“Tổ Quốc Trên Hết” [“Nation Above All”] was a slogan of the defunct and much maligned Republic of South Vietnam, while the Socialist North rallied their populace with “Chống Mỹ Cứu Nước” [“Fight the Americans, Save the Nation”]. During the war, both Vietnamese sides stressed their nationalist credentials while discrediting their opponent as a foreign puppet. The common Vietnamese soldier, then, didn’t fight and die for capitalism, communism, democracy, internationalism, universal brotherhood, America, Russia or China, but only for Vietnam, for only nationalism could justify so much sacrifice, pain and endurance.
Two miles from me is St. Francis Xavier Church. In Vietnam, there are Catholic churches that combine Western and Eastern architectural elements, with Phát Diệm Cathedral, completed in 1891, the most striking example. Though St. Francis Xavier is quite modest in size, it’s very charming and elegant, with a Chinese pavilion in its courtyard sheltering the Virgin Mary. The red, buttony cross on its ornate gate is flanked by two white, upturned carps, while inside, the main crucifix, with an ivory-white Jesus, is framed by two contrapuntal couplets, in Chinese.
On November 2st, 1963, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were captured at St. Francis Xavier Church, where they had fled to escape a coup. Tied up and dumped inside an armored personnel carrier, both were then shot.
Since the Americans had propped up Diem, it was they who had to give the go ahead to depose, if not kill, the man, and though Diem is often caricatured as just an American puppet, he was clearly not just that, for otherwise, there would have been no reason to wipe him out.
The very fact that he…