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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vietnam, Kennedy, and Catholicism

- Hạ Long Bay

As Jfk was a Catholic, there are many nostalgic articles on him by the Catholic press, given the 50th anniversary of his death (see dotCommonweal, America magazine, The Jesuit Post, etc.). I guess when I think of Kennedy, I tend to think of negatives: of his personal life, of his reactions to communism in Latin American and in Vietnam. Of course he did a lot of good too, but me being who I am, seeing all the Catholic Kennedy accolades just makes me want to go the other direction ;)

I often see articles in the Catholic press about Vietnam (example) and something I hadn't known of before and came upon when reading about JFK and Vietnam put some of this stuff into perspective for me: Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam (1955–1963), was Catholic, like Kennedy, and ...

As a member of the Catholic minority [70-90% of the populace was Buddhist], he pursued policies which antagonized and disenfranchised the Buddhist majority. The government was biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, and the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions. .... The distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Việt Cộng guerrillas saw weapons only given to Catholics. Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies, and in some areas forced conversions occurred. Some villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diệm's regime. The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and its holdings were exempt from reform and given extra property acquisition rights, while restrictions against Buddhism remained in force. Catholics were also de facto exempt from the corvée labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform; U.S. aid was disproportionately distributed to Catholic majority villages. In 1959, Diem dedicated his country to the Virgin Mary .... this led to a mass campaign against Diệm's government during the Buddhist crisis, and Diệm was deposed and assassinated on 2 November 1963.

You can read more about this (and get the footnotes/references) in Wikipedia's article.


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