Young Kadir reporting from Vietnam

At the age of 31, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, made one of his earliest forays into the realm of foreign affairs by being the first investigator for the newly formed Amnesty International. Armed with a letter from Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (Lake House) making him a “Special Correspondent” , Mr. Kadirgamar went to South Vietnam back in 1963 to report on ‘current developments’ in that troubled nation. This is his report dated January 1, 1964.

Report to Amnesty International on my visit to South Vietnam

By Lakshman Kadirgamar

Since there is no Consulate or Embassy representing the Government of South Viet nam in Ceylon, I made my first application for a visa to enter the country through the French Embassy in Colombo about two weeks prior to the coup-d'-etat which led to the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diem's government on 1st November, 1963. No reply was received by the French Embassy in Colombo to my request for a visa, and I was advised by the French Embassy authorities here that the silence of Diem's government was tantamount to a refusal to let me in. Even though the change of government and the consequent release by the Military Junta of all Diem's political prisoners had minimized the necessity for an Amnesty investigation, I decided that it would be worth going to South Vietnam to verify at first hand the reports of events in that country, some of which were of dubious origin, published especially in the propaganda journals of local extremist religious groups. Accordingly, I left for Singapore by air on November 9th, hoping to collect a visa from the Vietnamese Consulate there. A series of lucky coincidences and fortuitous meetings with influential people helped me to secure the visa and also enabled me to make a number of usef'ul contacts in Saigon. I spent ten days in South Viet Nam, including two days in Hue, where the revolt against Diem's regime really began.

The late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. One year ago, this great statesman fell victim to a bullet of a terrorist killer.

There were no restrictions at all on my personal movements during my stay in South Vietnam. Indeed, the new government gave me their fullest co-operation in the conduct of my investigation. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon (the leading group of newspapers in Ceylon) gave me accreditation as a Special Correspondent and a letter of authority which also came in very useful as the Vietnamese Press proved to be of great assistance to me.

Background to the crisis

The cause of the explosion which toppled the Diem regime lies deep in the history of Vietnam. Discerning Buddhists and Catholics alike held the view that Diem was the legatee of a policy of discrimination against the Buddhists initiated by the French. The French recognized the corporate ownership of property belonging to the Church, whereas a similar privilege was not extended to Buddhist foundations. During the French occupation the Buddhists were scarcely organized. Their ties were loose and there does not appear to have been any concerted pressure for the recognition of their religious rights. There was general agreement that Diem was a popular leader in the first few years of his rule after he came into power in 1954. There was also a general acknowledgement of debt which the country owed to Diem for supressing the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai sects which were the plague of the Vietnamese people in the early years after the country was partitioned. I detected considerable personal sympathy for Diem over the circumstances of his death but nothing at all for his brother Nhu and his wife. Many expressed the view that Diem was a puppet in their hands. I was told by two people who met Diem shortly prior to the coup-d'-etat - Fr. Luan (Rector of the University of Hue) and a German Professor of Paediatrics at the same University - that in the last few months he was an object of pity, suspicious of everyone around him, except perhaps his brothers, hopelessly out of touch with the people, unwilling to recognize the possibility that the Vietnamese people would revolt against his rule which he passionately believed was benevolent and popular. He had become a prisoner in his palace. On the occasion of the last National Day Celebrations prior to his fall the people were not allowed anywhere near the dais from which he took the salute at the march past of his troops. Roads were blocked and cordoned off in a wide perimeter and even those selected guests who attended the occasion by special invitation were not allowed to take their cameras, much to their regret as it proved to be the last occasion on which Diem appeared in public. A Vietnamese army officer told me a story that may or may not be true but serves to illustrate the extent to which Diem had ceased to be in communication with his people." Apparently after the National Day celebrations he had given each of his palace servants a gift of twenty piastres with a homily on how lucky they were to be given such a large sum of money. Today a packet of cigarettes in Saigon costs forty piastres and the price was higher just prior to the coup. I was told by pressman who had accompanied Diem's entourage on a visit to a market in Saigon some months before the coup, that Diem had inquired of a vendor the price of a kilo of vegetables. Confronted by the President and a vast array of security police the frightened woman replied that the cost was fifteen piastres. After the President and party had departed, the pressman asked the woman why she had said the price was fifteen piastres when the current market price was seventy piastres. She said that she did not dare to tell the President what the true price was. In his anxiety to preserve the regime, Diem, egged on by his diabolical brothers, saw in every protest against the harshness of his laws and the corruption of his administration a personal threat to himself and his family. He saw communists everywhere and his pathological fear of communist infiltration , cleverly manipulated by his brother Nhu, blinded him to the rottenness of his regime and his growing unpopularity. A leading lay Buddhist in Hue told me that although Diem had appointed many Catholics to high positions in his administration he felt that these appointments were made not with a view to favouring the Catholics but because Diem felt that for the preservation of his personal authority he needed supporters whose personal loyalty and resistance to communism he could be assured. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain how, of the twenty generals in the Vietnamese army seventeen were Catholics. There is convincing evidence that in the rural areas of Vietnam, Catholics were given special privileges in respect of land settlements. Many of the refugees who came into South Vietnam from the North after the country was partitioned were led to the South by the local village priest and in resettling them preference seems to have been given to Catholics and to those Buddhists who became Catholics. I was informed that certain restrictions were placed on worship in Buddhist temples, namely, that bells and gongs were not to be sounded and that communal prayer was not to be too loud. People who disobeyed these injunctions mysteriously disappeared especially in Central Viet nam. Buddhist soldiers who were seen too frequently at the pagodas were transferred to the front lines. Thus the general consensus of opinion was that discontent was deep rooted, if not obvious, in Vietnam from about 1959. Saigon was riddled with spies and informers. The Press was completely servile under rigid censorship. Numerous irksome restrictions on personal freedom like Madame Nhu's morality law and the ban on meetings and demonstrations except under close supervision aggravated a situation that was steadily worsening. Progress in the war against the Viet Cong was slow.

French troops fighting Vietcong guerrillas at Dien Bien Phu.

It is axiommatic that a guerilla war cannot be won by sheer force of arms; the active co-operation of the peasants who are really in the vanguard of the struggle against the Viet Cong is imperative. In the latter years of Diem's rule the only political alternative to communism in South Vietnam was the depressing prospect of the permanent hegemony of an autocratic family. The Buddhist crisis was the immediate cause of his downfall, although it was inevitable that sooner or later his end would have come. Diem's handling of Buddhist affairs was evidence of the degree to which he had become impervious to reason and isolated from the people. Trivial issues became national problems overnight. Pleas for tolerance and reforms made to him by his friends were ignored. Crisis that could easily have been averted and could certainly have been settled was allowed to grow until it consumed him. His motto was loyalty to himself at any cost. In the closing years of his life he had deluded himself into the belief that he personified the state, the people, the hopes and aspirations of the country. But nothing was further from the truth.

The City of Hue and its University
The Buddhist struggle began in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, about 300 miles from Saigon by air. The road to Hue is dangerous. It is mainly used by the military forces as it passes through country which is very much the scene of war. Hue is a small city bisected by the famous River of Perfume which is the pride of its people. It has hardly been touched by the extravagances of civilization. There are no night clubs, only two cinemas, no taxis but it is now dominated by its University. The University of Hue was founded in 1957 and its first and present Rector is Father Cao Van Luan, a Vietnamese Catholic priest who was a close personal friend of Diem. When the University was established it was not expected to last for very long. It was considered by many to be a disastrous experiment, not it would seem for the reason that a Catholic priest would be the head of a University whose students were predominantly Buddhist but because it was thought that Vietnam could not afford a second University. But in the fifth year of its existence the number of students enrolled increased from 387 to 2488.

Long before the Buddhist crisis, Fr. Luan wrote these prophetic words in the course of an appeal for funds for the University: "It is the firm conviction of our staff and faculty that one day in the near future we shall say in all truth - 'the University of Hue if successfully working for the fulfillment of its mission to educate the people of Central Viet Nam in such a manner that they will be a positive asset to this young emerging nation and to the free world in general. This could not have been done without our faith in our own abilities, the surging strength of freedom and the warm encouragement and assistance of our friends throughout the world'. He could not have known how soon in the life of this young University its ideals would be so severely tested.

The crisis

In April, 1963, Archbishop Thuc celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination. The celebrations were on a grand scale and were financed by the State. Various flags including the Vatican flag were prominently displayed and it appears that Decree No.10, (passed by the French during the colonial regime) which regulated the conditions under which flags were to be flown on public occasions was disregarded in the case of Archbishop Thuc's celebrations. No incident of any kind occurred during the celebrations but the Buddhists noted, and were naturally led to believe, that Decree No. 10 was now defunct. Accordingly, when the Vesak celebrations (commemorating the birth of the Buddha) came round in May the Buddhists of Hue put up their decorations on the same lines as those displayed in the previous month for the Archbishop's anniversary.

The Buddhist flags was flown in a prominent position along with the National flag of South Vietnam. On the day before Vesak the Government ordered that the Buddhist flag be pulled down and cited Decree No. 10 in support of its decision. This naturally caused consternation among the Buddhists. For one thing it was a flagrant instance of discrimination and for another the government waited till the day before Vesak to invoke this Decree. On the morning of Vesak day a largely attended meeting was held at the Tu Dan pagoda in Hue. The meeting was addressed by leading monks of Hue who protested against the Government's decision. I heard a tape recording of this meeting which was played back by the Vietnamese Professor of Literature at the University of Hue and it was clear beyond any doubt that the slogans adopted on that day demanded only the equality of all religions and the recognition of the Buddhist flag. Even under severe provocation there was no incitement to violence or abuse directed against any other religious faith.

The traditional Vesak broadcast by the leading monk of the Tu Dam pagoda was to be made that night but shortly before the broadcast was to go on the air the government authorities refused permission. This was further provocation to the Buddhists of Hue. Later that evening they gathered in large numbers - estimated at about 20, 000 - outside the Radio Station in Hue. Eye witnesses told me that there were no arms or wepons of any kind carried by this crowd who marched peacefully to the precincts of the Radio Station. The authorities were obviously alarmed and troops and tanks were called up. The tanks opened fire.

There were six explosions in all. Dr Quyen (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hue and Director of the Hue General Hospital) told me that two of the explosions were caused by cannon. Shells and three by rifle shots - the sixth explosion was mysterious, it was neither tank fire nor rifle shot. Eight people were killed. On the 9th May the government published the following communiqué:-

"According to the Coroner's statement and the findings of the Prosecutor's office it is concluded that all victims died of skull fractures and were wounded only on the upper parts of the body and not the lower parts. All bear the same marks as if caused by a shock wave of an explosion from a very powerful device which exploded violently about 80 to 100 centimeters above the ground. Therefore, the victims were killed by a Viet Cong plastic explosion (which the Vietnamese Armed forces do not have) and not crushed by tanks or armoured cars as previously alleged.

This fact was confirmed by Dr. Quyen, Director of the Hue General Hospital, at a meeting with the Government delegate for the Central Delta and the Coroner on July 2". Opinion in Saigon at the time and even after the coup was that the Government's version of the Vesak incident was false. Everybody believed that the name of the eminent and widely respected Dr. Quyen had been falsely used to support the Government's version. When I met Dr. Quyen, I asked him about this incident, expecting him to confirm what I had been told in Saigon. But to my surprise he declared that the Government's version was substantially true. He had personally examined the corpses at the General Hospital and was completely satisfied that the fatal injuries were caused by an explosion and not by tank or rifle fire. He kept saying to me, over and over again, how important and necessary it was to be absolutely objective in assessing the facts. He said that the government's propaganda on most of the burning issues of the day was a tissue of lies but on this occasion they had come out with the truth at least as to the cause of death, and he was emphatic on this point. But, of course, the government had imputed to Dr. Quyen the conclusion that the victims were killed by Viet Cong terrorists. Dr. Quyen declared that neither he nor any of the eye witnesses could possibly know from where the explosion had come or who threw the grenade. This part of the government's declaration is, therefore, false and Dr. Quyen was also not certain whether any others had been killed by tank or rifle fire whose bodies had been whisked away from the scene without being taken to the hospital.

I was very impressed by Dr. Quyen's scrupulously fair and objective account of this incident. No praise can be too high for this great leader of men who even in the flush of victory for his people has maintained that integrity and obsession for the truth in all matters which has given to his leadership a supreme quality.

After the Hue incident events moved fast. On the 9th May a "heartfelt" letter was addressed by the Venerable Thich Tam Chau, Vice-Chairman of the General Association of Buddhists in Vietnam, to "all superior monks, priests, and nuns and all Buddhists in Vietnam".

It was an appeal for the support of all Buddhists in the struggle "to protect our just religion in an orderly, peaceful, non-violent manner". It made no specific call for action other than telling Buddhists to be "ready to march the road of martyrdom". Numerous other letters and messages followed in quick succession. There was a letter from the League of Buddhist Students to student friends asserting that the struggle of the Buddhists is for "freedom and equality" and asking for the support of all Vietnamese students.

On May 12th, the Vietnam Buddhists Association published a communiqué announcing the determination of the Buddhists to achieve their Five Aspirations by peaceful means. It lists the slogans to be used and contains a copy of the telegram apparently sent throughout Vietnam announcing a period of mourning for Buddhists who died in the Hue incident. Not one of the slogans listed in this communique can be described in any way as aiming at the incitement of Buddhists to attack the followers of any other religious faith. On May 10th a manifesto listing the Five Aspirations of the Hue Buddhists was published, signed by Chief Bonze Tuong Van and four administrative committee Chairmen from Central Vietnam. This manifesto was read at a meeting at the Tu Dam pagoda in Hue on the same day. The first part of the manifesto states the basic Buddhist position ("we are with the government have no enemies fight only for religious equality... will use non-violent means of struggle ..... will not be 'used' by anyone"). The second part of the manifesto explains in detail the Five Aspirations which were as follows:-

1. "Let the Govermnent definitely abrogate the official telegram giving the order to bring down the religious emblem of Buddhism.

2. Let Buddhism benefit from the special status granted to Catholic missions and provided by Decree No.10.

3. Let the Government put an end to arrests and persecutions of the Buddhists.

4. Let the monks and the Buddhist faithful enjoy freedom of worship and the freedom to propagate their faith.

Let the Government pay equitable compensation to the victims of the Hue incident and duly punish the instigators".

The third section of the manifesto is an appeal to the government to negotiate. A further statement was issued on 25 May stressing the Patriotism of Buddhists in Vietnam both during the Viet Minh war and in the present struggle against the Viet Cong. This was followed by a manifesto issued by the monks of the Xa Loi pagoda in Saigon affirming their support of the Hue Buddhists and the Hue manifesto. On June 8th a joint statement was issued by Hue and Saigon Buddhists saying that a rumour is being spread that the government of Vietnam has agreed to the Five Aspirations and denying that this is true. The statement was signed by the Venerable Thich Tam Chau. On May 27th an administrative notice under the signature of the Venerable Thich Tam Chau was issued to Buddhist pagodas throughout Vietnam containing instructions on fasting, conducting of memorial ceremonies for the victims of the Hue incident etc. Three other letters are especially significant at this stage - one was an open letter from the League of Buddhist Students of Hue to all Vietnamese describing what it calls "the religious discrimination which has now reached the crucial stage in Hue" and "the miserable lot of Buddhist believers in Vietnam. It calls for support of Buddhists but makes no special appeal for action. The next is an open letter to Diem signed again by the Venerable Thick Tam Chau. It lists specific grievances (monks forced to sign pro-government statements, nuns arrested, etc.). It contains an anti-communist declaration and makes no specific call for action other than a general request that abuses be ended.

The third is a communique signed b;y the Venerable Thich Thiem Khiet which states that "the Buddhist Association of Vietnam is not aimed at overthrowing the government".

The Government finally agreed to negotiate on the five demands presented by the General Buddhist Association of Vietnam. On June 16th a conference was held at which government representatives and Buddhist leaders were present and a joint communique was issued which on the face of it concedes substantially the demands presented by the Buddhists. But the agreement was not implemented. Shortly after the 16th June the Inter-Sect Committee charged, in an undated letter to the Vice-President, that the Government had failed to implement the joint agreement. Many other letters passed between the Buddhist. leaders and the government the details of which it is not possible to repeat here. Altogether, I examined fifty-one documents setting out the substance of the Buddhist complaint. To my mind what is significant in these statements is the reasoned, objective and completely fair treatment of a difficult subject by the Buddhist leaders under grave provocation.

To return to the incidents in Hue, early in June the students held a demonstration outside the residence of the Regional Delegate. It was a peaceful protest against the incident on Vesak Day. Three distinguished German professors of the Medical Faculty of the University of Hue were present on this occasion. The police used some form of gas to disperse the students and I was told that severe burns were caused to many of the students. Professors Wolff and Holterscheidt rendered medical aid to the students immediately after the attack. Shortly thereafter, Wolff and Holterscheidt were expelled from the Country. At his own expense Wolff took off on a speaking and broadcasting tour of the United 'states, Japan and France, pleading the cause of the Buddhists of Vietnam. The return of these professors to the University is eagerly awaited by their students.

The Role of the Students - Instances of Torture

After the Vesak incident students were arrested by the hundreds. Many of them were tortured. Youngsters of 18 suffered along with the monks of the leading pagodas and distinguished citizens of Hue and Saigon. At the Xa Loi pagoda in Saigon I met the President of the Buddhist Students' Association of Vietnam -Tran Quang Thuan, a young lecturer at the University of Saigon. On the 20th August - the night of the raids on the leading pagodas in Saigon and Hue - he was at home. When he heard of the attack he went into hiding, organizing cells, distributing literature and generally keeping alive the resistance of the students. For a month he succeeded in evading capture but on the 20th Septemebr he was arrested, after a secret meeting with five other students, by Nhu's Secret Police, who were waiting in ambush. As they emerged from the house in which the meeting was held they were seized, put into a waiting car, blind-folded and taken away to prison. At first he was fairly well treated, but later he was subjected to electric shocks and the dreaded water treatment. Five times a day he was strapped to a table, a hose pipe was placed in his mouth and his body was pumped full of water until he lost consciousness; he was revived again and the process repeated. He was kept in solitary confinement for one month and twelve days. When he was released after the coup he was summoned by the Revolutionary Committee of Generals and asked to identify his torturers. He knew their names and identities but refused to disclose them to the Junta. When I told him that this was an incredible act of charity on his part he merely shrugged his shoulders and said that those who tortured him were carrying out a job which they were paid to do. He said revenge was purposeless, the past was past and now with freedom he did not see how revenge or rejoicing could help to undo what had gone before. He was a quiet young man, cultured, liked and respected by his friends. At first I did not know who he was but having spoken for a couple of hours to him and to many other students in the room who had suffered similar pain and humiliation I could see that whatever else this country may lack it was not lacking in young men of outstanding quality to lead it one day. As I was to find on many other occasions it was only after I had explained to the students that I had come from far away to investigate the causes of the Buddhist crisis and the events which led to the uprising that they began to speak, more I felt as a personal favour to a stranger who had a job to do, rather than with any sense of self glorification. In order to satisfy myself that these stories of tourture were true I had to ask some of the young students in the room to open their shirts to show me the bruises around the nipples where clips (rather like clothes pins) had been attached for the purpose of administering shocks. The Vice-President of the Buddhist Students' Association of Vietnam, Ton-that Chuu, a young medical student, was arrested in Hue on June 1st. He was kept in solitary confinement for twenty four days and frequently whipped to extract from him confessions implicating his friends. He told me that food was appalling. He was given two bowls of rice a day with a fish concotion that stank so high that he was unable to go near it, far less eat it. He was released later in June and subsequently re-arrested on the 28th August in Saigon after the raids on the pagodas. He too emphasized that the students participated in the struggle only for the cause of Buddhism. Now he looks forward to completing his interrupted medical studies when the University of Saigon reopens.

There were instances of Catholic and Protestant students being arrested when Buddhists were free. I recall in particular a group of three students in Hue - Tran Quang Long (Protestan) Truong Van Luong (Catholic), Nguyen Ding Mau (Buddhist) who joined in the student demonstration at Hue on the 21st August. The object of the demonstration was to demand the return of Fr. Luan, the Rector of their University. Of these three students the Protestant and Catholic were arrested, but not the Buddhist. All three of them declared that their struggle was against the Diem regime. They were patriots, not fanatics. I met a young Vietnamese woman, the wife of a Professor at Hue - Madame Van Dinh Hy who was herself the Principal of the Girls' High School at Hue and the mother of a of a ten month old daughter. She was arrested on August 27th - and what was her crime? She and her colleagues presented a petition to Diem requesting him to give relief to the Buddhists and urging him to prevent Madame Nhu from making irresponsible statements. The petition was dated 20th August. She was arrested and placed in a large dormitory with nine hundred men and women. She was not physically tortured but the food was impossible to eat and she did not see her husband or infant daughter for over two months. She told me that many of her girls were tortured by having fish sauce poured into their noses and ears. She was one of the persons who was allowed to meet the U.N. delegation. But she was unable to speak freely to them because she recognised among the crowd of persons present in the room where she was being interviewed by the U.N. delegation a number of secret police in plain clothes. In analysing for my benefit the causes of the Buddhist crisis she stated that the attack on the Buddhists was directed by Diem' family; it was not inspired by the Catholics or their Church and she said she bears no ill will whatever against the Catholic People. It was difficult to see her when she knew what I had come to find out. I had to wait for .about half an hour until her" husband persuaded her that it was her duty to tell me what she knew.

Both the President and Vice-President of the Buddhist Students' Association while in gaol were shown letters purporting to have been Written by communists professing support for the Buddhist movement. They were asked to sign statements to the effect that the Buddhist movement was inspired by communist opponents of the regime. They were not satisfied with the authenticity of these documents produced by Nhu's secret police; fabrication would have been so easy. There may well have been secret communists among the students who sought to use the Buddhist agitation for their own purposes. Indeed in answer to a specific question which I put to General Minh, whether the persecution of the Buddhists was motivated by the Diem Governmetn's fear of communist infiltration in their ranks, the General replied at first that he was conducting an investigation into the matter but amplified his answer by stating that although "the persecution was caused by Diem's fear of communist infiltration; to this new government there was no communist infiltration among the Buddhists during Diem's regime." General Minh and his team are shrewd professional soldiers now faced with the enormous task of recorganizing the civilian administration of the country, infusing new life and spirit into the people and finishing the long war of attrition against the Viet Cong. They have not lightly dismissed the former regime's charge but they as well as their people, know very well that Diem was looking for an excuse to crush the revolt that threatened to topple his regime. When I asked General Minh whether he expected further trouble from the students, this was his reply: "We are convinced that our students are patriots. They have expressed their readiness and will to collaborate with the new government and not to allow communist infiltration among their ranks".

There is no doubt that the new government is as popular with the students as with the rest of the people. The present mood in Vietnam is one of exultation. But it is too early yet to say whether the Revolutionary Committee will stand together as a team, and the trained observer of the political scene in Vietnam will not commit himself to firm prediction on the structure of the new government. There is some uncertainty as to where, among the personnel of the Revolutionary Committee, real power lies.

From the religious angle the new government will certainly have the support of Buddhists and Catholics. The Venerable Thich Due Ngheip, spokesman for the Inter-Sect Committee, expressed the deep gratitude of the Buddhist leaders to the Revolutionary Committee for liberating the Country from the grip of Diem's family and it is significant that when I asked General Minh what his government's attitude was towards the Buddhists and Catholics he replied-"equality for all religions", which was the dominant slogan of the Buddhist campaign.

Two men who played leading roles in the Buddhist struggle Finally, I want to speak of two men in Hue who contributed so much to the dignity, responsibility, and tone of the Buddhist campaign. The first is Dr. Le Khack Quyen, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hue, Editor of a Buddhist Review and the person who could fairly be described as the leading lay Buddhist in Hue. I went to see this gentleman without an appointment as I was warned in Saigon that he avoided such meetings. I was fortunate to take him by surprise. This distinguished man lives in a quiet back street in Hue in the top storey of a dilapidated house. His tiny study was crammed with books spilling from the shelves and overflowing on to the floor. When I told him what my mission was he refused point blank to tell me anything about the past. The conversation opened in this way he said he believed in tolerance against violence. He did not want to speak about the past. By dint of persuasion and pleading and emphasizing the fact that one of the primary objectives of my visit to Hue was to meet him and that time was short I succeeded finally in getting the Doctor to talk.

He began by explaining that after the coup, peace had been restored as far as the Buddhists were concerned and he told me in detail about a meeting held on the 7th November at the Tu Dam pagoda which was attended by Buddhist monks and Catholic priests led by Fr. Luan. The meeting which was in the nature of a thanksgiving was apparently very successful and was attended by over 150 people. He emphasized that the Buddhists were not interested in recriminations and reprisals. He told me that he and Fr. Luan had sent teams of students to explain to the villagers in the countryside the tasks that lay before them now that freedom had been won. He confirmed that many Catholic priests who worked under Archbishop Thuc were strongly against the Diem regime. He explained that the Buddhists were weak and unorganized during the French regime and in the early years of Diem's rule although at tirst Diem had given no cause for complaint from the Buddhists. Diem became unpopular after 1959 because he became despotic and the first organized opposition to Diem's regime came from the intellectuals of Vietnam. After the
incident on Vesak Day the Buddhist movement became the focal point of opposition to Diem.

Still Dr Quyen would not speak of his own role as the leader and hero of the Buddhists of Hue. At the end of our conversation, as I was about to leave, yielding to a final plea to tell me what happened to him, he came out with these facts. He was arrested on 2 1 August and taken to prison in the shirt and trousers he was wearing at that time. He was placed in solitary
confinement and did not have a change of clothing until he was liberated after the coup - two and a half months later. For twenty-one successive nights he was interrogated from dusk to dawn with a bright light shining in his face. He was not subjected to any of the other physical tortures which the ingenuity of Nhu's secret police had devised. But he could scarcely eat the food that was given him. He dismissed all this lightly, almost apologetically, and when 1 was at the door bidding him farewell he said casually that after the coup he had been told by a high official in the Diem regime who was a personal friend of his that he had been sentenced to death without his knowledge and of course without a trial, and that the sentence was to have been carried out on 6 November, which means that if the coup had been delayed Dr Quyen
would have been no more. I asked him whether he was not alarmed at the fate that would have overtaken him. Dr Quyen's reply is n~emorableH. e scratched his head and said 'You know, if I had died I would not have known the crime for which I had given up my life.' That was all that troubled him, it was a problem unresolved, something that disturbed his tidy mind.

This interview with Dr Quyen was in the presence of a young editor of a leading Vietnamese newspaper, my friend and counsellor in Vietnam, who was meeting Dr Quyen for the first time. After we had walked down the rickety flight of stairs that led to his attic study and were at the outer door preparing to leave, I heard a clatter of footsteps. Dr Quyen came rushing after us and spoke to my friend in Vietnamese. He told him that under no condition
must he mention his name in the Vietnamese Press. Dr Quyen imposed no conditions on me.

Even if he had, I would have felt obliged to repeat the substance of this conversation for the edification of others outside Vietnam. I was told two stories by his students which are also worthy of mention. Prior to 1945 during the French occupation an order had been issued that on the National Day, French Flags were to be flown in every home. Dr Quyen refused to comply. The French police visited his home and forced him to comply under threat of dire punishment. Dr Quyen then took a broomstick, tied a small French flag to it and hoisted it on his gate post.

But the true measure of a man of his calibre can be gauged from the other story, which was told me by Au Ngoc Ho, Secretary-General of the University of HuC, a young Americaneducated Doctor of Geology. Two nights after the coup, a large crowd of students had surrounded the residence of Ngo Dinh Can, brother of Diem who was the Governor of the province of Hue. Rumours had been afloat that Can had been responsible for the murder of monks and nuns who had been imprisoned in the dungeons of his country palace. (Incidentally, up to the time of my departure no evidence had been uncovered by the new government to establish the truth of this rumour.) The army had thrown a cordon around Can's palace but the students were in an ugly mood and anything could have happened. Au Ngoc Ho told me that this was perhaps the only occasion, judging fiom the mood of the crowd, when serious Catholic-Buddhist clashes could have been caused. The students, many of whom had been tortured, thwarted by the army from seizing Can and sacking his palace, might have gone on the rampage in the City of Hue, and one ugly incident might well have sparked off a hoIocaust in the country. The young provost couldn't handle the situation, Fr Luan the well-loved Rector of the University of HuC was still in Saigon after he had been removed by Diem, and there was
apparently nobody else on hand who could have calmed the inflamed crowd. Au Ngoc Ho telephoned Dr Quyen and asked him to come down immediately. The little doctor drove down to the scene and began to address the students. As he was spotted a burst of applause greeted him. Dr Quyen began to speak calmly and soberly. He made one telling point. He told the students that it was cowardly to attach a wretched man like Can after the coup. Personal and
religious freedom had been restored to their country. Those who wanted to fight the regime should have fought it openly at the height of its power. I am told that the students dispersed quietly, perhaps ashamed of themselves, in the light of what Dr Quyen, who had suffered so much, had said.

The other outstanding man whom it was my privilege to meet is Fr Cao Van Luan, the Rector of the University of HuC. He was a close personal friend of Diem, and the foundation of the University of Hue was really a gesture by Diem to Fr Luan. In June after his return from a tour of the United States, Fr Luan went to see Diem. He told me he pleaded with Diem for many hours to reform his government and to accede to the just demands of the Buddhists. He
was horrified to find that Diem was completely beyond persuasion.
A few days after his return to HuC he was dismissed from his Rectorship, taken to Saigon and thereafter kept under house arrest. The students of Hue, who had come to love this man, came out in protest. Hundreds of them were arrested and gaoled. The academic staff of the University of Hut2 sent a mammoth
petition to Diem asking for the release of Fr Luan. The Buddhist students of HuC will never forget that prior to his dismissal Fr Luan led them to pray at the Tu Dam pagoda in open defiance of Diem. When he returned to the university after the coup there was such a spontaneous demonstration of affection for him by a predominantly Buddhist university as had never been seen before.


I would not have been surprised to find nothing but bitterness and hatred between the Catholic and Buddhist peoples of South Vietnam. It would have been natural perhaps to find the desire for vengeance in the aftermath of liberation. But I found none of this. Everywhere there was reluctance to speak of the past - and not because the people had any fear of exposure or
punishment in a country which has now been freed from the brutality of the Diem regime.

, . I he press, after years of censorship, is at last free to publish what it likes, to express all its pent-up emotion. But I found that the press has deliberately eschewed sensationalism. While the pressmen will tell you that they have heard many salacious stories about the private life of Madame Nhu they have not the slightest interest in publishing them and there is a tacit understanding among the newspapers not to print pictures showing the cruelty of the Diem

Young students freed again after months of imprisonment and torture might have been expected to run wild. But I found them quiet and sober, suddenly mature perhaps, and it was difficult to extract from them the details of atrocities perpetrated by the former regime. They -. kept saying that the past is best forgotten, that there is no point in dwelling on the misery of the
last six months. They were concerned only with the future.

I met leading monks, professors, teachers, students, professional people, men and women, young and old and not one single person was keen to glory in his or her martyrdom. After a day or two I began to feel ashamed of my own inquisitiveness for details. I began to feel that a mere chronicle of events could never sufficiently reveal the true nature of the struggle of the Vietnamese people for their rights and liberties. I began to see that here was a human story unparalleled in my own experience and in many ways unique. The world has seen from time to time that ordinary men and women are capable of supreme heroism in times of war, that loyalty to each other and self-sacrifice are human qualities that are exhibited in unexpected quarters in
times of crisis. But I venture to think that seldom if ever has a whole people shown such understanding and compassion in their hour of victory.

Political and religious extremists in Ceylon sought to create the impression that a religious war between the Buddhists and Catholics was fought in Vietnam. I did not find a shred of evidence to support this thesis. The ferment of political and religious movements in Asia today is such that I would not have been in the least surprised, indeed I expected, to find that the struggle of the Buddhist people of South Vietnam for their rights had been exploited for
the achievement of ulterior purposes.

But during the entirety of the campaign waged by the Buddhists there was never at any stage in any form whatsoever the manifestation of an intention to repress or persecute the adherents of any other religious faith. What appeared to me to be almost miraculous is that the mass of the people who were engaged in this struggle and who suffered for their cause were able always to define their goals with scrupulous objectivity. Their fight was against the Diem regime, against the personal autocracy of a powerful family. Their fight was for the elevation of the Buddhist faith, not the denigration of any other peoples or faiths. During the campaign for liberation not one anti-Catholic slogan was raised or published by the Buddhist leaders. I was not told, and I did not come to hear, of a single incident involving Buddhists and Catholics.

The truth appears to be that the majority of the Catholic and Buddhist people stood together, united against tyranny, and that their respective leaders worked in harmony for the common cause. With the exception of Archbishop Thuc, the notorious brother of Diem, and his small coterie of followers who, judged by any standards would be a disgrace to their faith and their people, there were (to quote what General Minh told me) 'many
gestures of sympathy from the Catholics towards the Buddhists. The messages of Pope Paul VI to the Vietnamese people and the two pastoral letters of the Archbishop of Saigon, Monsignor Nguyen Van Binh are the most important manifestations of their sympathy.'

The Venerable Thich Duc Nghiep of the Xa Loi pagoda, spokesman for the Inter-Sect Committee which was established during the campaign to co-ordinate the activities of the various Sects, told me: 'The Buddhist protest was against Diem's regime and family. There was no ill-feeling against our Catholic brothers. They showed sympathy with us.' The Venerable
Nghiep spent seventy-two days in gaol. I was told by students that he had been severely tortured, but although I met him on two occasions and urged him to speak about the past he steadfastly refused. He said in his flawless English that 'the last few months were a nightmare.

It is past; there is no necessity to speak about it now.' As this incredible picture unfolded I asked myself often how it was that ordinary people with the failings and weaknesses and passions that all human beings are heir to could have behaved en masse in such a splendid manner.

The young Provost of the University of HuC gave me one answer. He said that in their hour of trial they were richly blessed with leaders both Buddhist and Catholic who were men of vision and tolerance, always concerned to offer to their followers by word and example the best advice and counsel in the interest of their cause and the unity of their country. The Venerable
Thich Tam Chau - Chairman of the Inter-Sect Committee for the Defence of Buddhism in South Vietnam, the monk who along with the Venerable Thich Khiet and the Venerable Thich Tri Quang successfully led and organized the Buddhist revolt against Diem and paved the way for his downfall - has now retired to the peace and quiet of his tiny little room in a wing of the
Xa Loi pagoda where he sleeps on a plank bed. He is a gentle man utterly devoid of vanity or arrogance, uncorrupted by the devotion which he has inspired among his followers. I had to see him twice with great difficulty because he shuns visitors and it was with the utmost reluctance that he finally consented to pose for a photograph. The monks of the Tu Dam pagoda in Hue and the Xa Loi pagoda and other pagodas in Saigon who were imprisoned and tortured for over two months had nothing but compassion and mercy for their tormentors. 1'0 all those heroic men and women, to Dr Quyen, Fr Luan and the many students who will forever remain anonymous, I would like to pay my own humble tribute. I feel that the memory of their achievements cannot be allowed to fade without it being brought to the notice of the world that men of such calibre and integrity are still amongst us. They have shown that once men and women unite across the divide of belief and allegiance no tyranny can survive.

L. Kadirgamar, LLB (Hons.) (Cey.); B.Litt (Oxon); of the Inner Temple Barrister-at-Law; Advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon. Colombo, 1.1.64.

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