The Republic of (South) Vietnam is commonly viewed as a unified entity throughout the two decades (1955–75) during which the United States was its main ally. Domestic politics during that time, however, followed a dynamic trajectory from authoritarianism to chaos to a relatively stable, eight-year experiment in parliamentary democracy. The stereotype of South Vietnam that appears in most writings, both academic and popular, focuses on the first two periods to portray a caricature of a corrupt, unstable dictatorship, and ignores what was achieved during the last eight years. The essays in this edited volume come from men who strove to build a constitutional structure of representative government during a war for survival with a totalitarian state, and they tell us what worked and what may have gone wrong. Those committed to realizing a noncommunist Vietnamese future placed their hopes in the Second Republic, fought for it, and worked for its success. This book is a step in making their stories known.
Keith W. Taylor is professor of Sino-Vietnamese studies in the department of Asian Studies, Cornell University. He is the author of several books and articles about Vietnamese history and literature. His most recent publication is A History of the Vietnamese (Cambridge University Press, 2013).
- Bui Diem was born in Hanoi in 1923 and graduated with degrees in mathematics from the University of Hanoi in 1945. He was a member of the South Vietnamese delegation to the 1954 Geneva Conference; minister at the Prime Minister Office (1965); Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1966); ambassador to the United States and special envoy at the Paris Peace Talks (1966–72); and ambassador at large (1973–75).
- Phan Cong Tam graduated from the South Vietnamese National Institute of Administration and was appointed to work at the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) in 1962. His last position with the agency was as director of the office of operation plans and assistant to the commissioner for special operations.
- Nguyen Ngoc Bich was born in 1937 in Hanoi and was trained in Saigon, the United States, Japan, Austria, Germany, and Spain. Bich served as diplomat at the Embassy of Vietnam, 1967-–71, in Washington, DC; director, National Press Center, 1972–73; department head for overseas information, Ministry of Information and Open Arms, 1973–75; and director general, Vietnam Presse, 1975.
- Tran Quang Minh was born in 1938 in Chau Doc, South Vietnam, and educated in the United States. After 1967 he worked with South Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture on the Accelerated Protein Production Program. In 1969 he was appointed director of cabinet to assist the Land To The Tiller Land Reform Program, and in 1972 he was appointed director general of agriculture to draft the Five-Year Agricultural Development Plan.
- Nguyen Duc Cuong was educated in the United States and served as vice minister for trade (1970–73) and minister of trade and industry (1973–74) in the Government of the Republic of Vietnam.
- Phan Quang Tue graduated from the French school Jean Jacques Rousseau, in Saigon, and the Saigon University School of Law, in 1965. After the Tet offensive, in 1968, he was drafted, commissioned, and assigned to the military court. He was deputy chief of staff of the Office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Saigon from 1970 to 1975.
- Tran Van Son (pen name, Tran Binh Nam) was born in 1933 in Hue. He joined the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam in 1955 and graduated from the French Naval Academy in 1957, after which he was assigned to the Naval Training Center in Nha Trang. In 1971 he ran for and was elected to a four-year term representing the city of Nha Trang in the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.
- Ma Xai was born in Long Xuyen, South Vietnam. He earned his medical degreein 1964 and served as surgeon and ophthalmologist at Duy Tan General Hospital in Danang. He was twice elected to the House of Representatives in the National Assembly and served two consecutive terms, 1967–71 and 1971–75.
- Ho van Ky-Thoai graduated from the US Naval Postgraduate School and served in the Vietnamese Navy from 1954 to 1975, including commander of the Joint Sea Commando Forces operating behind North Vietnamese lines, commander of a Naval Task Group, and commander of Naval Coastal Zone 1. He rose to the rank of rear admiral.
- Lan Lu graduated from the Vietnamese Military Academy in 1951. He rose to the rank of general and became Second Field Division chief of staff in 1956. He then served the RVNAF Joint General Staff and its operational command (J-3), and commanded the army’s 25th, 23rd, and 10th divisions. He was commandant of the Command and General Staff College and of the National Defense College, chief of the Central Training Command, commanding general of II Corps and the 2nd Military Region, and inspector general.
This volume is a welcome addition to a growing scholarly literature about South Vietnam. Its personal testimonies provide key details not only about the political and military history of that country, but also about the complex backgrounds and worldviews of the men who governed it. It is a record of the hopes and hardships of a group of South Vietnamese who sought to build a stable, prosperous society in a time of decolonization and civil war.—Charles Keith, associate professor, Michigan State University
What the reviewers are saying …
… the [contributors'] accounts provide important insights into life under the Second Republic, reminding us it was a functioning regime attempting to create institutions, build capacity, and carry on the day-to-day operations of governments everywhere … Taken together, the book’s chapters make it clear that much of Vietnam’s economic recovery—and [often negative] ecological change—beginning in the 1980s was based on the achievements of the Second Republic … [The] collection’s greatest value [is] the way it brings together a range of divergent and often unexpected accounts, shedding new light on the Republic of Vietnam at the same time it suggests topics for future research.”—Gerard Sasges, Southeast Asian Studies