Ngô Đình Nhu

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Ngô Đình Nhu
Ngô Đình Nhu.jpg
Full Name: Ngô Đình Nhu
Origin: Phú Cam, Annam, French Indochina
Occupation: General Secretary of the Personalist Labor Revolutionary Party (1954 - 1963)
Goals: Enforce the rule of his brother (successful until 1963)
Supress the Buddhists (partially successful)
Assassinate Norodom Sihanouk (failed)
Assassinate Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (failed)
Crimes: War crimes
Hate speech
Mass repression
State terrorism
Attacks on the South Vietnamese pagoda
Type of Villain: Corrupt Official

Ngô Đình Nhu (listen; 7 October 1910 – 2 November 1963; baptismal name Jacob) was a Vietnamese archivist and politician. He was the younger brother and chief political advisor of South Vietnam's first president, Ngô Đình Diệm. Although he held no formal executive position, he wielded immense unofficial power, exercising personal command of both the ARVN Special Forces (a paramilitary unit which served as the Ngô family's de facto private army) and the Cần Lao political apparatus (also known as the Personalist Labor Party) which served as the regime's de facto secret police.


Nhu's family originated from the central Vietnamese village of Phú Cam. His family had served as mandarins in the imperial court in Huế. His father, Ngô Đình Khả, was a counselor to Emperor Thành Thái during the French colonisation. After the French deposed the emperor on the pretext of insanity, Khả retired in protest and became a farmer. Nhu was the fourth of six sons, born in 1910.

In his early age, Nhu was a quiet and bookish individual who showed little inclination towards the political path taken by his elder brothers. While training as an archivist in France, Nhu adopted the Roman Catholic ideology of personalism, although critics claimed that he misused that philosophy. Upon returning to Vietnam, he helped his brother in his quest for political power, and Nhu proved an astute and ruthless tactician and strategist, helping Diệm to gain more leverage and outwit rivals. In 1943 marries with Trần Lệ Xuân who shared the same aggressive and patriotic behavior of her husband.

During this time, he formed and handpicked the members of the secret Cần Lao Party, which swore its personal allegiance to the Ngô family, provided their power base and eventually became their secret police force. Nhu remained as its head until his own assassination.

In 1955, Nhu's supporters helped intimidate the public and rig the 1955 State of Vietnam referendum that ensconced his elder brother, Diệm, in power. Nhu used the Cần Lao, which he organised into cells, to infiltrate every part of society to root out opposition to the Ngô family.

In 1959, he organized a failed assassination attempt via mail bomb on Prince Sihanouk, the prime minister of neighbouring Cambodia, with whom relations had become strained. Nhu publicly extolled his own intellectual abilities. He was known for making such public statements as promising to demolish the Xá Lợi Pagoda and vowing to kill his estranged father-in-law, Trần Văn Chương, who was the regime's ambassador to the United States, after the elder man condemned the Ngô family's behavior and disowned his daughter, Nhu's wife, Madame Nhu.

In 1963, the Ngô family's grip on power became unstuck during the Buddhist crisis, during which the nation's Buddhist majority rose up against the pro-Catholic regime. Nhu tried to break the Buddhists' opposition by using the Special Forces in raids on prominent Buddhist temples that left hundreds dead, and framing the regular army for it. However, Nhu's plan was uncovered, which intensified plots by military officers, encouraged by the Americans, who turned against the Ngô family after the pagoda attacks.

Nhu was aware of the plots, but remained confident he could outmaneuver them, and began to plot a counter-coup, as well as the assassinations of US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and other American and opposition figures. Nhu was fooled by the loyalist General Tôn Thất Đính, who had turned against the Ngô family. On 1 November 1963, the coup proceeded, and the Ngô brothers (Nhu and Diệm) were detained and assassinated the next day.


Nhu held no official role in the government, but ruled the southern region of South Vietnam, commanding private armies and secret police. Along with his wife and Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, he lived in the Presidential Palace with Diem, as part of a nepotistic regime. Pervaded by family corruption, Nhu competed with his brother Ngo Dinh Can, who ruled the northern areas for US contracts and rice trade. He controlled the ARVN Special Forces commanded by Le Quang Tung, not for fighting the Vietcong but in Saigon to maintain the authoritarian rule of his family. Tortures and killings of "communist suspects" were committed on a daily basis. The death toll was put at around 50,000 and 75,000 imprisonments, and extended beyond communists to anti-communist dissidents and anti-corruption whistleblowers. His agents infiltrated labor unions and social organizations, and he expanded the police forces from 20 to 32 officers. They conducted arrests without warrants and selective suppression of criminal activity and graft while turning a blind eye to regime loyalists.

As Buddhist demonstrations against the Diem government continued throughout the summer, the special forces loyal to Diem's brother Nhu raided the Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon in August. The Pagodas were vandalised, monks beaten, the cremated remains of Thích Quảng Đức, which included a heart which did not disintegrate, were confiscated. Simultaneous raids were carried out across the country, with the Tu Dam Pagoda in Hue being looted, the statue of Gautama Buddha demolished and a body of a deceased monk confiscated. When the populace came to the defence of the monks, the resulting clashes saw 30 civilians killed and 200 wounded. In all 1400 monks were arrested, and some thirty were injured across the country. The US indicated their disapproval of Diem's administration when their ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge visited the Pagoda in the aftermath. No further mass Buddhist protests occurred during the remainder of his rule.

During this time, his wife Madame Nhu, who was a defacto first lady due to Diem's bachelor life, inflamed the situation by mockingly applauding the suicides of Thích Quảng Đức and others, referring to them as "barbeques" while Nhu stated "if the Buddhists want to have another barbeque, I will be glad to supply the gasoline". Over time, relations with the United States decayed. The Americans wanted Nhu removed, believing he was alienating the populace and hindering the war effort. Aid to the Special Forces was to be withheld unless they were used to fight rather than attack dissidents. Nhu accused the Americans of “destroying the psychology of our country” and called Henry Cabot Lodge a “man of no morality