In 1954 Vietnamese freedom fighters; the Viet Minh; – had finally defeated the French colonial government in North Vietnam, which by then had been supported by U.S. funds amounting to more than $2 billion. Although the victorious assured religious freedom to all (most non-Buddhist Vietnamese were Catholics), due to huge anticommunist propaganda campaigns many Catholics fled to the South. With the help of Catholic lobbies in Washington and Cardinal Spellman, the Vatican’s spokesman in U.S. politics, who later on would call the U.S. forces in Vietnam “Soldiers of Christ”, a scheme was concocted to prevent democratic elections which could have brought the communist Viet Minh to power in the South as well, and the fanatic Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem was made president of South Vietnam. [MW16ff]
Diem saw to it that U.S. aid, food, technical and general assistance was given to Catholics alone, Buddhist individuals and villages were ignored or had to pay for the food aids which were given to Catholics for free. The only religious denomination to be supported was Roman Catholicism. The Vietnamese McCarthyism turned even more vicious than its American counterpart. By 1956 Diem promulgated a presidential order which read:
“Individuals considered dangerous to the national defense and common security may be confined by executive order, to a concentration camp.”
Supposedly to fight communism, thousands of Buddhist protesters and monks were imprisoned in “detention camps.” Out of protest dozens of Buddhist teachers – male and female – and monks poured gasoline over themselves and burned themselves. (Note that Buddhists burned themselves: in comparison Christians tend to burn others). Meanwhile some of the prison camps, which in the meantime were filled with Protestant and even Catholic protesters as well, had turned into no-nonsense death camps. It is estimated that during this period of terror (1955-1960) at least 24,000 were wounded – ; mostly in street riots ; – 80,000 people were executed, 275,000 had been detained or tortured, and about 500,000 were sent to concentration or detention camps. [MW76-89].
To support this kind of government in the next decade thousands of American GI’s lost their life.