President of the Republic of Vietnam from 1955 until his assassination in 1963. Financed by the United States, which was intent on preventing the communists from reunifying Vietnam after the 1946-54 French (Indochina) war, Diem, along with his powerful brothers Nhu and Can, and his much-loathed sister-in-law, the Madam, presided over a highly corrupt, ineffectual, oppressive government, and he and Nhu were ultimately murdered by a cabal within his own military. Raised in an elite, conservative Catholic clan, Diem became a mandarin and took a vow of chastity so that he could fully devote himself to the cause of first getting rid of the French colonialists and then, he hoped, preventing the partitioned south from being overrun by the forces of Ho Chi Minh and General Giap of North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) in the South. Of course, his side -- the American side -- was doomed. When his thugs began a brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 1963, which precipitated the self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc in the middle of an intersection in Saigon, his days were numbered, for neither the American government nor many on his own official team could any longer support such a simultaneously brutal and lame combine. On November 2, 1963, after being given the go-ahead by JFK's CIA, mutinous generals arranged for Diem and Nhu to be captured, which they were while hiding in a church in the Cholon district of Chinatown in Saigon. Hustled into an army truck, they were bound and shot. What followed was a series of even more hapless juntas. The end came for the Republic of Vietnam on the last day of April in 1975. Over the years, Diem and his brothers' bodies were moved from one cemetery to the next, ending up, for now, in a province right outside of Saigon, where only diehard loyalists and an occasional history buff show up to see the graves with Catholic names on the tombstones, meant to obscure their actual identity in this land of historical erasures.
Bio by: Keith Fitzgerald