Ngo Dinh Diem : biography
During the 1946–54 war against the French Union forces, the Việt Minh, having gained control of parts of southern Vietnam, initiated land reform. During the period of war, rent collection, which hovered at around 50–70%, was impossible in some parts of the country, or the Việt Minh had compelled landlords to seek safety in the city and confiscated their land, distributing it to the peasants. When Diệm came to power, he reversed these re-allocations as upper-class landowners were part of his ideological support base. In the Mekong Delta, 0.025% of landowners owned 40% of the land; most of the land was owned by absentee landlords and worked by tenant farmers. This generated resentment among the populace, as land ownership was highly valued by Vietnamese society. Diệm declared that landlords could collect no more than 25%, but this was not enforced and in some cases the rent levels were higher than those under French colonisation. Under U.S. pressure, in 1956, he limited individual land holdings to 1.15 km², and reimbursed the landlords for the excess, which he sold to peasants. Many landlords evaded the redistribution by transferring the property to the name of family members. Additionally, the ceiling limit was more than 30 times that allowed in South Korea and Taiwan, and the of the Catholic Church’s landownings in Vietnam were exempted. As a result, only 13% of the South Vietnam’s land was redistributed, and by the end of his regime, only 10% of the tenants had received any land, at a high cost. This policy failure generated anger, and in turn sympathy to the Việt Minh who had given the peasants free land. At the end of Diệm’s rule, 10% of the population owned 55% of the land.Jacobs, pp. 93–96
Believing the central highlands were of strategic importance to the Việt Cộng or subject to a potential invasion by North Vietnam, Diệm decided to construct a Maginot Line of settlements. The area, inhabited by Montagnard indigenous people, had been largely allowed local autonomy in previous times, and the locals distrusted ethnic Vietnamese. Diệm initiated a program of internal migration where 210,000 Vietnamese, mainly Catholics, were moved to Montagnard land in fortified settlements.Jacobs, pp. 90–92. When the Montagnards protested, Diệm’s forces confiscated their spears and bows, which they used to hunt for daily sustenance.Langguth, pp. 184–85 Since then Vietnam has faced Montagnard insurgent separatist movements.Far Eastern Economic Review, 1991
Government policy towards Buddhists
In a country where surveys of the religious composition estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90 percent,, HistoryNetGettleman, pp. 275–76, 366.Moyar, pp. 215–16.Tucker, pp. 49, 291, 293.Maclear, p. 63 Diệm’s policies generated claims of religious bias. As a member of the Vietnamese Catholic minority, he is widely regarded by historians as having pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists, since the Catholic community is anti-Communist. Specifically, the government was regarded as being biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions.Tucker, p. 291. Diệm once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that the man was from a Buddhist background, “Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted.” Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Catholicism in the belief that their military prospects depended on it. Gettleman, pp. 280–82.
The distribution of weapons to village self-defense militias intended to repel Việt Cộng guerrillas saw weapons only given to Catholics. Buddhists in the army were often denied promotion if they refused to convert to Catholicism. Some Buddhist villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diệm’s regime.Buttinger, p. 993 The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and the “private” status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French, which required official permission to conduct public Buddhist activities, was never repealed by Diệm.Karnow, p. 294