Causes of the War 1954-63 South Vietnam

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Explain the causes of the conflict in South Vietnam between 1954 and 1963.

The conflict in South Vietnam in the 1950s and early ‘60s was the result of a series of political, economic and social factors, all centering around the difficulties of the Diem regime.

Perhaps the biggest problem faced by the government of Ngo Dinh Diem was its lack of political legitimacy. The regime was seen by many as a puppet of the United States, depending as it did on US advice, money and armaments. By contrast, Ho Chi Minh’s government enjoyed widespread popularity, including among many in the south. These people believed that the nation would be unified following nation-wide elections in 1956. The problems Diem faced were exacerbated by his own background and personality. He was a Catholic, who shared little in common with the country’s Buddhist majority. He alienated many by appointing Catholics to senior government positions, and by introducing pro-Catholic laws banning divorce, contraception, spiritualism and occultism. Diem was a traditionalist, and looked to South Vietnam’s traditional elite for support. He angered many peasants by seizing land that had been given to them by the Vietminh, and returning it to its original owners. Finally, Diem was an autocrat, who would brook no opposition to his will. He preferred to crush his opponents rather than negotiate with them. As such, he attacked the Vietminh, branding them as traitors and subjecting them to death and imprisonment – even desecrating their graves. He also attacked groups that might otherwise have supported him, such as the Cao Dai and Hoa Hau sects. Diem’s political problems were compounded by his decision to abandon the nation-wide election agreed to at Geneva. His opponents in the south now realised there would be no peaceful reunification of Vietnam. Faced with that reality and with harsh political repression, they elected to resume hostilities in 1957. The NLF was formed in 1960. Diem now made a series...
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