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One of those days full of intrigues from Southeast Asia. In this case, an attempted coup on the part of troops loyal to former Premier Diem (who was assassinated and overthrown with a little CIA help), against troops loyal to Military strongman and Vietnamese President General Khan. The coup was quickly foiled, but Khan lost out anyway, as the Military leaders. thought loyal to Khan, gathered a vote of no-confidence on and Khan was quickly ousted in favor of the new Military tribunal.
Shortly before noon on 19 February, Thảo used tanks and infantry to overthrow Khan and seize control of the military headquarters at Tân Sơn Nhứt, the post office and the radio station of Saigon. He surrounded Khánh’s home, and Sửu’s residence. When spotted by the press, he emerged from a tank to quip that the “operation is to expel Nguyên Khánh from the government”. Thảo said he was going to bring Khiêm back from his post as Ambassador to the U.S., catching Khiêm, asleep in his Maryland home, off-guard. When informed of what was happening, Khiêm sent a cable pledging “total support” to the plot.
The country was still seeking stability, with Phan Huy Quát having been appointed prime minister just three days earlier. Khánh managed to escape and flee to Vũng Tàu. His plane lifted off from Tân Sơn Nhứt Air Base just as rebel tanks were rolling in, attempting to block the runway. Thảo made a radio announcement stating that the sole objective of his military operation was to overthrow Khánh, whom he described as a “dictator”. Thảo did this in league with General Lâm Văn Phát, who was supposed to seize the Biên Hòa Air Base to prevent Kỳ from mobilising air power against them. Phát and others made pro-Diệm announcements, saying “[Lodge] … was wrong in encouraging the coup against Diệm rather than correcting mistakes”.
The attempt to seize Biên Hòa failed, and Kỳ circled Tân Sơn Nhứt, threatening to bomb the rebels. Most of the forces of the III and IV Corps surrounding the capital disliked both Khánh and the rebels, and took no action. At 20:00, Phát and Thảo met with Kỳ in a meeting organized by the Americans, and insisted that Khánh be removed from power. The coup and attempted overthrow collapsed when, around midnight, loyal ARVN forces swept into the city from the south and some loyal to Kỳ from Biên Hòa in the north. Whether the rebels were genuinely defeated or a deal was struck with Kỳ to end the revolt in exchange for Khánh’s removal is disputed. Before fleeing, Thảo broadcast a message stating that the coup had been effective in removing Khánh. This was not the case, but the chaos led the Armed Forces Council to adopt a vote of no confidence in Khánh the following day. This motion was precipitated by Thi, who gained the support of Kỳ, and the final vote was unanimous. Kỳ assumed control of a junta that continued with Suu and Quat as a civilian front, although General Trần Văn Minh was the nominal head as Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Khánh was then north of Saigon, inspecting a display of captured communist weapons. When he heard about the overthrow, he refused to accept his fate and used his personal aircraft to fly to different provinces, trying to rally support, promising to promote those which would be natural allies, but received little support. Having ousted Khánh, the generals made a press conference in the afternoon, but claimed that no decision had been definitively made.
And the mess we were sinking into was ever deepening.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in Bonn, an attempted coup of another kind – this one with the rise of the extreme Right-Wing in West Germany. Despite attempts at trying to drag up “the good old days” of Nazism, the Bonn Government flatly rejected any notion of legitimizing the NDP, referring to their leaders as crack-pots and hysterics. This, hot on the heels of West Germany extending the statute of limitations on the prosecuting Nazi War criminals, saying the 20 year window should begin at 1955, when the Bonn government was established, rather than May 1945 when the War in Europe ended.
And so it went, on this February 20th in 1965, as presented by ABC Radio’s Overseas Assignment program.