to explain attitudes of the young newsmen stationed in Saigon. Mme. Nhu repeatedly said that she could be more sympathetic to the newsmen if she could believe in their “bonne foi [“good faith”]. I remember telling her that these young reporters were reared in an America where a then recent attack, a rather brutal one, on women sitting on the street in front of the presidential palace protesting in support of Buddhist monk politicians, was unacceptable. They were outraged. Police, at least generally, would never have done that in America, I told her — perhaps tear gas or water hoses but not beatings with clubs. She halted the conversation with me, and in Vietnamese — alas! I don’t speak it — turned to my accompanying official from the ministry of information, obviously interrogating him. Whatever he told her apparently satisfied and we went on to other topics.
I have often recalled the incident, a symptom of the all too often cultural and communications gap that gave John F. Kennedy’s Washington a totally false picture of what was happening in Vietnam, as well as the inability of the Diem Regime to communicate its real and valid concerns about American policy.