Vietnamese Language Blog

The Watershed Moment in The Vietnamese 20th Century Posted by on Nov 1, 2021 in Events, History, Vocabulary

Image by Rob van der Meijden from Pixabay

More than half a century has passed since the deaths of tổng thống (president) Ngô Đình Diệm (Diệm) of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and John F. Kennedy (JFK), of the USA. Each November, on the anniversary of their deaths, discussions resume about “what if”, “the conspiracies”, “the unknown”, “the untold,” etc. Both these men were at the center of momentous and history-altering events.

Since I was young. I have always had an interest in history, and have been intrigued by the deaths of these two tổng thống. In my opinion, their deaths đánh dấu một bước ngoặc trong lịch sử Việt Nam của thế kỷ 20 (marked a watershed moment in 20th Century Vietnamese history).

It’s easy to remember the date of tổng thống Diệm’s death because it happened on November 2nd, a day after ngày lễ các thánh (All-Saint’s Day). I find it quite interesting that tổng thống Diem and JFK have a lot of similarities to their tragic stories.

President Ngô Đình Diệm – Image by Author

IPresident Kennedy – mage by WikiImages from Pixabay


  • Both were the first Catholic presidents of their respective countries.
  • Both were assassinated.
  • Both died in the same month and same year, November 1963.
  • Both came from prominent political families.
  • Both had brothers who were also assassinated.
  • Their deaths changed the course of the Vietnam War and the trajectory of American involvement in Vietnam.

I remember a conversation with my late father when we happened to discuss the cuộc đảo chánh (coup d’état) in 1963 that resulted in the death of tổng thống Diệm. My father told me after learning of tổng thống Diệm and his brother’s deaths, he told an American military advisor, his acquaintance in Saigon at that time, about his prediction:

  • There would be political chaos within the South Vietnamese regime because there would be nobody with the ability or legitimacy to capably lead.
  • Without a strong and independent leader like tổng thống Diệm, he expected the South to lose to the North in just a matter of time.
  • The mistake the Americans made by giving up on the tổng thống Diệm administration and supporting the cuộc đảo chánh lead by General Duong Van Minh would cause a tremendous cost to both countries.

He was right. It all came to pass. After sự cố lật đổ chính quyền Diệm (overthrow of Diem’s regime event), the first Republic of Vietnam collapsed. South Vietnam fell into years of political chaos. Specifically, between 1963 and 1967, there were seven successive governments that changed hands, including three coup d’états. The war escalated with the direct involvement of America in Vietnam. The subsequent Vietnamese governments fully relied on the support of the United States to prop the state.

To the north, the decision that the United States supported the removal of tổng thống Diệm was considered a great surprise gift that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) received. It gave momentum to the communist National Liberation Front of South Vietnam to advance its interests.


As for the “what if” theories, the most debated points are these:

  • If tổng thống Diệm wasn’t assassinated, would the Republic of South Vietnam have survived, leading to millions of southern Vietnamese not needing to resort to fleeing the country as refugees?
  • If tổng thống Kennedy not been assassinated, the United States might not have deepened its direct involvement in Vietnam and would not have lost 58,000 American casualties in the Vietnam War.

The past is in the past. What is important are the lessons that we learn from past events to guide our future.

For many of the older Vietnamese generation, like my parents, who endured the watershed moments of 20th century Vietnam, the assassination of tổng thống Diệm and the tragedies his family members endured, are flashbulb moments, similar to American memories of JFK’s tragic death and the tragedies the Kennedy family has likewise endured. It is why the anniversary of tổng thống Diệm’s death is still a solemn occasion for many Vietnamese.


Đảo chánh Coup d’etat
Lật đổ chính quyền Overthrown the Government
Ám sát Assassinate
Lễ tưởng niệm Anniversary
Chính trị Politic
Chính khách Politician
Chính sách Policy
Chính quyền Regime

Image by Dennis Larsen from Pixabay

Tags: , , , , , ,
Keep learning Vietnamese with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it