Vietnam and the 20th Century Western Experience
Religious strife and totalitarian regimes have always been enemies of religious freedom. Dominant religions are sometimes accustomed to wielding legal authority and that power may be abused. Totalitarian religious regimes can be particularly malevolent as they claim divine right for the heinous acts they commit. Nowhere is this more apparent than Vietnam, which was heavily influenced by a totalitarian French Catholicism. The Vietnamese French Catholics oppressed Buddhists economically and politically, which led to month’s long religious violence and a shocking form of protest in August, 1963. In the early 1960’s the French Catholic influence in Vietnam was keenly felt. For the past two generations French had been enforced as the language, cuisine, and dominate authority in Vietnamese politics and society. Although nearly 70 percent of the population was Buddhist, the religion was officially discouraged by the dominant French Catholics which included President Ngô Đình Diệm (Jacobs, 2010). Forced religious conversions and the torture of Buddhist monks and nuns were a common report in Diệm’s Vietnam. In 1963 tensions between French Catholic Buddhist Vietnamese escalated when Diệm decided to enforce a ban on religious flags to prohibit the display of the Buddhist flag on Buddha’s birthday while allowing the Vatican flag to be flown on his personal birthday. Protests began, gradually escalating throughout the summer as the government tried to crack down (Than, Duc, 2001). The protests might have gone unnoticed by the world except for the self-immolation of monk Thích Quảng Ðức which made worldwide news and brought the Buddhist’s plight to the West. To the western media Duc’s suicide was at first unbelievable. Photos of the monk, who remained immovable during his horrible death, were widely circulated and one by photographer Malcolm Browne won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism that...
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