In the spring of 1963, South Vietnamese forces suppressed Buddhist religious leaders and followers, which led to an ensuing political crisis for the Diem government and became known as the “Buddhist crisis.” President Ngo Dinh Diem was passive in his response to the crisis and later promised reforms. His brother and closest advisor, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was thought by many to be the actual decision maker of the Saigon government and the person behind the Buddhist suppression.
The Buddhist demonstrations continued throughout spring and summer and culminated in June when a bonze, a Buddhist monk, publicly lit himself on fire. The photograph of the event made news around the world. President Kennedy was caught in a political situation of trying to impress upon President Diem the need for major government adjustments in Saigon. Communications with Diem, however, did not result in any concrete changes. In August, President Diem declared martial law and his forces raided the pagodas of the Buddhist group behind the protests. Soon thereafter, South Vietnamese military officers contacted United States government representatives and inquired about what a U.S. response would be to a military coup in Saigon.
In August 1963 and again in October 1963, there were numerous discussions and meetings between President Kennedy and his Vietnam advisors on a possible coup in Vietnam and what the U.S. involvement should be. Excerpts of the tapes and documents related to this crisis can be found in the header of this webpage. The image in the header shows Henry Cabot Lodge, the newly appointed Ambassador to South Vietnam, in a meeting with President Kennedy on August 15, 1963.