Madame Nhu on Meet The Press – October 13, 1963 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
As America drifted relentlessly towards war in Southeast Asia, some of the more colorful characters emerged on to the world stage to make a case. One of those figures who brought suitcases full of perplexities was Madame Ngo Diem Nhu, sister-in-law of Ngo Dinh Diem and de facto “First Lady of South Vietnam”.
Known for her harsh and incendiary comments that denounced anti-government protests by some Buddhist sects and the strong U.S. influence and presence in the country, she went to live in exile in France after her husband and her brother-in-law, Diệm, were assassinated in 1963.
Madame Nhu arrived in the United States on 7 October, and her arrival was greeted by the United Nations’ launching of an inquiry into the repression of Buddhists in South Vietnam. Kennedy had resisted the temptation to deny her an entry visa and his administration soon came under a flurry of verbal attacks.
Despite U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s advice for her to stop damaging relations with inflammatory remarks, Madame Nhu refused to back down, describing herself as a scapegoat for American shortcomings and failures. She went on to accuse the administration of betraying her family, saying “I refuse to play the role of an accomplice in an awful murder … According to a few immature American junior officials—too imbued by a real but obsolete imperialist spirit, the Vietnamese regime is not puppet enough and must be liquidated.” She accused the Americans of undermining South Vietnam through “briberies, threats and other means” to destroy her family because they “do not like” it. She further mocked Kennedy’s entourage, asking why “all the people around President Kennedy are pink?”
She denounced American liberals as “worse than communists” and Buddhists as “hooligans in robes”. Her father did not share the same beliefs and followed her around the country rebutting her comments, denouncing the “injustice and oppression” and stating that his daughter had “become unwittingly the greatest asset to the communists.” She predicted that Buddhism would become extinct in Vietnam. The Oram Group, the Madison Avenue PR firm that had been hired to promote Diệm’s image in the U.S. for $3,000 per month ended its relationship with Diệm during Madame Nhu’s visit under the grounds she had so badly damaged the image of the Diệm government in America that there was nothing that could be done to improve his image and a continued association was going to cost the Oram Group other clients. American journalists had discovered Madame Nhu was “unfortunately too beautiful to ignore” as a Kennedy administration staffer complained, and that it was easy to provoke her into saying something outrageous, causing a media circus to develop around her as she traveled across America.
In the wake of the tumultuous events, Madame Nhu appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on 13 October 1963, defending her actions and those of the South Vietnamese government. “I don’t know why you Americans dislike us … Is it because the world is under a spell called liberalism? Your own public, here in America, is not as anti-Communistic as ours is in Vietnam. Americans talk about my husband and I leaving our native land permanently. Why should we do this? Where would we go? To say that 70 percent of my country’s population is Buddhistic is absolutely true. My father, who was our ambassador to the United States until two months ago, has been against me since my childhood.”
Here is that Meet The Press appearance.
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